Our Magic Wand ~ Coming to Terms with Money
Our Magic Wand ~ Coming to Terms with Money
As a small child I was very aware of my family’s status in our small Idaho town. And yet, walking back home from school one day as a first-grader with my friend Freddy, that awareness was eclipsed by another larger one.
Freddy and I were privileged children of doctors, and our families’ natural allies. That day we were walking on the left-hand side of Addison Avenue, and I noticed Lorenzo Ortega walking parallel to us, on the right-hand side. Lorenzo was one of the poor kids, Mexican “wetbacks,” we called them. He sat in the back of Sister Bernita’s classroom, and his family sat in the back pew in church on Sundays. Lorenzo was a troublemaker; Freddy and I were teacher’s pets.
That brilliant Autumn afternoon I was struck with a sudden unexpected insight: I am the same as Lorenzo. There is no inherent difference between us. Simply, I was lucky, and he was not, in having a doctor for a daddy.
I didn’t say anything to Freddy about this, or to anyone about the other moments of sudden riveting clarity that came to me periodically during childhood. What was there to say? How could I explain, and why would they care? I cared, deeply. But I didn’t know why.
Another time I was walking to my friend Edwina’s house to play dolls early one fresh summer morning. Suddenly again, I was thunderstruck by — what to call it? — this time I did not so much receive an insight as enter another dimension altogether, parallel to the usual one, but not reducible to it. I was enveloped in an atmosphere of utter and timeless clarity, a knowledge that the world was one, and that I was here, present, eternally NOW. Again, there were no words, and though some say that only experiences which can be put into words are remembered, this experience, utterly other, was filed away as a lodestone, or crystal, the memory of its light dimly refracting everything in a new way.
I would say now that during these fleeting moments I was being signaled — no,flashed— by soul. The boundaries between this world and that one were, in those rare and seemingly random moments, permeable. Something flashed in to this world from the other one, leaving me stunned.
Meanwhile, life went on. Like other young females in the late ‘50s, I got caught up in Jantzen sweaters and training bras. I was embraced by the agony of first love. I did well in school, memorizing texts. Receiving my B.A. Magna Cum Laude two weeks after delivering my first child, I was already thinking about graduate school, and fighting with my husband.
Then, when I was 26 years old, I had an experience, one that plummeted me into that other realm altogether, so compellingly that three months later I gave up the life I was living to start down a different path.
Like many in my generation, I was caught up in the turmoil of the late ‘60s. Against my husband’s will I had left him in Cambridge alone for the summer, taken our two little boys, and moved into a large summer commune on the beach. We had rented a hotel, and its name, The Idlewild, fit the mood exactly. For me, however, the experience was traumatizing. I had been such a good Catholic girl, wife, mother, and graduate student, that all summer long I sat stunned, watching the others bend their brains and open their bodies through drugs.
In September, my friend Sylvia and I went down to the hotel one more time, alone. We sat at one end of the long table in the large kitchen, haunted by memories of summer, eating our dinner. Afterwards she pulled out a tiny packet of tinfoil and opened it. Two little pills stared up at me. Mescaline, she grinned.
Okay. It’s time.
That night Sylvia went off to the beach and I drifted into the huge front room where we had held our Saturday night strobe-lit dances. I turned on the music one more time, and began to dance to The Doors, gradually picking up speed until I was twirling through the air like a dervish. It was as if energy, dammed up for centuries had suddenly erupted and I was its instrument, wild, furious, and free.
The next morning, as the sun rose, Sylvia walked into the room and broke the spell. I had been dancing for seven hours.
The next day, at home, I developed a stomach ache. I crawled into bed, and remained there the following day too. The pain got worse. Finally my husband, still furious and tight-lipped over my summer disobedience, took me to the doctor, and I was admitted into Mass. General that afternoon with general abdominal peritonitis.
For seven days and nights the infection raged out of control. Intravenous antibiotics were administered continuously, each to its maximum, one every three or four hours, until there were none left to give me and the doctor, looking defeated, said he didn’t know what else to do.
I looked up at him, dreamy on Demerol, and asked, “Am I going to die?”
“I don’t know,” he muttered, embarrassed, and scuttled out of the room.
Thus was the stage set for the entrance of soul into matter. Loud and clear, in a booming internal voice, it told me to decide: live or die, it is your choice.
The next morning, my belly, which had ballooned to the size of a six month pregnancy, was flat. My fever was gone. I was here, NOW, and my body was inhabited consciously, for the first time, by soul. There was no turning back. In shock for the first three months, knowing now, that I, alone, was responsible for what happened next — that as I had chosen to live, so was I creating my life — I finally “came back to earth” and began to make the decisions that would unravel the knot clenched, like a fist, inside my stomach.
As in Plato’s story of the cave, wherein people gaze at shadows on the wall, mistaking them for reality (think of the cave walls as TV screens), so I, like the philosopher of old, had turned around to face the sun. The sun was warm, inviting; I wanted to remain there, at one with the sun, blind to this world. But I could not. Once again, now consciously, twice born, I had to turn and go back into the shadowy cave, to make my life with others.
But how? How can I live in this world when I feel alive only in that one? How can I live with others when they seem to have never noticed the sun? How to live as a stranger in a strange land, working with money, and things, and jobs and so on and on, the sheer minutiae of what I thought then to be a vastly inferior reality to the one outside the cave?
I am now 52 years old; 26 years have gone by since I was 26. The world is no longer black and white, dark and light. The world is becoming a single shimmering atmosphere permeated with colors reflecting light back and forth like singers arcing their voices to the heavens and back, in praise, in benediction.
I discovered that at the source of life is soul; that if I am in touch with soul, and align my personal will with its directive, then I experience the universe as alive, and it in turn supports me. Soul springs forth from the void to radiate love, bathing all activities in its glow, from the tiniest detail of daily life to the blush that bathes the Tetons at dawn.
Money, I have discovered, as a medium of exchange, is like water, or oil; it greases gears, moves things along, makes them happen. No longer is money my enemy, a part of this world opposed to that one. Now I see money as a transformation of matter. And matter itself — coming, let us remember, from the same root as “mother” — is, as Jean Hardy points out in this issue, “the love poetry of the Great Mother.”
There are so many stories, life stories — of coming to terms with money, and with soul, and with the fact that they are or can be connected. Each of these stories seems to be a variation of the same plot told above. Whether we start out with or without money; whether it comes from self or another; whether we become aware of soul early in life or late, the direction of our stories is similar. Some authors seem to be tentative, not sure; they are wrestling with as certain point in the plot, needing to master it before they can move on. Others are moving forwards at a fast clip, shuddering with revelation, or slowly, surely, building it in for good.
For there is an immersion in things of this world. Then, at some point, there is a conversion process — short or long, sudden and dramatic or painstaking and gradual — which leads us to turn inward, to the self, and its greater Self, or soul. Once we do that, then, when we do begin to turn around again and face the outside world, everything looks different. Once again, we have to come to terms with it, but inside this changed perspective. Money, then, can be viewed within the first world or from this transformed second one. And within these two worlds it carries different connotations.
To the extent to which we are still entranced within the first world (and who of us is not?) money is one of its gods, and we identify with it, worship it, rebel against it. To the extent to which we have “seen the light” and are moving in the direction of integrating the life of soul with “real” life, money can carry a different meaning. Its shamanic, shapeshifting, transformative capacity can be appreciated in new ways, and placed within a more universal context. I have a feeling that we are only beginning to open to new understanding and action with money as we seize this extraordinary moment presented by the coming millennial shift.
Money is not the bottom line, never was, as one of my sons, Colin, realized when he was three years old. I had asked him and his five-year-old brother what they would ask for if they could have anything in the world. Sean answered quickly, excited: “A million dollars!” Colin looked at me, and then, eyes open wide, as if struck by lightning, he announced, “A magic wand.”
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