Net worthiness: what’s the real bottom line?

My bottom line is that I value myself and others for who we are, not what we possess or our annual salaries. I believe we are all absolutely equally worthy of respect, love and self-actualization.

At my first full-time job in 1980 my time was valued at $3.10/hour, the minimum wage. That is when I became officially indoctrinated into the culture of never-enough-money-or-time, although I’d certainly been exposed to the idea as a child. I watched my father collapse in exhaustion on the couch after work. I heard my mother say “we can’t afford it.” From both of them I learned the refrain, “there’s not enough time.”

Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money

Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money

This year I made a pivotal decision. I mentally, emotionally and spiritually began tipping a fat, longstanding sacred cow—I ceased thinking of time as money. I stopped running U.S. Economics, Version 2015 as my default program. I dared to hope the world might value what I felt most passionate about giving: myself, my insight, my caring. I had the audacity to believe there was enough of everything: time, money, love.

A friend offered a transformational idea: exchange an hour of time at my new peer support venture for whatever a client makes per hour. This effectively kicked the cornerstone out of the conceptual structure upon which I had built many of my life’s assumptions. Suddenly my wage had nothing to do with my value; it became simply a logical, agreed-upon rate of exchange for two people with needs to meet.

Since I was offering to build peer relationships in which equality is a central value, the formula made beautiful sense. Still, I watched a few peers struggle with the concept. Some seemed to feel embarrassed by how little they were paid. A few said, “I know your time is worth more than this.” Sometimes I tried to gently explain, but it was hard to effectively communicate that I no longer looked at time or money that way.

Your time is worth more than this

Some peers cannot pay me at all. Others can afford $50, $100 or even $200. Most pay $15-$25. I have been appreciative and hopeful. I am getting comfortable accepting whatever is offered and throwing it in my grandfather’s old cigar box until banking day. I do not adjust my attention or scale my services based on the amount of the payment. Most of the time I can hold my vision that it will all balance out.

I was feeling pretty darn proud of my transformation until this week I tried to experimentally flip the concept in the other direction and uncovered something important hiding in the shadows of my psyche. I was inspired to ask a highly-paid professional if she would be willing to donate her time to me, a seemingly audacious request according to my old mindset. What emboldened me to ask is my firsthand experience of how rewarding it is to freely give my time and talents to persons who cannot otherwise afford what I have to offer. I needed, but did not have the means to pay for this person’s services.

I am deeply grateful she agreed, not only because my needs will be met, but because the situation brought my own hidden unworthiness into the light. Part of the agreement is that I fill out an application for assistance, providing documentation to prove that I was needy, which felt in that moment like the opposite of being worthy. There in black-and-white were all the assessments that hooked me straight back into the economic program I’d recently sought to uninstall. According to that model, I am living well below the federal poverty line this year, earning more like what I did in 1980.

Opposite of worthy

Immediately upon confronting this mundane, scarcity-focused data, I temporarily lost my bold magic-mindedness. Anyone who has ever wholeheartedly practiced living by faith instead of fear will recognize this pitfall. Don’t look down is damn good advice. Filling out that form was the equivalent of looking down.

For a couple of days I struggled emotionally. I felt alone and adrift with no wind in my spiritual sails. Lurking in the depths and rocking my idealistic ship were old feelings of discouragement and unworthiness. After grappling with my beliefs, thoughts and feelings over the last few days, however, and continuing to feel so inspired and purposeful as I met with peers at Insight, something beautiful surfaced in my fertile psyche.

I started imagining a worldwide gathering—my neighbors, my fellow Americans, all the humans on the planet—in which every last one of us appeared as an infant or toddler. No adults whatsoever. I asked myself how I could possibly walk through that undulating mass of playing, laughing, crying, curious, unique, expectant, needy, lovable children and guess at or assign value or worth, higher and lower salaries, different social classes. I asked how I could dare to hold myself in lower or higher esteem than anyone else. And I couldn’t. I could not.

original_lots_of_babies

Next I pictured myself plopped down in a bizarre scene of impending, potentially world-ending doom, stuck in a storm or bomb shelter with the Koch Brothers, Alice Walton and Donald Trump. I looked around and asked myself which would be more valuable in the moment—their money or my inner peace? In that scenario I could easily see my own net worth through a different lens. Or put another way, my own net worthiness. My bottom line is that I value myself and others for who we are, not what we possess or our annual salaries.

I believe we are all absolutely equally worthy of respect, love and self-actualization. While it is unlikely that I can (or would care to) singlehandedly revamp a deteriorating and unbalanced economic system, I can continue to step aside from it and invest my own values and ideals into building something new and more sustainable. The obvious place to begin is upon a fresh foundation. I’ll start with the assumption that everyone on the planet has the same net worthiness, that time does not equal money, and that there is enough of everything that makes life worth our wholehearted investment.

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, 2012

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, 2012

Will the real healer please stand up?

From the first skinned knee or cut finger and the first band-aid, we are led to assume that healing comes from outside ourselves. The magic appears to be delivered via an adult’s caring kiss, the startling sting of the antiseptic spray, or some mystic property of the sterile strip. Each of us assigns power and builds beliefs based on which remedies our caregivers trust and what seems to work most reliably.

At the physical level, what’s really going on is much more remarkable and complex than any magician’s conjuring act. With no conscious guidance or even awareness from us, a team of platelets adheres to the site within minutes, activating coagulation and clotting, launching invisible processes that result in a marvelous skin remodeling project taking place at miraculously high speeds without your conscious supervision.

Healing is one of our deepest instincts. How differently might we behave if we believed this?

Who is the healer? Many of us are taught by example, experience and advertising that if we are wounded or ill, we need an authority or expert to heal our bodies and minds. We expect a diagnosis, medication, surgery, therapy, nutritional guidelines, some kind of fix. Often we unconsciously relinquish power and authority over our own well-being as we hand ourselves into another’s care or trust someone’s recommendation.

Most of us think of these experts as healers and their tools as healing, but no matter what anyone else does for you, they can, at best, simply support a process that only you can undertake. You are always the healer.

You are always the healer.

This is fairly new news for me, although in hindsight I can see I’ve been playing it out in my life in quite dramatic ways. I started noticing that my beliefs tended to prove true in my experience. When I believed I was irreparably flawed and shameful, my life mirrored that. When I glimpsed a different angle and began to entertain a new possibility, my experiences started reflecting my realignment.

An experiment in belief. Just over a year ago, I decided to test a new belief: returning to wholeness and balance is my body and mind’s natural inclination. This is the sort of thing I might have believed without question if my mom had known how to explain the natural process of wound repair to me as a child instead of teaching me to believe in the magic of band-aids. I’d read about this basic concept in placebo studies and other experimental inquiries into the power of beliefs. I decided to undertake my own experiment to see if mind over matter was a positive-thinking fantasy or the real deal.

I picked something visible and chronic as my proving-ground. For 30 years I’d been dependent on chiropractors to address my back problems, a condition I’d assumed was partially inherited from my dad and the rest a cost of heavy lifting in a factory in my 20s. Since the 1980s I’d had regular discomfort and occasionally severe misalignments that immobilized me in excruciating pain. I’d come to depend on regular chiropractic adjustments, usually at least monthly, sometimes more often.

For decades I’d repeated the story that I had a “bad back” and needed support for optimum functioning. For years I’d validated the belief, often at exceedingly inconvenient times, like on vacation or in the middle of an important project, when I would suddenly become disabled.

In October of 2013, I saw my chiropractor for the last time. I took as my mental refrain the belief that my back would love to support me and is naturally inclined to return to alignment. I paid attention to my thoughts and chose again and again to trust my body’s wisdom. I was willing to let something new and wonderful be true. I literally and symbolically “took back” my authority as a healer.

Conscious healership. This return to conscious healership actually began 20 years earlier when I awakened suddenly as if from a lengthy and nightmarish sleep and realized I was self-destructing at a painfully slow pace. Seemingly against the odds, I realized I wanted to live, wanted to get to the bottom of my despair, wanted to understand why I was in chronic emotional pain.

The details are a story for another day. What’s important to know today is that some inner grace awakened me, my natural instincts toward healing led me forward flawlessly, and I believe I am alive because I trusted them.

A therapist helped me process my feelings and reconstruct my trauma story in a way that brought it out of the shadows and into the light for resolution. A therapy group, a self-help group and laboriously building a diverse resource network helped me grow by quantum leaps. But this I now realize: every single step of the way, I was the healer.

Wounded healers. I will confess without apology to living a good share of my adulthood as a wounded healer. There are many different ways of defining or explaining the term, but the resolution comes down, I think, to this matter of recognizing who the real healer is.

If I know you are the healer of you and I am the healer of myself, we will relate much differently. I will not try to save you and tell you what to do as a distraction from my own work.

That is where I live now, bringing my own self-healing into community and being willing to support others as they do the same.