Welcome to day 30 of 31 Days of Apocalypse, Now, a month of posts about apocalypse, revelation, uncovering what’s been hidden. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may only peripherally seem related. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
I didn’t know what I was going to write about tonight — we’re on vacation on Cape Cod and more busy than usual — and then I read someone’s comments on an online forum I was part of for over 20 years, dedicated to living life better with less. She wrote:
“The book Your Money or Your Life (original version) changed everything for me. I still list every dollar coming in and going out, and at the end of each month [my partner] and I ask ourselves, “Were the expenses in line with our goals and values? Have we considered the future as well as the present in our choices?” A very simple system but it continues to make all the difference here.”
That book, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, was an eye-opener for me, too, when I read it in the late 1990s. It transformed my relationship with money, persuading me that money (income) is what we choose to trade our life energy for. We sell our limited hours on earth and our limited energy for an hourly wage (which is less than our paystub says, once the dollar cost of gas, car maintenance, work clothes, work lunches, work coffee, etc., is considered, and once the time costs of commuting, decompressing after work, preparing for work, missing out on important life moments because of work, and so on, are deducted. Is it worth it?
One way to find out is to track every cent you spend (for several months) to see if what you bought was worth the cost of your life energy. Every month, the idea is to look at what you’ve spent, in categories like food, entertainment, fees and fines, car costs, housing, pet costs, clothing, charitable contributions, health care, etc., and ask 3 questions of each category total:
- Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction and value in proportion to life energy spent?
- Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
- How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for a living?
“Asking yourself, month in, month out, whether you actually got fulfillment in proportion to life energy spent in each subcategory awakens the natural sense of knowing when enough is enough. Just say ‘yes’ to being conscious. This program is built on consciousness, fulfillment and choice, not on budgeting and deprivation. It’s about identifying, for yourself, what you need as opposed to what you want, what purchases or types of purchases actually bring you fulfillment, what represents ‘enough’ for you and what you actually spend money on. … [I]f you spend your life energy on stuff that brings only passing fulfillment and doesn’t support your values, you end up with less life” (YMOYL summary)
There are other steps (I never did the wall chart) but this step in particular made me aware of the choices I was making and could make relating to money. (If I were home, I’d share a photo of one of the spreadsheets I created then, which I’ve kept). The book gave me a rubric with which to make decisions about what’s worth working for (for money) and what’s worth spending money on. It helped me become a much more frugal person than I had been (and I had been necessarily fairly frugal before), because I didn’t want to waste money on something that wasn’t really bringing me joy and satisfaction. It also sparked the idea that it’s really possible to live, and live well, on much less money than most financial advisors or even your friends and family would have you believe. As Henry David Thoreau said in Walden, “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” Reading this book comforted me in my almost utter lack of ambition for improvement, progress, and “getting ahead” by offering me the option of being satisfied with very little in many aspects of my life.
The same person on the forum also commented in the same message about working to create and maintain harmony between herself and her partner. They were two loners who met in middle age, accustomed to being alone:
“We simply talked about how to work together and how to communicate. When confusions or stresses arose, we figured out why and worked to change our patterns. It took time to build a good team out of two loners, but ultimately it all came down to willingness to listen to each other and to try different ideas until they worked for us. We were greatly helped by a book called The Four Agreements. It says to always be impeccable with our word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do our best. What I love most about those is they take a lifetime of practice!”
I definitely can’t claim that my partner and I (both constitutional loners) even practice harmony much, but I can vouch for the transformative insights of The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. The four agreements, or guidelines for life, seem so simple, even simplistic; yet these are four pivotal relationship principles for all relationships, from the most intimate to the most casual, and failing to follow them leads us continuously to do violence and to experience needless suffering. I think about these agreements almost daily, especially the two that seem to me the hardest, not taking anything personally and not making assumptions.
These books were both part of a list of Ten Influential Books (plus runners-up) that I posted in 2010. Since then, I might add to my list The Map & The Territory (2010) by Michel Houellebecq.
What are your eye-opening books, the ones that uncovered some significant, even dangerous or scary, truth for you?