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Dr. Cat Saunders [CatMonk.png]





All service ranks the same with God.

—Robert Browning



All the Money Belongs
to God: It Just Gets Recycled

By Cat Saunders

In 1975 when I was 21, a man named Jai found me dancing on the beach in Santa Monica. For some reason I don't remember, he drew a symbol in the sand and said, "All the money belongs to God. It just gets recycled."

When I met Jai, I was manic. That year brought a crash course in the intense inner exploration called insanity. It was a wild ride, and I took it again once more a year later.

Some people might think that my past experience with insanity makes me forever unreliable, but I disagree. I believe that it actually makes me more credible, because I've walked both sides of the line, and I have no delusions about how fragile that line can be.

In the blink of an eye, your personality can turn inside out, you can lose your ability to keep your act together, and you can forget how to find your way home—both literally and figuratively.

It's the same with money. Because I've lost everything more than once due to circumstances beyond my control, I know that the line between have and have not is as fragile with money as it is with sanity. It doesn't matter how much money you have or how much insurance you carry. You can't protect yourself against financial loss if your soul thinks it's time for you to lose everything.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you should stop taking care of yourself financially, give up hope, and walk in front of a bus. I'm no fatalist. Quite the contrary!

Instead, I'm suggesting that each of us comes here to learn unique lessons, and in order to learn those lessons, everyone's curriculum must be equally unique.

I'll give you a personal example. Since my life purpose is to liberate my heart, I doubt if it would be particularly helpful for me to have an easy curriculum this time around. If the world were a cushy place for me, I'd probably be so busy amusing myself that I wouldn't be motivated to think about getting free.

On the other hand, it's extremely helpful to have a challenging life if my soul wants me to learn that there is no security on the physical plane—and that my only security lies in my relationship with God (by whatever name).

In other words, there's nothing like chronic pain, trauma, life-threatening illness, insanity, financial loss, and other assorted earthly delights to help me remember my purpose. With regard to money, it's been helpful for me to experience periods of great loss and need, not because I'm a masochist, but because these experiences have furthered my lessons in trust, humility, and compassion.

Flat on My Back, What Can I Do?

Although I've been back in private practice for a while now, counseling and teaching, there was a time when severe health challenges prevented me from working. In 1997, after several years of cutting back on my hours to see if I could keep working despite debilitated health, I finally had to call it quits.

At that point, I closed my practice and spent the next 15 months in a horrendous battle with Social Security, trying to win disability benefits that I'd paid into for 25 years. The financial benefits were meager, but they would have helped me survive. In the end, I had to give up the fight because I was getting sicker dealing with the federal government's exhausting and abusive bureaucratic system.

Ultimately, I realized that the gift of that battle was all the inner work I did as a result of it. In particular, I healed a lot of childhood shame about "being a burden" to anyone financially. During those 15 months, my humility deepened and my compassion for myself and others increased a thousandfold.

That period also brought me countless lessons in trust because I had no income, I couldn't get Social Security benefits, and my family was unable to help me. Thus, I had to find some other way to survive.

This was no small task, because although I live like a monk, health problems make my body quite expensive to maintain. Fortunately, close friends offered loans and occasional monetary gifts, which was a godsend, but we all knew their assistance was no replacement for regular income.

In daily prayers, I repeatedly asked to be shown a way to serve, support myself, and still care for my struggling body. At the time, I usually prayed lying down, due to chronic pain and exhaustion.

One night, flat on my back in deep meditation, I received the answer to my question: My spiritual teachers asked me to start a prayer service called "Rent-A-Monk," and they wanted me to request donations in exchange for my efforts.

Let me tell you, this prayer directive put me in a tizzy. I knew that many highly evolved people insist that money should never be mixed with spiritual work, as if this somehow taints the work. Yet there I was, all other financial options exhausted, being asked to accept money in exchange for prayers.

Rent-A-Monk and My Pesky Little Ego

I had a sense that the powers-that-be were well aware that this Rent-A-Monk directive would wreak havoc with my beliefs about money. That was the plan!

I must confess, when I first got the prayer directive about Rent-A-Monk, I thought it was a brilliant idea. After all, I'd been doing spiritual work for thirty years, and I was good at it. Besides, it was very practical: What else could I do while lying flat on my back, alone at home?

Despite the fact that my deepest self was peaceful with the idea of Rent-A-Monk, there was still that pesky little thing called the ego. When I realized I would have to go public with the most sacred part of my nature in order to advertise the service, I quickly discovered that I wasn't as liberated as I thought.

After founding Rent-A-Monk in 1998, I still had to work through numerous layers of emotional "stuff" surrounding the issue of mixing money and spiritual work. It would take a book to describe all the shifts that have transpired in my beliefs about this, but I'll give you a couple of examples.

First of all, I've had to let go of the notion that it's wrong to mix money and spiritual work. The more I contemplated this idea, the more judgmental, hypocritical, and downright arrogant it seemed.

In point of fact, cultures from all over the world and across time have mixed money and spiritual work for eons. In India, holy people wander the countryside begging for alms, and everyone considers it a privilege to support them. In certain tribal cultures, people gratefully lay their entire riches at the feet of the shaman as an offering to the spirits in exchange for healing.

People in Western cultures may say that this kind of monetary exchange is okay as long as it's done as a donation, and not as a fee for service. However, I think that attitude just sidesteps the issue. The truth is, work is work, money is money, and exchange of energy is exchange of energy.

This means that if I perform a service, it shouldn't matter if I accept money, a bowl of rice, a piece of clothing, or a thank-you kiss in return. As long as we live in a culture that requires money to survive, there should be no judgment about my requesting money in exchange for my time and effort.

There's no question that money is assigned to services in arbitrary ways. These assignments of value may feel mutually supportive, neutral, or unfair, depending on the circumstances. However, I refuse to make money wrong anymore, and it would be arrogant of me to say that my prayer work is any more holy than any other kind of work. Work and compensation are complicated issues, and things aren't always as they seem.

The bottom line is, you can't have it both ways. Either money is tainted (i.e., not holy) and therefore devalues every kind of work—or money is an innocent form of valuation, which therefore can be used to honor any and all kinds of work.

Spiritual Work and the Garbage Man

I'm not sure it's helpful—or even possible—to clearly draw a line between what is spiritual and what is not. For example, one of my colleagues insists that he does not accept money for his spiritual healing work, yet he does psychotherapy, he conducts workshops during which people undergo tremendous spiritual transformations, and he writes books that stimulate personal growth. He enjoys the privilege of a healthy income from these sources, yet he maintains that he only does spiritual healing work on a giveaway basis.

Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that healing of the spirit takes place during every aspect of my colleague's work. To say that it only happens during specifically designated healing sessions is a semantic game, at best, and a denial of the truth, at worst.

In the same way I believe that spiritual healing is taking place in all facets of my colleague's work in the world, I believe that spiritual healing can also happen in the most unlikely situations.

Consider my partner, John Giovine. John has a master's degree in Business Psychology, and he's currently pursuing postgraduate work in Psychology. He's also had his own shop as an import mechanic for the last twenty-plus years.

Because I've known John since 1983, I've had the opportunity to watch how he works with people. This may sound crazy, but I swear that some of his customers have car problems just so they can come and see John. Why? Because their spirits are uplifted by being with him for a few minutes. The smart ones even recognize this and tell him so!

Have you ever read Dan Millman's book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior? John is like Socrates, the mechanic in that book. Does this mean he shouldn't charge for his services, since healing happens in his presence? Or does this mean it's okay for him to charge for his mechanical work, as long as everyone pretends like there's nothing else going on?

If there's nothing else going on, then why do so many wonderful people allow only John to work on their cars? Frankly, I don't think it's just because he's a master mechanic.

The question is, what are you actually paying for when you buy anything from anyone? For all I know, the man who picks up our garbage is praying for us when he collects the bins from our driveway. Maybe for him, his prayers for people are the real reason he's being paid.

On the other hand, even if I consider garbage collection as garbage collection only, the service is pretty darn spiritual to me. After all, it allows me to keep a clean house—and as everyone knows, cleanliness is next to godliness!

The point is, spiritual healing work comes in many forms, and it deserves financial compensation as much as anything else. The garbage man does his trade, and I do mine. That's all. Each task is essential to the whole—and therefore whole-y!

Personally, I may always do the majority of my spiritual work for free, because truthfully speaking, my whole life is my spiritual work. Even so, this doesn't mean it's wrong for me to also accept payment for my prayer services.

When I receive financial compensation for my efforts—whether it's for the sale of a book, an hour of personal consultation, a workshop, or a seven-week cycle of daily prayers—I'm simply doing my part to keep the money moving. As Jai said to me on that beach in Santa Monica, "All the money belongs to God. It just gets recycled!"

This article was originally published in The New Times.

Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a personal and professional consultant, shamanic practitioner, and nonsectarian minister. She is the author of Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook (available at bookstores or Amazon.com). Click here to contact Cat or learn more about her work by returning to the home page. To schedule in-person or telephone consultations, please call Cat's 24-hour confidential voice mail at (206) 329-0125.