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The Soul of Money

The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life by Lynne Twist

My favourite excerpts…
The Soul of Money offers a way to realign our relationship with money to be more truthful, free, and potent, enabling us to live a life of integrity and full self-expression that is consistent with our deepest core values, no matter what our financial circumstances.

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I believe that under it all, when you get right down to it and uncover all the things we’re told to believe in, or things we are maneuvered and manipulated to believe in, or even things we choose to believe in, what deeply matters to human beings, our most universal soulful commitments and core values, is the well-being of the people we love, ourselves, and the world in which we live.

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We realized that our previous scramble to accumulate and upgrade everything about ourselves and our life was another kind of hunger, and we addressed it head-on by realizing that what we really hungered for was to have lives of meaning. We hungered to make a difference and began to devote ourselves to doing that. Some of us turned our energies to hunger initiatives, some to education, some to poverty, some to stopping abuse or providing shelter and healing for victims of abuse. This change of heart brought about a change in our relationship with money. Once we began to align our money decisions with these deeper core values and our highest commitments, we experienced a dramatic shift, not only in what we did with our money but also in how we felt about money, about our life, and about ourselves. Eventually, we came to know ourselves not for what we had or owned, but for what we gave; not for what we accumulated, but for what we allocated.

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Money itself isn’t the problem. Money itself isn’t bad or good. Money itself doesn’t have power or not have power. It is our interpretation of money, our interaction with it, where the real mischief is and where we find the real opportunity for self-discovery and personal transformation.

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You may have to look closely to find the money thread in your own story, but it is there and it has meaning. You can begin the process of examination, and transform the mystery of money, and the field of play that money represents, into a different kind of place. Your relationship with money can be a place where you bring your strengths and skills, your highest aspirations, and your deepest and most profound qualities.

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What is less obvious and goes almost completely unacknowledged is the vicious cycle of wealth. There is no recognition of the trap that wealth so often is, and of the suffering of the wealthy: the loneliness, the isolation, the hardening of the heart, the hunger and poverty of the soul that can come with the burden of wealth. She said that I had extended little or no compassion to the strong, the powerful, and the wealthy, while they need as much compassion as anyone else on earth.

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What became clear was that when people were able to align their money with their deepest, most soulful interests and commitments, their relationship with money became a place where profound and lasting transformation could occur. Their money—no matter what the amount—became the conduit for this change.

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Who do I need to be to fulfill on the commitment I’ve made? What kind of human being do I need to forge myself into to make this happen? What resources do I need to be willing to bring to bear in myself and my colleagues and in my world?

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We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of. We don’t have enough time. We don’t have enough rest. We don’t have enough exercise. We don’t have enough work. We don’t have enough profits. We don’t have enough power. We don’t have enough wilderness. We don’t have enough weekends. Of course we don’t have enough money—ever. We’re not thin enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not pretty enough or fit enough or educated or successful enough, or rich enough—ever. Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds race with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack.

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Whether we live in resource-poor circumstances or resource-rich ones, even if we’re loaded with more money or goods or everything you could possibly dream of wanting or needing, we live with scarcity as an underlying assumption.

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Contemporary European author, Bernard Lietaer, former senior officer of the Belgian Central Bank and one of the chief architects of the Euro currency, in his book, Of Human Wealth, says that greed and fear of scarcity are programmed; they do not exist in nature, not even in human nature.

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It would be logical to assume that people with excess wealth do not live with the fear of scarcity at the center of their lives, but I have seen that scarcity is as oppressive in those lives as it is for people who are living at the margins and barely making ends meet.

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This mind-set of scarcity is not something we intentionally created or have any conscious intention to bring into our life. It was here before us and it will likely persist beyond us, perpetuated in the myths and language of our money culture. We do, however, have a choice about whether or not to buy into it and whether or not to let it rule our lives.

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The first prevailing myth of scarcity is that there’s not enough. There’s not enough to go around. Everyone can’t make it. Somebody’s going to be left out. There are way too many people. There’s not enough food. There’s not enough water. There’s not enough air. There’s not enough time. There’s not enough money.

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The second toxic myth is that more is better. More of anything is better than what we have. It’s the logical response if you fear there’s not enough, but more is better drives a competitive culture of accumulation, acquisition, and greed that only heightens fears and quickens the pace of the race. And none of it makes life more valuable.

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In the pursuit of more we overlook the fullness and completeness that are already within us waiting to be discovered. Our drive to enlarge our net worth turns us away from discovering and deepening our self-worth.

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The third toxic myth is that that’s just the way it is, and there’s no way out. There’s not enough to go around, more is definitely better, and the people who have more are always people who are other than us. It’s not fair, but we’d better play the game because that’s just the way it is and it’s a hopeless, helpless, unequal, unfair world where you can never get out of this trap.

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This is when and where the blindness, the numbness, the trance, and, underneath it all, the resignation of scarcity sets in. Resignation makes us feel hopeless, helpless, and cynical. Resignation also keeps us in line, even at the end of the line, where a lack of money becomes an excuse for holding back from commitment and contributing what we do have—time, energy, and creativity—to making a difference.

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The word wealthy has its roots in well-being and is meant to connote not only large amounts of money but also a rich and satisfying life.

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In 1977, when I first committed to working to end world hunger, I assumed that people were starving because they didn’t have enough food, and if we just got food to the people out there who are hungry, that would solve the problem of chronic hunger in the world. It all seemed so logical. But if matching the world’s food supply with the world’s hungry people held the solution, what explained the stubborn, tragic statistics and realities of hunger that would seem to make us incapable of resolving it? How could it be that in a world with more than enough food to go around, 41,000 people, most of them children under the age of five, were dying each day of hunger and hunger-related causes?

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History teaches us that lesson. The flood of aid that went into Ethiopia in 1985 fed many people for a period of time, but did not resolve that country’s hunger issue. Ethiopia remains a hungry, impoverished country. The food aid that was sent into Somalia during the crisis there in 1993 and 1994 fed a hungry few, but actually exacerbated the violence and corruption that was taking place during the civil war there.

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In those events of massive infusions of food aid, time and again, to the point of becoming routine, the food supplies were stolen and resold by the corrupt power brokers who thrive on the greed and graft that is rife in embattled countries. Further, the massive amounts of food aid deflated the local market, meaning that those farmers who did grow grain could no longer sell it because free food was everywhere—at least for a time, as the scramble to hoard and control it played out. The disastrous cycle of aid, corruption, disrupted markets, and disastrous farming investments became part of a problem instead of a solution. The cycle only perpetuated the root causes of the crisis.

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The Hunger Project, by systematically challenging false assumptions about chronic hunger and food aid, exposed the myth of scarcity and opened new avenues of inquiry and possibility, eventually succeeding in making a significant contribution to the eradication of hunger by empowering people to author their own recovery. In every situation, from individuals to large populations of people, uncovering the lie and the myths of scarcity has been the first and most powerful step in the transformation from helplessness and resignation to possibility and self-reliance.

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We often philosophize about the great, unanswered questions in life. It’s time we looked instead at the unquestioned answers, and the biggest, most unquestioned answer of our culture is our relationship with money.

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For the Achuar, wealth means being present to the fullness and richness of the moment and sharing that with one another.

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The people were Muslim, and as we sat together in a circle to discuss the situation, the men did all the talking. The women were not in the primary circle, but sat in a second circle where they could hear and see, but they did not speak. I could feel the power of the women behind me, and sensed that they would be key in the solution. In this barren orange land, it didn’t seem possible that there could be a solution, but the attitude, sense of resilience, and dignity of these people argued differently. There was a way through, and together we would find it.

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After many conversations with both the women and the men, we made an agreement with the mullahs and the chief that we would start our work with the women because the women had the vision. With our partnership, the men agreed to allow the women to begin the work of digging the well. Over the next year, as the community rationed its existing supplies of water carefully, the women dug both with hand tools and the simple equipment we brought them. They dug deeper and deeper into the ground, singing, drumming, and caring for each other’s children as they worked, never doubting that the water was there.

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Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.

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Sufficiency is a context we bring forth from within that reminds us that if we look around us and within ourselves, we will find what we need. There is always enough.

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I am not suggesting there is ample water in the desert or food for the beggars in Bombay. I am saying that even in the presence of genuine scarcity of external resources, the desire and capacity for self-sufficiency are innate and enough to meet the challenges we face. It is precisely when we turn our attention to these inner resources—in fact, only when we do that—that we can begin to see more clearly the sufficiency in us and available to us, and we can begin to generate effective, sustainable responses to whatever limitations of resources confront us.

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At Microsoft’s sprawling corporate campus, I was escorted into an elegant office building, to a conference room for afternoon tea with a small contingent of the women who would be at the evening talk. I had asked for this smaller afternoon meeting because I wanted to know more about these women as a group and have some conversations with a few of them to learn how I could connect more easily later with women of this unusual life and career experience.

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Most nursed a quiet regret: Each day they promised to get home earlier, to get more sleep, to get more exercise, to do the things that were missing in their lives, and each day they failed to make any headway toward those commitments.

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Each day, each week, each month they made promises to themselves, their husbands and children, to get through the next project, meet the next deadline, and then be home more, be more available, have more nurturing relationships with their children, but it rarely happened, and they felt a chronic frustration over these unfulfilled promises.

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Then I asked them about their knowledge of the world, who their friends were, and what kinds of conversations they were engaged in outside of work.

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I remember standing before them, seeing their faces reflect an experience of their fullness rather than lack. I remember their gladdening expressions when I invited them to find a partner and take a moment to list for each other all the things they appreciate and are grateful for in their families and immediate relationships at work and home. There was an overwhelming sense of fullness in the room as one by one they stood up and shared the recognition of the completeness and sufficiency in their own lives and how absent that experience had been previously in the rush for more.

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Some of them wrote to let me know they had reframed their experience of working at the company and were living basically the same life, but seeing it from the lens of fulfillment and gratitude rather than fear, competition, and survival.

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What is enough? Each of us determines that for ourselves, but very rarely do we let ourselves have that experience. What is that point at which we’re fulfilled, where we have everything we want and need, and nothing in excess?

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As Buckminster Fuller said in the 1970s, this is a world that can work for everyone with no one and nothing left out, and we have the power and the resources now to create a you-and-me world rather than a you-or-me world. There is enough for everyone. To access that experience of enough, however, we have to be willing to let go—let go of a lifetime of scarcity’s lessons and lies.

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 “Girl,” she said, “my name is Gertrude and I like what you’ve said and I like you,” she said. “Now, I ain’t got no checkbook and I ain’t got no credit cards. To me, money is a lot like water. For some folks it rushes through their life like a raging river. Money comes through my life like a little trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the most good for the most folks. I see that as my right and as my responsibility. It’s also my joy. I have fifty dollars in my purse that I earned from doing a white woman’s wash and I want to give it to you.”

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Gertrude taught me that the power of money is really derived from the intention we give it and the integrity with which we direct it into the world. Gertrude’s gift was great, and her clarity helped me regain my own.

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The next day I mailed the $50,000 check back to the food company executive, and was relieved to feel I was returning the guilt and shame that it carried, too. I felt unburdened. With the check I sent a letter suggesting that the CEO choose an organization they felt committed to and thanking him for considering us.

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In this condition of scarcity, money shows up not as a flow, but as an amount, something to collect and hold on to, to stockpile. We measure our self-worth by our net worth, and only and always more is better. Any drop on the balance sheet is experienced as a loss that diminishes us.

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It could be said that a great fund-raiser is a broker for the sacred energy of money, helping people use the money that flows through their lives in the most useful way that is consistent with their aspirations and hopes for humanity. It could be said that the best financial advisor is really someone who can inspire a client to do the same—to invest money in ways that contribute the most to a meaningful, fulfilling life. It could be said that each of us has the opportunity in our own lives to steward the flow of money; whatever level comes our way.

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In philanthropic interactions, we can return to the soul of money: money as a carrier of our intentions, money as energy, and money as a currency for love, commitment, and service; money as an opportunity to nourish those things we care most about.

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What you appreciate appreciates.

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We have the opportunity to direct our attention in the way we relate to money, and when we do it empowers us.

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There were plenty of independent relief agencies in Bangladesh already doing heroic and inspiring work, but what seemed to be making sustainable improvements were the initiatives that came from the Bangladeshis themselves.

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As the first step in the process of forging an effective partnership, together we looked deeply into the Bangladeshi culture, their attitudes and beliefs about themselves, their resignation and hopelessness. It became clear that after so long subsisting on aid, the people had lost touch with any sense of their own competence or any vision of their country as capable of success. In our meetings together, the Bangladeshi leaders determined that the thing that was missing, which, if provided, would enable these people to become self-reliant and self-sufficient, was a vision of their own strengths and capabilities. The Hunger Project committed, as a partner, to develop a program designed to enable the Bangladeshis to reconnect with a vision for themselves and their country, with an awareness of their available assets, and strategies to put their ideas into action.

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Then we began the program, asking everybody to close their eyes and envision what a self-reliant, self-sufficient Bangladesh would look like:

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At first, people sat there very still, eyes closed, expressionless, shoulder to shoulder in the park. A hush settled over the crowd, and the sea of faces remained still, eyes closed, in thought. After a few minutes I noticed tears streaming down one man’s face, and then another and another. People were still sitting with their eyes closed, but they were silently weeping. And then it was not just three or four, or ten or twenty faces with tears streaming down. In this crowd of more than a thousand, it was hundreds of weeping faces. It was as if they had never in their lifetime even thought they could be self-reliant or self-sufficient or a contributing nation, that they had never imagined they could be a nation that made a difference for other nations, that they could be a nation that stood out, that had qualities that people admired, a unique role to play in the world community. It was a brave new thought.

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We walked the fields with Zilu and the rest of the Magnificent Seven, and visited the fisheries and the training fields. We were overwhelmed by the people’s vitality, joy, and success. I realized as I walked with them that they had accomplished this feat with almost no help from the outside. They had had what they needed all along—the land, the water, the intelligence, the muscle, and the capacity to put it all together—but had lost touch with those resources and capabilities in the climate of “Third World” aid and the hopelessness and presumed incompetence that had come with it. Once they were inspired to see themselves differently, to see themselves as strong, creative, and capable, their commitment knew no limits. Success was inevitable.

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Mother Teresa once noted what she called “the deep poverty of the soul” that afflicts the wealthy, and had said that the poverty of the soul in America was deeper than any poverty she had seen anywhere on earth.

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Buddha told his followers that whatever they chose to give their attention, their love, their appreciation, their listening, and their affirmation to would grow in their life and in their world. He likened one’s life and the world to a garden—a garden that calls for sunlight and nourishment and water to grow. In that garden are the seeds of compassion, forgiveness, love, commitment, courage and all the qualities that affirm and inspire us. Alongside those seeds and in the same garden are the seeds of hatred, the seeds of prejudice, the seeds of vengeance, the seeds of violence, and all the other hurtful, destructive ways of being. These seeds and many more like them exist in the same garden. The seeds that grow are the seeds we tend with our attention. Our attention is like water and sunshine, and the seeds we cultivate will grow and fill our garden. If we choose to invest our attention in the seeds of scarcity—acquisition, accumulation, greed, and all that springs from those seeds—then scarcity is what will fill the space of our life and the space of our world. If we tend the seeds of sufficiency with our attention, and use our money like water to nourish them with soulful purpose, then we will enjoy that bountiful harvest.

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Charles Darwin went on to describe “survival of the fittest” in large part as the competition for scarce resources, as the basis for the evolution of species. Contrary to those models of Nature as innately, intensely, and almost exclusively competitive, more recent scientific study has illuminated the powerful role of mutuality, synergy, coexistence, and cooperation in the natural world and the more accurate picture of life that presents.

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Economics says: Compete. Only by pitting yourself against a worthy opponent will you perform efficiently. The reward for successful competition will be growth. You will eat up your opponents, one by one, and as you do, you will gain the resources to do it some more. The Earth says: Compete, yes, but keep your competition in bounds. Don’t annihilate. Take only what you need. Leave your competition enough to live. Whenever possible, don’t compete, cooperate. Pollinate each other, build firm structures that lift smaller species up to the light. Pass around the nutrients, share the territory. Some kinds of excellence rise out of competition; other kinds rise out of cooperation. You’re not in a war; you’re in a community.

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I have seen its cost again and again in my work in the developing world. I see people with a dependency hangover. I see the consequences of a welfare state worldwide that goes beyond rich and poor, that is actually inside of institutions, families, nation-to-nation relationships where people “help” other people in a way that is patriarchal—from the top down—and creates dependents, and dependence, instead of supporting self-reliance and healthy interdependence. It diminishes everyone.

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We have dreamed it: therefore it is. I have become convinced that everything we think and feel is merely perception: that our lives—individually as well as communally—are molded around such perception: and that if we want to change, we must alter our perception. When we give our energy to a different dream, the world is transformed. To create a new world, we must first create a new dream. —JOHN PERKINS, The World Is As You Dream It

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In our interactions with the Achuar people of Ecuador and the other indigenous peoples with whom we now have begun to work, the message is the same: “Change the dream.” They say that we really can’t change our everyday actions because at their root will always be the dream we have for our future and we will always act consistent with that dream. However, they say, the dream itself can be changed in the space of one generation and the time is now to do the work that will change the dream.

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I have looked deeply into what our dream is and where it comes from. I have seen that we must redream, learn to question the cultural dream of more and begin to create a dream and a future that is consistent with our reverence toward, respect for, and affirmation of life. Changing the dream may really mean to see the world completely differently—as indigenous people do. They see a world that is totally sufficient, animated with spirit, intelligent, mystical, responsive, and creative—constantly generating and regenerating itself in harmony with the great diversity of resources that support and collaborate with one another through the mystery of life. They see human beings as part of that great mystery, each human being having an infinite capacity to create, collaborate, and contribute.

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As Gandhi said, “There is enough for our need but not for our greed.”

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This experience of aligning our money and soul is available to us every day in even the smallest or most mundane transactions with money, or other choices we make in daily life that lessen money’s grip on us.

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With the December holidays approaching, we also shared that people we knew were participating in what could be called a great “gift shift.” They were shifting from buying gifts to donating money or time, from spending money on presents to spending time with people, from making rote gestures to expressing deeper connections.

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The gender and money distortion exists in dramatic proportions worldwide, but it starts right in our own homes, in our own families, in our own hearts, where helplessness or entitlement drive our feelings about money. Until those deeper issues around money are reconciled—between one woman and one man and between all women and all men—money will continue to be at times a blind spot and at other times a flash point in our relationship with money and with each other, from our most intimate relationships to the most public arenas of life, work, and public policy.

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Money is like water. It can be a conduit for commitment, a currency of love. Money moving in the direction of our highest commitments nourishes our world and ourselves. What you appreciate appreciates. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands. Collaboration creates prosperity. True abundance flows from enough; never from more. Money carries our intention. If we use it with integrity, then it carries integrity forward. Know the flow—take responsibility for the way your money moves in the world. Let your soul inform your money and your money express your soul. Access your assets—not only money but also your own character and capabilities, your relationships and other nonmoney

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The profound experience of those short days returns from time to time, and it is clear for me now as I think about the nature of this human experience of ours, and the fact that one of the most defining, demanding aspects of being engaged in the human experience is our struggle, our challenge, and our interactions with money. I saw again as I had seen many times before, but this time even more clearly, that money—an arena of life that so hooks and seduces us—can be our greatest ally in our own transformation and the transformation of the world in which we live.

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As a colleague of mine has said, the job of our time is to hospice the death of the old unsustainable systems and structures and to midwife the birth of new sustainable systems and new ways of being.

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When I first heard this caterpillar-butterfly metaphor I loved it because it gave me a way to see the world the way it is, even its state of voracious greed, as a kind of evolutionary phase. It is such a fitting metaphor for our time. When I look at the inspired, devoted, and brilliant people at work in so many ways to repair and nourish the world, in families, communities, and sustainable enterprises everywhere on Earth, I see the imaginal cells of our own transformation. That’s us, people like me and people like you, people whose stories I’ve shared in this book, and people appreciating them, people creating new ways, seeing new possibilities.

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Provides life-coaching and life-changing workshops based on Dave Ellis’s book Falling Awake.

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