As my father grew older he became wealthier, rising in local government and then setting up his own business. Yet I noticed that his anxieties about money remained constant. At age thirteen or fourteen, I remember asking him how much money it would take for him to feel secure. I was surprised that he had an exact figure in response, telling me that two hundred and fifty thousand pounds was the figure at which money made money and you no longer needed to work at it. I later discovered that this was the sum needed to become a Lloyds name. Indeed it was shortly before the whole Lloyd's of London insurance market collapsed in a “wealth” of claims and inability to pay. At age eighteen I remember pointing out to my father that I reckoned he was now worth this magic figure of £250,000 given house inflation and inheriting from my grandfather. I was curious to know if it had done the trick and he now felt secure: it had not. He know felt that given inflation and other factors he now needed at least a million pounds to feel secure. Being patient (and a somewhat annoying son), I returned to the theme on my father's retirement, at which point he had sold his business and was worth well over a million pounds. His reflection was that his thoughts were full now of the fact that he and my mother had many years of retirement ahead of them and, my mother being some seven years younger, the money might have to last some considerable time. He was also quick to acknowledge that the insecurity about money was unlikely to leave him no matter how much money he made and that in fact, the more he had the greater the concern about losing it. What I realised was that no external factors were likely to solve what was an internal issue.
Having knowledge is valuable, but it requires application and strangely still requires a level of insight gained through experience and deeper thought to really instill it. In re-reading the Carlos Castaneda books recently, I came across a passage in Tales of Power where Don Juan is talking about knowledge and the link to what he described as “personal power”. Carlos is desperate for Don Juan to tell him about the Sorcerer's (check) Description but Don Juan points out that Carlos does not have enough personal power to understand it. Carlos begs Don Juan to tell him anyway and Don Juan illustrates his point by describing one of the most powerful truths that Don Juan believes can be known. Namely that we are surrounded by eternity and we can use that to – check and finish off. This means nothing to Carlos, for him it is only an intellectual description. It is why there is a distinction between information and wisdom. Information does not necessarily equate to awareness or understanding if we cannot generate the insight or understanding to translate the information into knowledge.
So my own black hole game has involved a large dose of understanding money and security. I have currently been stuck in a black hole about money for the last 18 months, plagued by concern about my retirement and going round in circles in terms of possible solutions. I am reasonably lucky with money, in that I work hard and am able to earn well, yet this has not changed my anxiety about being destitute, nor has the knowledge that this is unlikely to happen. To explain my black hole I need to provide some background. I worked for Ernst & Young for many years in Human Resources and whilst we had very little money when I was young and my son was a toddler – at one point we lived in a one bedroom flat costing £500 per month and my take home pay was £720 per month – my salary gradually grew until I was comfortably off. Yet, this did not stop my anxiety about money, indeed I was more and more deeply caught in a desire to get to point where I was free of having to earn and had enough to live on without having to earn an income. My idea was that I would gradually build up houses that I rented out until I had sufficient income to not have to earn. When I left Ernst & Young some eight and a half years ago, I took the decision to throw myself out into the void. Having watched my father wait until he was in his early fifties and made redundant before setting up his own business which he loved and only wished he had done earlier before being pushed by Life, I felt at thirty-seven, that if I did not take the chance then, I would miss the opportunity to overcome my fear and take a leap. It was a very valuable decision and my inheritance has been the chance to do work which I love. The transition, like any birth, was traumatic, mostly because of my fears and anxieties about money. I considered myself essentially unemployable except by the Ernst & Young who knew me, I had no work lined up, I had no network of people outside Ernst & Young and I had no guarantee of work from Ernst & Young either. In addition, I had a mortgage to pay and a family to support where I was the sole bread-winner. The one thing I had learnt from experience at Ernst & Young was that I did not want to take a conventional approach of trying to push and run round being fuelled by this anxiety trying to push to get people to give me work. Despite this noble resolve, I did nevertheless try this twice, with the results I had expected, ie. nothing at all came of it!
At Ernst & Young, my diary had become my barometer of security, the more it filled up the more secure I felt. Outside E&Y this phenomenon was amplified ten-fold. Each upcoming empty month tugged at my belly creating an anxiety. I had promised myself the opportunity to spend more time with my family and a more balanced and freer existence. Six months later, on reviewing my situation I was not overly surprised to find that I was working just as hard and as long hours as at Ernst & Young and encountering individuals who seemed like carbon copies of those that I had been dealing with throughout my life. I wondered where the freedom I had initially discovered on making the move had gone. I consoled myself with the thought that at least I did not work for a large professional services partnership any more, but then realised that I my major clients were large professional services companies. I realised plus ca change; that my life had changed very little for all that I thought I was changing it significantly. In the end I concluded that two changes were valuable, firstly that since I was now working for myself, no-one was responsible for the way I was working but me and secondly that I did prefer the illusion of freedom, even if in reality I was no freer (ie. to know that I could stop at any point I felt like it, even if I had always had this option). It cemented the realisation I had come to on questioning my father, namely that I wasn't going to get free by changing my external reality but rather would have to change my internal reality. I spent the next years working just as crazily, driven by a cocktail of fear and anxiety, fearful of saying no to work and always with a background anxiety about my diary and the level of work I had. Throughout this period I worked on seeing my fear and it did become less dominant. My family and friends soon got bored with my cry wolf approach to work and stopped listening when I confidently predicted that my business was declining only a few days later to complain that I was overwhelmed with too much work and didn't want to have to be working so hard. Yet I noticed that I never quite lost the sense of reduction in my anxiety when I had a full diary and was overloaded with work. The times I asked life for less, it inexplicably complied to leave my personality niggling with anxiety again.
Throughout this time there were constant epiphanies and I was able to watch the dynamics of my personality closely yet the fear never disappeared. Despite this, I do not subscribe to the fact that there is something wrong with money or earning a lot of it. It made it possible for me to be very generous with friends and with those who needed help and most of all it allowed me to set up my wife's stables helping autistic children and providing others who needed help and had little money to be part of an environment with animals and a very nourishing environment. Instead of building up properties as I had planned when we bought the site, with its planning permission to build a holiday cottage, I gave the the barn away to my wife's business and even bought another nine acre site with inheritance and a further mortgage to support it. Hence my current dilemma, where, having paid off my mortgage but not having made any contributions to a pension for the last eight and a half years I am wondering what to do about my retirement. The difficulty in this situation is that my promise to myself of building up properties does not seem the route that it did to freedom since it entails work – in the form of looking after tenants and property - plus it tempts fate in terms of difficult tenants, building problems etc. As I examined it, I realised that my current work is more enjoyable and fulfilling and my life is so full that I do not want extra work or responsibility. Investing in stocks and shares seems equally fruitless in the current environment and I feel wary about handing control to a financial adviser and the whole industry which seems geared to making money at your expense. However, to take it on myself exposes me to further work and responsibility. This conundrum has been going on in my head for some time, causing me to be unable to act. The added dimension being the fact that I have always wanted to buy somewhere in France and got presented with the perfect opportunity but it was just a bit more expensive than I wanted and also I discovered that in France the average house takes two and a half years to sell, which means if I take an experimental attitude which takes a risk, I can't simply step out of it.
A number of factors came together however to provide a breakthrough in this conundrum. The first was a conversation with my friend Sam. Sam is coming to work at our venue to set up a school as there a few children who want to be educated there and Sam is a natural with children. However, the costs do not yet stack up, so I have agreed to underwrite the difference to allow him to make the move and give the school the chance. Sam was apprehensive about making the leap but in talking to me, he mentioned that I could have no fears about being destitute as he did. This struck me as odd, yet when he described his reasons made complete sense. From his point of view, the property and land that I owned meant that should I need to, I could always sell up and live in a very modest two bedroom house like his and have a considerable sum behind me. From my point of view, I explained that Sam had a room he could rent out and also would have little trouble matching his £20,000 per year salary. As I explained to Sam, I could see objectively that what he described about my position was accurate but that it made no difference to my feelings at all, whereas he lived with less (albeit with fewer responsibilities in terms of family) and was less concerned about money. The second was a conversation with my wife, where, as we talked it through, I realised that my desire to create something independent of my work as a source of income was really an attempt to control life, because when it came to money I did not trust life or like being dependent. Yet, in my black hole what stopped me moving forward was that all other directions involved a dependency on life. None of them escaped the bald fact that I cannot avoid being dependent on the universe. Given my Chiron Saturn conjunction in Pisces opposite a Pluto Uranus conjunction and square my Sun rising in Sagittarius, I realised there was no escape and I could not create a situation where I felt secure and free. Indeed the danger was that in trying to do so, I would end up destroying the very work I enjoyed and found fulfilling. What I decided I could do, however, in accepting this dependency and lack of control, was stop working so hard and pursuing an illusion of freedom, in the mistaken notion that I would somehow provide for a fulfilling old age by sacrificing my middle age or that I would ever finally get free.
I realise the real freedom is to spend less of my time and mental energy wrestling with something that is not going to change; that the only freedom lies in being less attached to my personality and to the topic of money.