Imagine this bizarre scenario: you’re called upon to represent your cousin Barb in the salary negotiations for her new job, and naturally she wants to make good money. The negotiations are starting right now. And that’s not all: as improbable as the act of negotiating someone else’s salary with virtually no advance notice might be, what makes this scenario even stranger is that Barb is a distant cousin living halfway across the country. You’ve never met her and you don’t know anything about her. And there’s no time to call her for a crash course in Life As Barb.

Somehow you have to decide what “good money” would be for your cousin and do whatever you can think of to get it for her. You’d likely find yourself vacillating between wanting to nail a really big number – to be sure she earns enough to pay for everything she needs – but also wanting the negotiations to go smoothly, which would be easier if you didn’t ask for too much money. (After all, you don’t even know how good she is at what she does.)

A preposterous challenge, don’t you agree?

And yet, if you’ll allow me a big helping of artistic license, many people experience an eerily similar challenge in their own lives – not because they’re asked to represent a cousin whom they’ve never met in salary negotiations, but because they’re deciding what “good money” means for themselves without consulting the one person who really knows: their own best and highest self – the Wise One within, which I think of as the soul.

The soul knows quite a bit about good money – and about living a deeply fulfilled life. And, quite often, the soul’s direction is 180 degrees away from what we’ve been conditioned to believe. We’ve been taught that “good money” is the amount that maximizes what we can get; the soul knows that “good money” supports us in maximizing what we can give.

From spiritual masters to modern studies on happiness and fulfillment in the workplace, we are told that true happiness arises not from making more money than we’ve ever made before, but from serving others in a meaningful way. We experience fulfillment when we know that our contributions matter. We want, simply and deeply, to make a difference.

And of course we want a good home and clothes we enjoy wearing and maybe a really nice beach vacation every year…I’ll get to that in a moment.

Or maybe I can get to that right now.

Because the really cool, holistic and dare I say elegant thing about putting our souls in charge of our money is that our souls align our “gets” with our “gives.” The soul starts with identifying what we most long to heal, create and share – what we deeply want to give ourselves and the world that moves us toward wholeness and the realization of our highest potential – and then discerns what we need to have in order that we may give fully and generously.

I’m thinking now might be the perfect time for an example.

I read an article recently about a woman who grew up on a lake and cultivated a deep and abiding love of the water. She became a boat captain and started her own business taking people on adventurous, aquatic vacations. Over the years she’s observed a shocking amount of garbage swirling in even the remotest areas of the ocean, and has become a tireless advocate for cleaning up our precious seas. She recently started a nonprofit research and education foundation and routinely observes, measures and reports on the levels of garbage in our water, and also promotes new technologies for getting rid of it.

This woman needs a boat.

I, on the other hand, do not need a boat. At one point in my life, back when I was under the hypnotic spell of relentless messages about the “good life” and all it supposedly included, I might have been convinced that having a boat was a great way to reward myself for all the hard work I was putting into climbing the corporate ladder. A highly unlikely scenario, I’ll be the first to admit, since I can’t even swim.

Still, I can distinctly remember being lulled into thinking that having high-status, expensive things equated to having “made it.” Hence my unfortunate decision to buy a car at the age of 21 whose price equaled the annual salary of my first job out of college. I can assure you I never made that mistake again. I shudder to think of the gross misallocation of time and energy I might have devoted to making the kind of money I’d need to buy a boat.

Which is exactly the point: putting our souls in charge of our money helps us allocate our time and energy wisely. When we start the “good money” conversation by asking what we most long to heal, to create and to give, we are focused in a way that helps us identify our true needs. Our energy is aligned with our highest intentions rather than scattered among countless alternatives that have no real relationship with who we are and what we’re here to give.

And that doesn’t always mean, by the way, that our true needs can or should be met with less money than our false ones. For many people, coming into right relationship with money means they need more of it in order to support their soul’s needs for healing, creating and giving. The key is to consult the inner Wise One to get the real answers.

And that, truthfully, is easier said than done, with the countless voices in our heads giving us all kinds of mixed advice and confusing us with both crippling doubt and ungrounded wishful thinking. It can seem easier just to play by the rules and aim for getting the most money we can as fast as we can, then figure out what to do with it as we go along. The problem with that is it reinforces the false notion that our happiness arises from having rather than giving, and so we increase the likelihood of being unfulfilled.

So where does that leave us? It’s not likely that we can turn around our ingrained habits of earning and spending money overnight, but we can start where we are. Get in the habit of setting aside quiet time for deep inner listening and ask yourself, with sincerity and openness and genuine curiosity, “What is it that I most long to heal, create or share in my life? And what do I need to be supported in that?” Give the exploration plenty of time and space, and feel for a deep sense of “rightness” in the responses. Write them down, and ask the Wise One what step you can take that moves you toward fulfilling those needs. Then take it.

And repeat: keep asking, keep listening, keep stepping forward. I know you’re going to want to figure it all out, already, especially the part about how you’re going to make the money your wise soul has determined you actually need. There are plenty of resources, both inner and outer, to support you in making that happen. But the foundation for that process is holding the intention to put your soul in charge, and to do that you need to actually listen to its voice.

So just start listening.

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