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Money is a Lot Like Water

--by Lynne Twist (Jul 06, 2015)


We’ve allowed this culture of money to shut down our heart, close off access to our soul, and drive us such that we behave in ways that undermine and erode the very center and core of our most human values. I believe it’s possible to transform our relationship with money and the culture of money that we’ve created in a way that resources continue to flow, that prosperity continues to be available, and that all of us can be served, nurtured and empowered to more fully express who we are as the human family.

I learned a lot about money from a woman named Gertrude.

I met her in a church basement in Harlem. I was doing a small fundraising event for The Hunger Project. I had come from Minneapolis where I had met with an executive of a large food company. The food company had an image problem and felt that making a donation to The Hunger Project and being seen to support the end of hunger might help clean up its image. The executive I met with had given me a check for $50,000 -- but he gave me the donation basically to get me to go away, to assuage his guilt about some public mistakes the company had made and to have the company look good in the eyes of the public. I could tell in the interaction we had that he had no real interest in connecting with resource-poor people or in making any kind of a difference in the work to end world hunger. The money was given from guilt, and the guilt was passed along with the money. I now felt guilty receiving it. I had received the money and the guilt. And both he and I were unfulfilled.

I had the $50,000 check in my briefcase, which sat behind me on a table in the basement of the Harlem church. There were 75 people gathered before me. All of them were black. It was raining and there were leaks all over the room we were in. There were buckets strategically placed all around us catching the dripping water and there was a constant background noise of the rain outside and the dripping from the leaking walls and ceiling. I looked out at the audience and I knew that the people sitting there did not have much to give. I spoke to them about The Hunger Project’s work in Africa, as I thought it would be the most relevant to their own lives and their heritage. When it came time to ask for donations, my palms were sweating and I began to perspire all over wondering if it was the right thing to do. I went ahead and made the request, and the room was absolutely silent.

After what seemed like a long, long time, a woman named Gertrude stood up. She was sitting on the aisle in the second row from the back. She was in her late sixties or early seventies. She had gray hair and when she stood up she was tall, thin, erect and proud.

She said to me, “I ain’t got no checkbook. 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, but the money comes through my life like a small trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the best good for the most folks. I see that as my right and as my responsibility. It’s also my joy. I have $50 in my purse that I earned from doing a white woman’s wash and I want to give it to you.”

She walked up the aisle and gave me her precious $50 and at that moment I saw the power of money in a new way.

I knew that the $50 that I received from Gertrude would buy more for the end of hunger than the $50,000 check in my briefcase. I knew that that $50 was money that came from the soul and not from some bank account. I saw that the power of money can be seen in the way we use it and the integrity with which we direct it into the world. Gertrude taught me a great lesson and I never forgot it.

As Gertrude tells us, we can look at money like water. It flows all over the planet and everywhere it goes it’s useful, it makes things happen and it’s passed along. We could say that water doesn’t belong to any of us or it belongs to all of us. When water is flowing and moving it cleanses, it purifies, it makes things green, it creates growth, it nurtures. But when water starts to slow down, is held back and starts to be still, it can be toxic and stagnant to those who hold it. All of this can be true of money.

It’s possible to have money flow in a way that serves our highest ideals and commitments rather than accumulate it so that we can gain power, authority and special privileges over others. Money can bear the mark of he or she who passed it on and in many ways can be voice, expression and commitment.

Lynne Twist is the founder of Pachamama Alliance, and author of Soul of Money (from which the above story is excerpted).

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18 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jul 9, 2015 rebecca wrote:

 I remember selling personal items and donating some proceeds to charity and I was very happy and it felt like giving a hug to the world.


On Jul 8, 2015 Dilip Shah wrote:

I think this comparison of money to water is very true. In many respects, money and water are alike as Gertrude points out. Both are resources and very valuable when used right. Both can be dangerous  just as well when they are not used right.    Another such resource that comes to mind is time. It can also be used well or otherwise. Big difference however, is that unlike money and water, time can not be contained, in any way or form. Time moves on no matter what. So, if we use money like time, it can not be stopped from being used. So, it can not be allowed to be stagnant and it might eventually end up being used for greater good, even if it might start out otherwise. In today's world, many say "time is money". So, I wonder what if we reverse this and say money is time, meaning let us work hard so it can not become stagnant. If preferably much of it or even some of it can be used for greater good, it will still be better than it being stagnant.  &n  See full.

I think this comparison of money to water is very true. In many respects, money and water are alike as Gertrude points out. Both are resources and very valuable when used right. Both can be dangerous  just as well when they are not used right. 

 
Another such resource that comes to mind is time. It can also be used well or otherwise. Big difference however, is that unlike money and water, time can not be contained, in any way or form. Time moves on no matter what. So, if we use money like time, it can not be stopped from being used. So, it can not be allowed to be stagnant and it might eventually end up being used for greater good, even if it might start out otherwise. In today's world, many say "time is money". So, I wonder what if we reverse this and say money is time, meaning let us work hard so it can not become stagnant. If preferably much of it or even some of it can be used for greater good, it will still be better than it being stagnant. 
 
Finally, unlike water, time is free. It is allocated to all of us in equal amount. We use time allocated to us to do our daily activities including earn money. Some times we use it wisely, some times not. Some of us use it wisely, some do not. In many ways, it is like any other resource, except that it always comes to us free.

One more thought on time. We can not really "spend" our allocated time to gain something in return, like we spend money. We can only use time allocated to us. We can, and do, "sell" our time

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On Jul 8, 2015 Sundi wrote:

 wow, I thought sure the writer was going to say something like "I knew then that the $50K in my pocket would go a long way toward repairing that church and thus improve the lives of Gertrude's community." 



On Jul 8, 2015 bhavesh wrote:

 Great lesson, true Money is like water and it should flow rather then stagnant. 



On Jul 7, 2015 Indigo Ocean wrote:

I am in such deep agreement with this. I like to think of it as a village in which we all get to contribute what we are good at and receive what we need from what others are good at, whether creating goods or sharing services. Money is meant to be a convenient transactional system for that exchange. But the problem with money is that you can horde it in a way you can't horde apples. You know those apples are no good to you if you don't go ahead and exchange them, because they have a shelf life. And though depreciation can chip away at the value of money over time, it doesn't "decay" nearly as quickly as say apples. And the fear of depreciation actually drives even wealthy people to horde even more, among other problem behaviors born of a distorted relationship with money. Similarly, those who could do so much more good in the world, including adding one more happy, relaxed person (themselves) instead fight an inner battle with money, and so cut themselves off from the flow of abundanc  See full.

I am in such deep agreement with this. I like to think of it as a village in which we all get to contribute what we are good at and receive what we need from what others are good at, whether creating goods or sharing services. Money is meant to be a convenient transactional system for that exchange. But the problem with money is that you can horde it in a way you can't horde apples.

You know those apples are no good to you if you don't go ahead and exchange them, because they have a shelf life. And though depreciation can chip away at the value of money over time, it doesn't "decay" nearly as quickly as say apples. And the fear of depreciation actually drives even wealthy people to horde even more, among other problem behaviors born of a distorted relationship with money.

Similarly, those who could do so much more good in the world, including adding one more happy, relaxed person (themselves) instead fight an inner battle with money, and so cut themselves off from the flow of abundance that would empower their dreams and help them deliver their gifts.

The convenience of money has confused everyone. It has created too great a distance between what is contributed and what is received for people to see the relationship. The village doesn't understand it is a village anymore, one in which all are needed, valued, able to make a contribution, and worthy of security in every sense of the word. So let's keep reminding each other -- and creating systems that make this connection explicit.

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On Jul 7, 2015 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 Money, like any other thing such as nuclear energy, is a reality of life and living. It is not what we have but how we use it.People do charity for a variety of reasons. The best is doing it from our heart and feeling the fullness of giving.It is like a selfless service or loving someone unconditionally. This is spirituality at its best. However, there are going to be people who do acts of compassion and kindness, small and big, with a mixed or selfish motivation.Should we feel guilty for giving money or food or clothes or other things with selfish motivation and or should we feel guilty for receiving it? I donate my skills,knowledge , time and things as gifts with no ulterior motives.And when I do it,  giving feels like receiving. This is what I call my heart acts. But when the ego comes into picture, what is also for me, it taints the act of doing.I am a human being and there are times when I have acted like this.  It is not the money, time or knowledge that we  See full.

 Money, like any other thing such as nuclear energy, is a reality of life and living. It is not what we have but how we use it.People do charity for a variety of reasons. The best is doing it from our heart and feeling the fullness of giving.It is like a selfless service or loving someone unconditionally. This is spirituality at its best. However, there are going to be people who do acts of compassion and kindness, small and big, with a mixed or selfish motivation.Should we feel guilty for giving money or food or clothes or other things with selfish motivation and or should we feel guilty for receiving it? I donate my skills,knowledge , time and things as gifts with no ulterior motives.And when I do it,  giving feels like receiving. This is what I call my heart acts. But when the ego comes into picture, what is also for me, it taints the act of doing.I am a human being and there are times when I have acted like this.  It is not the money, time or knowledge that we give makes our acts spiritual. It is the motive, what is behind my doing,  makes it spiritual.

And we had and we will have these two streams of giving in all parts of the world, rich or poor, the first world or the third world countries. I believe in counting our blessings and not judging others who have different motivations for doing what they do.Maybe, the more industrialized and urbanized and materialized we become, we lose heart to heart connectedness. I would like to continue evolving from from self-centered consciousness to transcendental state of consciousness. That makes my life journey a pilgrimage.

May we cultivate empathy, compassion and kindness for all who need our help.

Jagdish P Dave

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On Jul 7, 2015 David Smith wrote:

 It is regrettable that race had to play such a prominent role in the story. Your interpretation of the experience is that here is an angry (white?)  man who is giving $50,000 to assuage his guilt, and his actions were not driven by any compassion. If receiving the contaminated water from this distasteful man was so objectionable to you, why did you even accept it? Perhaps the black woman felt guilt that she earned $50 from a white person, saw the money as contaminated, and decided to give it away. The fact is, we don't know what was in her heart or her mind, just as we don't  know what was in the heart and mind of the white man. We have to rely on your interpretation of these events, and hope that you were not seeing things through a racial prism. We do know he gave 1,000 times as much money, but, he turned out to be the villain in this story and she turned out to be the saint. The American media and our own President keep hammering us with similar stories, and all the  See full.

 It is regrettable that race had to play such a prominent role in the story. Your interpretation of the experience is that here is an angry (white?)  man who is giving $50,000 to assuage his guilt, and his actions were not driven by any compassion. If receiving the contaminated water from this distasteful man was so objectionable to you, why did you even accept it?

Perhaps the black woman felt guilt that she earned $50 from a white person, saw the money as contaminated, and decided to give it away. The fact is, we don't know what was in her heart or her mind, just as we don't  know what was in the heart and mind of the white man. We have to rely on your interpretation of these events, and hope that you were not seeing things through a racial prism. We do know he gave 1,000 times as much money, but, he turned out to be the villain in this story and she turned out to be the saint. The American media and our own President keep hammering us with similar stories, and all they do is make race relations worse.

There was no reason to bring racial relations into your story. It contaminated what was otherwise a very well spoken analogy.

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On Jul 7, 2015 Phil wrote:

 In "Hello, Dolly!", Dolly Levi says:

“Money, pardon the expression, is like manure.  It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

I've always liked that, and like the tie it has to this article.


On Jul 7, 2015 drew wrote:

Really? A surprisingly generous old black woman who takes in white folks' laundry? Your "Magical Negro" storyline is condescending, racist, and tired. 



On Jul 7, 2015 Rev. David Cole wrote:

 As a retired minister of the U M Church as well as a successful business man that works daily in the stock market, I want to establish a group that uses money to generate income called the T L V (the Lord's Vineyard) where every dollar generated belongs to our creator and helps through charitable giving to teach others and donate to those charities a growing percent of the profit to help people at any level of society to manage their money, possessions, valuables as if (which is true) as all belonging to God and are our trust to manage as stewards of all we treat as our own but really belong to God.  As a minister that has officiated many funerals, I have never see a house, a farm, a car or a savings account disappear from this earth when someone departs this life.  Our entire economic system treats money as something to be received, spent on whatever we want and we are left impoverished by our lack of responsible stewardship of all of God's creation and as a result we  See full.

 As a retired minister of the U M Church as well as a successful business man that works daily in the stock market, I want to establish a group that uses money to generate income called the T L V (the Lord's Vineyard) where every dollar generated belongs to our creator and helps through charitable giving to teach others and donate to those charities a growing percent of the profit to help people at any level of society to manage their money, possessions, valuables as if (which is true) as all belonging to God and are our trust to manage as stewards of all we treat as our own but really belong to God.  As a minister that has officiated many funerals, I have never see a house, a farm, a car or a savings account disappear from this earth when someone departs this life.  Our entire economic system treats money as something to be received, spent on whatever we want and we are left impoverished by our lack of responsible stewardship of all of God's creation and as a result we are so impoverished that we cannot (in our minds) "Love our neighbor as ourselves" as Jesus suggested is the greatest commandment of all.

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On Jul 7, 2015 Mamta wrote:
I have heard that Masaru Emoto used to teach that the water we consume, the water that flows out through our drains - if we bless it, express gratitude for it, this water that goes around the planet, through the water cycle raises the vibration of all the water. More of us who do this, better place the world we live in will be. It felt wonderful to be reminded that I can do this with money too.
 
 


On Jul 7, 2015 Susan wrote:

The article was powerful to change my belief about money.
Thank you.



On Jul 6, 2015 Rosalind Bond wrote:

 As I read this I find so many opinions that are personal looking around a room where everyone is black ............ I did some washing for a white woman.....neither of these things were necessary to mention.....your dislike of people with money shines through much stronger than your charitable nature........please don't project your thoughts onto a situation and expect back up. It won't come from me. Yes some people have more money than others but money is never the problem how the person behaves with or without it is more important. The sooner we cease to separate our experience through race the better for me.... we are human beings all of which came our of Africa at some time so all faces in all rooms are actually black to some degree...........seek to help others with a positive view of life.........love each other...........charity has not worked in the way it was meant to because nothing appears to be changing and that's not because you can't get enough money out of people  See full.

 As I read this I find so many opinions that are personal looking around a room where everyone is black ............ I did some washing for a white woman.....neither of these things were necessary to mention.....your dislike of people with money shines through much stronger than your charitable nature........please don't project your thoughts onto a situation and expect back up. It won't come from me. Yes some people have more money than others but money is never the problem how the person behaves with or without it is more important. The sooner we cease to separate our experience through race the better for me.... we are human beings all of which came our of Africa at some time so all faces in all rooms are actually black to some degree...........seek to help others with a positive view of life.........love each other...........charity has not worked in the way it was meant to because nothing appears to be changing and that's not because you can't get enough money out of people its because you don't choose to spend it in the right way. Money is constantly flowing like water don't cause blockages with your own negative thoughts. Love one another without separation we are as one in the end why not remember we are fragments of the whole now. I am you and you are me................x

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On Jul 6, 2015 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Wow. Powerful. I have looked at other aspects of life like water; the ebb and flow of energy, the ebb and flow of our work, the ebb and flow of our emotions. Thank you for adding the view of money this way, it makes perfect and beautiful sense. As someone who sold her home and most of her possessions and uses her money as often as possible to serve others (no matter how little money it may be) I 100% resonated with this post. I have also been on the receiving end of funds for literacy and Storytelling projects throughout the world; serving others through sharing their own traditional or true stories to break stereotypes. The money most easily received has always been from people like Gertrude, those who give from their hearts. This post reminds me to always give/receive from the heart and soul, never from guilt. Hugs to the writer, thank you for sharing a very important reminder for us all. <3



On Jul 6, 2015 Abhishek wrote:

 Wow! This is a powerful story.

Particularly in times when we are plugged into the monetary system, I find myself divided about money. On one end is prosperity and abundance - of being content with what is, and allowing for abundance to flow

On the other is seeing the lack that many people experience, and feeling a sense of discomfort with how our labour gets valued differently, and my brothers and sisters at the other end of the bargain get so much lesser for theirs.....isn't me buying into this system also buying into its flaws?

Incidentially, I picked The Soul of Money by Lynne only yesterday...am hoping to rediscover my relationship with money....




On Jul 5, 2015 Jo wrote:

 As God's Spirit hovers over the waters of earth in early Genesis, God's Spirit ought (ideally) hover over each dollar we so tightly hold.  
Let go I can hear Him say . . . Amen.



On Jul 5, 2015 david doane wrote:

I like the author's analogy that money is like water.  Both are resources that can do great good and great harm.  Money, like water, can flow gently and be used to nurture and foster life.  Money and water can move so fast that they cause damage and destruction.  Too much money, like too much water, can destroy and kill lives.  I've heard that winning the lottery has been blamed for ruining the lives of many winners to the point that they wish they had never won the money.  Money and water can be held back, hoarded, and become stagnant and toxic, being used for no productive purpose by anyone.  Water and money have beauty when they stay in their proper channels and are used productively.  People have gone to war for money and people may soon be going to war over water.  When I contribute money to a cause that I feel positive about, I feel good for using the money in a way that served my highest ideals.  What helps me engage with money  See full.

I like the author's analogy that money is like water.  Both are resources that can do great good and great harm.  Money, like water, can flow gently and be used to nurture and foster life.  Money and water can move so fast that they cause damage and destruction.  Too much money, like too much water, can destroy and kill lives.  I've heard that winning the lottery has been blamed for ruining the lives of many winners to the point that they wish they had never won the money.  Money and water can be held back, hoarded, and become stagnant and toxic, being used for no productive purpose by anyone.  Water and money have beauty when they stay in their proper channels and are used productively.  People have gone to war for money and people may soon be going to war over water.  When I contribute money to a cause that I feel positive about, I feel good for using the money in a way that served my highest ideals.  What helps me engage with money in a mindful manner is to remind myself that money is a two edged sword that can be used for good and evil, and to remind myself to use money to live and not get caught up in living to make money.

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On Jul 3, 2015 susan schaller wrote:

Thank you, Gertrude.  I'm in N.C. right next to S.C. where people were killed while they thought they were safe in a church.  I've been to several groups who want to talk about ending racism.  Mostly white folk up here in the mountains, and I hear guilt, anger and sadness.  People want to end racism, but don't really see the connection to them. I see it in me when I hold on to money and other illusions of security.  When I let go of money, my idea of safety and comfort, cross the street, sit with others, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the hurting, I give up some privilege I was born into.  And, I discover as our friend in the article did, that human to human, from the heart, giving will change our hearts, transforming fear and anger, the root of hate into compassion, empathy - love. Gertrude knew the value of money - it's worthless in your pocket or bank.  Stagnant, like water, it will begin to rot, attracting the mosquitos of fear and greed. Ope  See full.

Thank you, Gertrude.  I'm in N.C. right next to S.C. where people were killed while they thought they were safe in a church.  I've been to several groups who want to talk about ending racism.  Mostly white folk up here in the mountains, and I hear guilt, anger and sadness.  People want to end racism, but don't really see the connection to them. I see it in me when I hold on to money and other illusions of security.  When I let go of money, my idea of safety and comfort, cross the street, sit with others, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the hurting, I give up some privilege I was born into.  And, I discover as our friend in the article did, that human to human, from the heart, giving will change our hearts, transforming fear and anger, the root of hate into compassion, empathy - love. Gertrude knew the value of money - it's worthless in your pocket or bank.  Stagnant, like water, it will begin to rot, attracting the mosquitos of fear and greed. Open our hearts and hands and let the sharing be an airing in the sunshine of love.

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