By Mitchell Thomashow
During the 1980 presidential debates, Ronald Reagan held up a crisp, green one-dollar bill, and he asked the audience what they thought the value was. He proceeded to crumple it in his hand and replace it with some change, indicating that a dollar bill had lost considerable value over the years. He asked the audience if they were better off now than they were four years before. Ever the nostalgist, Reagan promised that as president he would restore the value of that dollar bill. In one brilliant stroke, the Reagan campaign identified itself with the symbolic imagery of wealth, faith, confidence, and tradition, as manifested in the U.S. dollar.
Thich Nhat Hanh asks us to hold up a piece of paper and describe what we see. At the simplest level, we see an object used for writing. On deeper reflection, we notice the multitude of connections embedded in the paper. The paper contains the logger who felled the tree, the farmer who produced the wheat to make the bread to feed the logger, the logger's parents, etc. The depth of connections is profound. Thay uses this example to describe interbeing, the web of relationships present in all aspects of consciousness. Let me suggest a simple exercise. Place a dollar bill in front of you. Take a few deep breaths and center yourself, then take several minutes to focus all your thoughts on the money in front of you. Observe your thoughts carefully and see where they lead.
Money permeates all aspects of our lives. Few would deny the importance of money in determining our affairs. Whether it is our internal haggling over the price of an item (the indignity of feeling ripped off versus the satisfaction of finding a great bargain), or negotiating salaries (getting paid what you're worth versus what your organization can afford), whether to take money from parents or give money to children (showing love through bestowing monetary gifts): these are emotional issues we are familiar with. Think about the number of times a day you deal with money.
Where did your mind go when you meditated on that dollar bill? Did you think about your relationship to the money? How does it feel to hold the money? How does it feel to spend it? Who has handled the money? How does money connect you to the material world? What are the origins of the money? What chemicals were used in its printing? Inescapably, we must consider these question for ourselves.
Mitchell Thomashow is co-chair of Environmental Studies at Antioch College, New England, and lives in Dublin, New Hampshire.