How Solving The Wealth Puzzle Will Save Humanity


Featured Image: Gurdjieff and the Buddha by Federico Zanetti

Wealth and Right Livelihood are such an important chapter of our personal stories and they occupy so much of our headspace, that they naturally take a central role in my work.
The mission to “make it” in life and to “become someone” take up an enormous amount of humanity’s energies and together with lack of resources, they cause a massive amount of suffering in the world.
Why is it that something we’re naturally inclined to feel can cause so much trouble?
I feel that many people are looking to conjugate their spiritual development, their professions and their income and looking for some clarity around this subject, I will try to give a helpful contribution, by sharing my thoughts on:

  • What wealth is.
  • What wealth isn’t.
  • Why the pursuit of wealth is the key to saving humanity.
  • What does personal evolution depend on.
  • The Buddhist practice of Right Livelihood.
  • Who the man in the illustration is and why he matters.

The puzzle

Abundance is a tricky existential puzzle disguised as a practical one.
Sure, we have needs and we need resources for both our physical and emotional wellbeing and that makes it a puzzle that we can’t escape.
Society doesn’t teach us to solve it, but it is armed with highly qualified economists whom, they assure us, have everything under control and have perfectly valid explanations for everything, so we don’t have to worry about it and just do our bit.
As a result, after struggling with the subject for a while, people put it at the back of their minds because they can’t make heads or tails of it.
Society is divided between which pieces of the puzzle to leave out, but pretty much everybody leaves at least one piece out.
There are those who are disillusioned with the sacrifices and bad karma that are often involved with the pursuit of abundance.
They decide that it is better to be poor and happy than well-off and miserable, but they have to deal with the problems around being broke.
There are others who can’t face a life of poverty and for them, the sacrifices and bad karma of pursuing abundance are necessary evils.
They are very happy that someone else came up with the phrase “survival of the fittest” by the time they came along,  but they struggle with time, friendships, sacrificing the present for the future and are haunted by the lingering dilemma: will it still be worth it if I get hit by a bus tomorrow?
It’s interesting to observe how the ideas of wealth and personal life goals develop in us as kids.
We aspire to all the fun jobs when we grow up, all the glory jobs, we want to be like daddy.
We assume that self actualization, the flowering of our being, is something that happens automatically with growing up.
Then, as we grow up, we realise the magnitude of the path and we begin to downsize our ambitions, seeing that nothing will materialise by itself.
We may not realise it, but as kids, we instinctively know that the path to abundance and the path to personal evolution are one and the same.
Growing up, the puzzle jams because we divorce the two ideas, we lose faith in our ability to evolve and we decide to focus on trading time for money so that we may take personal evolution as a hobby once we have a nest egg.

Wealth and poisonous lookalikes

Most of the time I am not a stickler for the precise use of words and their definitions.
Wealth though, occupies such a central role in our collective psyche, that its definition has to be clear, unambiguous and honest.
Sadly, its meaning is confused and tangled up with other ideas and I think the word itself is in really bad shape, too bad for such an important word.

First, the word wealth as it’s normally used, is tangled with the idea of property, but they are two separate things.
Second, there are two phenomena called wealth, one is authentic and the other is a semantic fraud, a poisonous lookalike.
Real wealth is a standalone condition that has its roots in the spiritual and has effects in the material.
It’s a connection with /and appreciation of/ everything precious and with potential that one has and the ability to provide for one’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing through one’s talents and passions.
The ability can be adapted to fulfil other people’s needs and desires, in exchange for reward, that’s the bit that generates the property and the income.
It’s one of those assets that has to be unlocked to extract its value.
As a result, wealth is a package made up of the ability to fulfil needs and generate assets; the resulting assets; the ability to enjoy them and the ability to let go of them.
I think if any of those ingredients are missing, I’d be hesitant to call it true wealth because it either struggles to deliver value and enjoyment or it may hide a potential to become a hindrance.

Its poisonous lookalike is one half of a dual phenomenon: the other side of poverty.
You cannot get one half of a phenomenon without the other, and as a result, this kind of wealth makes you poor in other areas.
Real wealth is a condition that arises on the quest for personal evolution, to lose it is just as unlikely as the loss of that evolution.
Phoney wealth is the direct pursuit of material assets and their loss is guaranteed.
Nobody knows if there is life after death, but we don’t know for sure whether we lose our personal evolution.
On the other hand, we’re 100% certain that we lose our material assets.
Whether or not there is life after death, you remain “the guy who…” regardless.
If there isn’t any, that doesn’t matter, but if there is, you’ll want something good to follow those three dots as it will be the only asset you’ll have left: who you are and have been.
When property is part of people’s lives, they’re always at risk of becoming something they don’t want to be in order to obtain it or preserve it.
How often do families fall out with inheritance disputes?
How often do property dynasties alienate themselves from the rest of humanity?
And how fulfilling is it exactly, to be part of such a dynasty?
How often do people who have property, live anxiously for fear of losing it?
Sadly, all that anxiety is suffered in vain, for they will lose it, eventually.
The best they can do is to protect it for as long as they live at whatever expense that entails.
In the path to personal evolution, emotional fulfilment is one of the priorities.
That becomes real wealth when paired with the skills needed to monetise one’s passions.
In phoney wealth, money is a proxy to pay for other proxies that we hope will bring, if not real fulfilment, at least a temporary hit of endorphins.
Truly wealthy people are careful about having too much stuff, as stuff needs looking after, and guardianship is incompatible with mobility and freedom.
Phoney wealth requires one to constantly accumulate stuff because real fulfilment never comes, just like drinking sea water.
Real wealth is the asset and even before generating income and property as a byproduct, it brings the personal fulfilment that we seek, since obtaining it and the life experiences that we seek to self-actualise are woven into the same path.
Phoney wealth is pursued directly as treatment for a malaise:  fear of need, need for prestige, narcissism, megalomania and other emotional fault lines.
The goal of accumulating material wealth directly is incompatible with the accumulation of actual wealth in at least a couple of ways.
One, when material wealth is the goal, your life choices will be dedicated to that goal and you won’t dedicate your energies to what your heart is asking you.
Cash is always a proxy and has no inherent emotional value, which is what the heart is interested in.
The second, is that it’s incompatible with the acceptance of the idea of impermanence, which is essential to obtaining real wealth.

There is  a divide between pursuing satisfaction directly and by proxy, by chasing money.
Satisfaction boils down to what? Down to things like bliss, insight, contentment, basically what we call the higher states of consciousness.
These can only be reached when one lives in harmony with the cosmos, I will touch more upon this in the Right Livelihood section, later on in the article.
Therefore, the quest for wealth boils down to the quest for the higher states of consciousness, which far from being just a mind job, are the only things that truly allow us to make a difference in the world as well.

How the pursuit of wealth will save humanity

Humanity is saved, one person at a time, one community at a time, when the pursuit of wealth becomes the pursuit of personal evolution rather than just money and power as proxies for happiness and palliatives for our fears.
At that point, the commodities being exploited will be our passion and know how, no longer the environment and its people.
When we no longer consider taking advantage of others as an acceptable part of the game, anyone who relies on consensus will stop doing it.
When a more authentic definition of wealth takes hold and is seen as “good wealth” while the current turbo-capitalist version will be seen as “evil wealth”, the latter will struggle to manifest any longer.
Property is a consequence of actions and choices which, in turn, define us as people.
So, to solve the puzzle of wealth is to solve the puzzle of personal fulfilment, which in turn, is the result of personal evolution, which itself is the key to our harmony with the cosmos.

Personal evolution as the path to wealth

The path to wealth begins with the awareness of the self.
As the self is dynamic, this is a lifelong concern, but when taken seriously, it begins to bear fruit straight away.
I spent my thirties trying to understand more about myself, during meditation, observing myself when alone, with friends, when at work and in all sorts of environments and situations.
I was reading literature from the ancient east and the modern west that was guiding me towards that goal, I was attending courses and workshops that helped me further.
After some time, I began to frame much more positively the natural talents and flaws I had and to understand much better the journeys I’d been on and what exactly I got out of them, to make better choices in the future.
I understood the huge debt I owed to my ancestors for my genes and natural talents, to the lives of other beings for the food that I ate and to the microorganisms inside me that keep me healthy.
That process lead me to expand the definition of self, to include not just all the obvious bits, but also what is unseen and all other phenomena it depends on.
Like Alan Watts said: a painting cannot exist without its canvas. I would add, nor without its painter and the rest of its value chain.
A new self respect I had never experienced deeply before, began to inform the way I lived my life.
I began to understand more deeply the world around me and I began to see it as my value chain, something that required me to set boundaries for my own protection, but to which fundamentally I owed everything.
After having spent a lifetime learning “stuff”, in formal education, at various jobs, at the business I ran, I realised that I was still ignorant in what I came to call the real humanistic subjects.
Strength, courage, patience, assertiveness, humility, sensitivity, focus, an even temper, a sense of the sacred, the ability to love (without the desire to possess), the ability to let go, the ability to handle power, the ability to have fun, the ability to grab opportunities mid flight, the ability to say both yes and no.
Eager to acquire them, I gladly threw myself at the deep end and took on responsibilities that required me to find those qualities in me, learning through action and experience.
That’s when it became clear to me that wealth, is a consequence of those qualities at work.
Working towards them, the path to personal evolution and the acquisition of wealth are the same thing.

Right Livelihood: career advice from the Buddha.

Discover who you are, and after that, start doing something that makes the world happy, but never forget that the world includes you.
This is my interpretation of the essence of Right livelihood, the fifth tenet of the Noble Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s very own “How to Gain Enlightenment in Eight Easy Steps” from 500bc.
The topic appears on several buddhist scriptures, mainly on the Magga-Vibhanga Sutra, the Maha-Cattarisaka Sutra, the Dighajanu (Vyagghapajja) Sutra and the Samaññaphala Sutra, but the whole Pali Canon helps to frame it into context, with its wider teachings on awareness and our relationship with the other.
It’s significant that it’s tenet n.5, because it depends on other conditions being fulfilled and it leads, in turn, to other goals.
I’m not going to attempt to contextualise Right Livelihood in the proper Buddhist fashion, because that deserves an essay in itself, but the idea is that you need to learn the basics of looking at reality without bias and preconception, both inside and outside you, which isn’t easy.
With that clarity obtained, you can now see yourself as part of a conscious whole, a cosmic economy where you receive value but also provide it.
That’s where the idea of Right Livelihood comes in: it’s about participating in a balanced way in that cosmic economy and being fully aware of it.
Knowing that you and your world are the same thing, allows you to be selfish in the right way: providing goods or services that have a great impact and you really enjoy, engaging with the healthy side of the economy.
It’s not possible to make a living by stiffing the world you’re part of and then expect to find fulfilment, a miserable survival is the best that can be hoped for.
The only real deal is a win-win deal.
As I said earlier, Right Livelihood is tenet n.5 of an Eightfold Path that leads to the higher states of consciousness mentioned in the previous section, so we could say that the real goal of our lives’ work is not just the money, but the higher states of consciousness.
Some people operate out of an inner conflict or trauma. By chance I have come across some articles that cite recent studies on politics and company leadership and these studies have found that these fields attract narcissists in a particular way(1).
This may lead them to making their living by exploiting a weakness, an addiction or a fear, or even turning health, water and other basic human rights into a commodity to be exploited.
On the surface, they may look really smart because of their fat bank balances and the false power of their organizations, but it’s the rest of the package that tells the whole story.
What you are, what you do, what you earn, what you give, the states of consciousness you experience, are all connected.
The idea of forging yourself as an individual, is intertwined with personal evolution and the enjoyment of its fruits, fruits that should be abundant, since the basis of the economy is human need and desire, which aren’t about to run out any time soon.
Ongoing self enquiry is the real investment that will result in clarity and finding one’s calling.
The choice to follow it or not is the next stage in the game, where we are called upon to face the uncertainties of following it or the regrets of not doing so.
Be that as it were, it remains a formative process where we are tested at every step.

G.I. Gurdjieff: meet a remarkable man.

The man in this article’s illustration is G.I. Gurdjieff and to me he represents the patron saint of enterprise and human development.
As the introductory essay of the Right Livelihood section of my blog, a section on this extraordinary teacher was unavoidable.
Gurdjieff was born to a family of carpenters and bards in the far eastern edge of modern Turkey, in what was then Armenia, in a region that was alive with transcendental mystical doctrines.
That area had a mixed population made up of a great variety of communities from obscure lineages of the Orient, eastern and southern Europe, living peacefully side by side and an established tradition of syncretism, that is to say, people had beliefs and practices that were from mixed origins, and where travelling holy men were often seen.
I sometimes wonder what the atmosphere must have been like there, immersed in natural wonders, ancient monasteries and soaked in wonder for the mysteries of the divine.
Gurdjieff spent many years travelling, seeking out the remains of ancient esoterism.
In those travels, he met people who embodied in his eyes, a certain success with what being a human is all about.
I’m talking about people who had gained, through much patience and life investment, remarkable skills and personal attributes, in addition to hidden esoteric insights.
Gurdjieff himself was one of these people. He threw himself into incredible adventures armed with nothing but his personal skills, attributes and an unshakeable faith in the universe.
For several years, war was one of the challenges of his life.
These were the years when armed struggle was rife all over the Caucasus, Russia was going through the Bolshevik revolution and the Turks were invading his own country during the infamous Armenian Genocide carried out between 1914 and 1923.
During this period he was involved several times in risky missions to save his family, pupils and friends.
He developed into a dependable person who made his own personal evolution the investment of his life, to become worthy of receiving the hidden mysteries of the universe.
More than any other teacher of transcendental discipline, he was able to mobilise resources for his projects and needs.
Having gained the right knowledge base and know how during his formative years, he was able to tap directly into human need and desire and he was able to make any money he wanted for any reason he wanted.
After the travels of his youth, Gurdjieff became a teacher of human development.
To do a summary of Gurdjieff’s teachings that would even remotely do them justice, would take at least the length of a whole article. At the centre of his teaching were techniques for self observation, self control, meditation through dance and music and the development of one’s body, mind and emotional centre.

The guiding stars of Alexandropol and Śrāvastī

One of the things I wanted to address in this article, was a brief comparison between the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff and Gautama Buddha, two teachers that have a massive influence on me.
Both teachers address human development through its physical, psychosomatic, spiritual and transcendental stages, but with different styles that complement each other beautifully.
The Buddha’s “big game” was the extinction of suffering.
As a result, he operated more at the transcendental level and had to make an effort to teach his pupils to make their journey from the worldly to the essential.
He was in a meditative state twenty four hours a day and was silent most of the time, speaking only to deliver teachings.
One could say that his feet were in the sky and his head was pointing to the earth.
Gurdjieff on the other hand, was in my opinion, what in Buddhism is called a Bodhisattva: someone whose feet are firmly planted on the ground of Samsara, so that his work here on earth can be carried out at eye level, without worrying about floating away.
The Buddha’s formative years never really involved the practical.
He was born a prince and when he left the royal palace, he studied yoga, then became an itinerant ascetic.
At age 30, he reached the transcendental dimension, but when he began teaching, he could only teach what he had learned: how to make the journey from the worldly to the essential.
In his teaching, to operate well at the worldly level was a means to an end, to reach Nirvana.
In Gurdjieff’s teaching, operating well at the worldly level, cultivating natural human potential, is the main goal, whilst reaching the transcendental is its byproduct.
Gurdjieff’s father was a carpenter and he grew up in a world full of skilled artisans, some of whom had found the divinity in the spirit of their work.
In terms of economics, the Buddha relied on donations.
Gurdjieff on the other hand, was able to generate wealth by his own effort, as and when he needed it.
As this article is about the economics of life, I have decided to present the work of these great teachers.
The Buddha’s, because he explains how our actions are interconnected to the rest of existence through the law of karma and Gurdjieff, because he shows how, if we invest in ourselves, in our development and our skillset, the universe will eventually become an ally and sponsor in our quest to live life in the name of beauty.

Putting it together: the path to wealth.

Respect yourself and your value chain: 
Many people are stuck in a mindset of self-punishment without even realising it.
Our heads are filled with arbitrary expectations, social conditioning and a lot of other garbage that chokes our development.
We are born in a society that tricks us into thinking that life should be as comfortable as heaven and you should be as competent as a god, always better than everyone else.
When we realise that this expectation cannot be met, we get no inkling that the expectation is fubar, instead we blame ourselves, we resent the people who disappointed us, we compete with the rest of society and then we resent them for acting in their own interest.
You are the vehicle of your own evolution and you’re facing up to the music every day.
Other people and the environment are your value chain: your family and friends, your customers, your suppliers, your crutches, your admirers, your minions, the food that you eat, the air that you breathe, without them you literally can’t do it.
So, drop the expectations, learn to respect the you/your environment duality and avoid the scenarios of interaction built to fail.

Pay the dues of your personal development: 
In the 21st century, people invest in training and education a lot more than they used to.
That’s a huge plus, but the picture of personal development remains incomplete.
Strength, courage, patience, assertiveness, humility, sensitivity, focus, an even temper, a sense of the sacred, the ability to love (without the desire to possess), the ability to let go, the ability to handle power, the ability to have fun, the ability to grab opportunities mid flight, the ability to say both yes and no.
These are what I call “the humanistic subjects” and they make for a lifetime of learning.
Nobody achieves a full score on all those subjects, but even a D can have a monumental impact on your life.
They are emotionally expensive to learn and they are only taught at the Deep End Academy and at the School Of No Safety Net.
We normally stay well away from any real possibility to learn them, because we know those schools very well and we don’t like them.
We like comfort, we like stability, we like easy, but the irony is that without them, life can’t be either comfortable, nor stable, nor easy.
With them in your pocket however, any skill becomes 1000 times more valuable and monetizable.
It’s a huge sacrifice to the altar of You, but then again, so is wealth.
So, take a deep breath and prepare to make it.

Find your calling and act upon it:

I saw once on YouTube, a great video of Jim Carrey telling how his father once taught him that “You can fail at what you don’t love, so you might as well do what you love.”
That’s a great teaching of rare beauty and power, isn’t it?
Life is way too slippery to be thinking tactically about one’s own life work.
I don’t know anybody who chose their life’s work based on fear or tactics who felt fulfilled in life.
There’s something that you love and you find easy to do, while other people find it difficult and will come to you to provide them a service. Choose that, chances are that you just need to research how people make a living out of it.

Right Livelihood: 
Do something that makes the world happy and never forget that the world includes you.
Right livelihood is a powerful principle that joins action, identity, karma and the interconnectedness of phenomena.
Remember that if you’re ever tempted to act “clever” and do something that earns you a fat cheque but harms others and/or the environment.
If you do, expect to feel the boot of karma up your rear end at some point and when it does, remember I told you so.
The only real deal is a win-win deal.

Pursue real wealth and be aware of its phoney lookalikes:
Real wealth is immune to impermanence, market crashes and robbery. It is divorced from its outward signs that are vulnerable thus.
You will always be “the guy who…”.
If you can manage to manifest the right things on those three dots, you have an intangible property that can be monetised repeatedly, so long as you drop the idea of putting 5M in the bank for a rainy day. Earn based on what you actually need the money for.
Crucially, real wealth is one you can enjoy. It’s better to have 5 figures in the bank and being happy, than to have seven figures, feeling lonely and being on 14 pills a day.
Real wealth is a standalone condition that has its root in the spiritual and has effects in the material.
Phoney wealth, the pursuit of property and luxury, is simply the other side of destitution. With one phenomenon you get the other.

(1) https://phys.org/news/2020-10-narcissistic-leaders-infect-cultures.html

Image Attributions

  1. G.I. Gurdjieff
    CREDIT: Federico Zanetti


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