16

16″ x 20″ 2011

This painting refers to money, but it isn’t just about money. Money issues are about survival, abundance, greed, security and safety, giving and receiving, and about worth.

I chose the rattlesnake to represent the difficult emotions that grip me when money seems to be going wrong in my life. To choose an animal for the painting, I thought of the fauna to which I was exposed in childhood. I grew up in rattlesnake country, and of all the dangerous animals I could imagine, I am most familiar with the rattler. For the most part I never had a strong fear of them because they always give you warning to get away. But there was never any doubt that you were in trouble if you messed with one.

In defense of the snake, it is not portrayed as a demon in all cultures. In fact, in most cultures, it has a long list of beneficial and spiritual properties, none of which are negative. I only chose her for this painting because of the element of danger and her ability to strike at any time.

I dressed her in an Elizabethan fancy gown because of the obvious connotations of wealth, and to suggest something age-old, with connections that go deep. Her fineries suggest she is powerful and superior. The emblems on the gown are taken from the dollar bill, a decorative and fancy work of art in itself, and also imagery that has been around for quite a while.

To bring myself some clarity about my take on money, I wrote about all the people in my life whose actions and words had contributed to my life’s perspective on finances, work, business…anything in that realm. I saw that I’d taken on some ideas that weren’t serving me well, and in looking over the long list of ugly notions I found they all boiled down to: there’s not enough, trust no one, work really hard, don’t work really hard, don’t think about it, and blame someone else. It was obvious I’d assimilated some life stances that were contradictory and embraced futility.

Second, I looked at the ways that my adapted misperceptions played out in my life. I found that, at the heart of it all, I believed I’d never get it right. No matter what my actual financial circumstances looked like, I still felt like I spent too much, spent too little, managed money poorly, and sabotaged my earning abilities. I could have plenty of money to live on, all the trappings of modern life, a healthy family, and a steady income, and still I’d have moments where the Scarcity Snake kept me awake at night. I tried to muster smarts and willpower in the service of nailing down a feeling of security, but it escaped me, and the failure of my attempts made me feel foolish and pathetic. I unsuccessfully thought I could overcome my warped value system by earning the secret formula that solved all my financial problems. I was missing the point that, as I said before, none of this has anything to do with money.

I firmly believe that when I am stuck, when a rotten idea or behavior just won’t leave me alone, I cannot will it away. I wouldn’t have started these paintings or this blog (or had any problems at all) if my willpower could make me better. I can change, but what happens is, I let go and something changes me. I start with willingness.

My willingness to see things differently opened the door for new ideas to flood in. With my scaredy-cat vision I didn’t see that I’d already been living in a way that was productive and financially hopeful on some level. I was on a track that could lead to more prosperity. And I still had a host of habits that could sabotage my growth. In other words, I had good and bad traits to work with, just like everyone else. The very excellent news was: I was OK.

With worry and doubt haranguing me on a regular basis, how was I to envision a sensible and bright course to follow? As the murkiness lifted I introduced myself to ideas that made me feel good, and they rung true on a deep level.

Ultimately money is inexorably intertwined with love, time, and energy. They all ebb and flow. If I were to move toward health in these areas I’d gain a desire to be fair and giving, and a genuine desire to create, serve and share in the marketplace and my community. I’d pursue and enjoy endeavors full of purpose without the anxiety of wondering how it will work out financially. I’d cultivate a curiosity about possibility on a local and global scale. Money would be a means of enjoying the coolest stuff in life: seeing the wide world, visiting loved ones, taking time for solitude or community, having quality things that make life more comfortable and fun. Money would become just one of the ways that I’d give and receive with everyone and everything. Managing it would be less of a chore and more of an adventure. Mistakes would be seen as fortunate learning opportunities, a step toward easier decision making. Security and worth would be found within, and this would be true no matter what my finances looked like. I’d become more concerned with how to contribute than how my poor little bank account is shaping up. Gratitude would be a running outlook.

These lofty (or just healthy) ideas began taking the place of my former fearfulness as I stayed open to newness and took small actions that I was pretty sure would lead in the right direction.

Now, when that familiar, anxious snaky friend comes to visit I have choices about how to entertain her. I can feel the fear for a little while and then get busy with something else. I can take a look at what prompted her rising, and perhaps learn a little about ways to take care of myself better. I can use the fear as a reminder to keep my little actions going. I can decide to send the snake packing for the day. As long as I recognize her as a visitor with little real power over me, I can stay close to my path of happier money dealings. And the progress has been surprisingly rewarding. On both a material and mental level, I see my worth more and more.