After documenting My Breakthrough in My Relationship with Money late last year, I have been on a continuous journey discovering what has shaped my feelings about money all my life. It is a subject that speaks to me loudly especially now, as I am taking a four-week online course hosted by the fabulous Laura Hames Franklin, called “Money Magic.” Through her course and the daily interactions with her and with all the participants, I have been able to uncover so many heavy baggages that have become part of the fabric of my being–and it’s not just the being in the metaphysical sense but in the physical body in a very real sense! Under Laura’s guidance, we have been working on the body itself (through BodyTalk and Franklin Method, etc.) and found that it is actually possible to “shed” the old subconscious thinking patterns and renew ourselves in our view and relationship with money.
One of the first exercises, or “home plays,” that Laura gave the participants, was to set up a money shrine. When I set up mine, I realized how gingerly I went through the process. I was afraid people would see me do this “silly thing.” I was afraid to put a paper bill out in case it gets stolen or lost. What was wrong with me? Why did I experience such a strong sense of shame and fear?
Upon analyzing my emotions, several incidents cropped up from the dark abyss in the back of my brain. I want to talk about my old patterns of thoughts surrounding money and where they originate, so that I can consciously shed them like the old skin of a snake.
Besides the childhood memories of my parents’ frequent quarrels over the subject of money, several incidents stand out that made me realize the low social-economic status of my family. First, when I visited a classmate’s home in the same building, I noticed a piano and immediately took to it. I would sit down and pretend to be able to play a tune, while all I managed to make was some noise. When I came home, I begged my mom to let me take piano lessons. But she refused. Instead, she turned my attention to ballet, saying that it’s not good for me to sit there all day long studying and then pick up a hobby that would make me sit more. Ballet, to her, was a better form of hobby so that I could move about and be active. Although years later, in my mid-thirties, I picked up ballet again and fell in love with it passionately, in those tender years, I thought it was a “downgrade” from what I fell in love with first. I overheard mom saying that we could not afford to buy a piano–and realized that that was the real reason behind her suggestion for me to take ballet (later on, she switched me to modern dance because classes were offered at my school for free!). Since then, I started to feel inferior to my classmate, whose parents could afford to buy him a piano.
The second “incident” that made me feel poor was after I entered a secondary school where most of the girls came from the same primary school and had an “upper class” background. The difference between me and my classmates became so clear when I was invited to a classmate’s home for her birthday. I was 12 at that time. For the very first time in my life, I visited an apartment that was several times larger than mine, with furniture and walls that shined, complete with three Chinese housemaids who spoke impeccable English with the children in the house. I was more intimidated than impressed. It was such a foreign existence to me! I felt so distant from everyone, who seemed to enjoy themselves. I smiled for the pictures, but felt awful and alienated inside. It was then that my inferiority complex started to take over my inner being, like crawling vines and wild bushes overtaking an abandoned house.
The feeling of being inferior was fortified when at that same secondary school, I was jeered at for being “stupid” because my English wasn’t good enough. Yea, in those colonial days, the ability to speak good English was a gauge of your social status. The continuous humiliation during the first school term motivated me to become better at the language. By the end of the first year, I rose up to become the top student of the class, and was the top student every single year since. However, none of these achievements ever repaired the damage done in my heart, and the false belief that I was condemned to stay in the poor social class I was born into. I felt so ashamed of my home–which was small and dirty due to my father’s paints (he was an artist and devoted one of the two rooms in the flat to be his studio, so the four of us had to sleep in one tiny room)–that I didn’t dare to invite any friends home.
Because of those early negative experiences, I started to develop a sense of hatred and disdain for the rich folks in society. And the more I read and heard about how some of the wealthy people rip off others and do evil stuff in the world, the more hate I felt toward money. “Money corrupts” became my conclusion and unalterable truth. I remember distinctly when a classmate told me that her father, a barrister, defended a client, who murdered her husband by chopping up his body and cooking the parts in a big pot! “How gruesome!” I thought. I decided there and then that I would have absolutely nothing to do with such a profession, even though everyone said that becoming a lawyer would make you rich. To me, choosing certain professions that would make one rich is equal to choosing the evil path.
In the Chinese belief system, engaging in business is a lowly form of existence and considered despicable. In the ancient times, people in the commercial “cast” occupied the lowest rung in society. The noblest were the mandarins, who made it to the top echelon of society by going the scholarly way and scoring high in exams to enter the government. I am not sure if that was my parents’ belief but they, like so many other Chinese parents, put a strong emphasis on academic excellence. And so I followed this path without questioning it, and had naturally developed a distaste for anything to do with business.
On top of these beliefs, I was also deeply influenced by my father–a romantic artist. My mom fell in love with him for his artistic qualities, yet his inability to bring in “enough money” annoyed the hell out of her through the decades they were married. Growing in an artistic environment gave me the impression that being an artist is a noble thing to do, but artists are inevitably poor. I never questioned why, but my young mind used “altruism” as a rationale.
Perhaps what made this belief “worse” is that my parents went through the Cultural Revolution in China. The idea that the capitalist class is evil and the poor working class is good is deeply ingrained in my family. In fact, my father, who moved from Indonesia to China in order to help build the “Motherland,” was persecuted and put into “house arrest” at the silk factory where he worked, because of some ridiculous pretext. His background of being from a “foreign country” was enough to make him “guilty” in that environment. Under that reign of terror, in order to stay clean, innocent and noble, one should have nothing to do with wealth, which had the notion of evil and filth around it. I don’t know how many millions of people were persecuted because of their “capitalist background” when the Communists took over China’s political system. But this has turned into a huge negative national karma.
And then came the Open Door Policy under Deng Xiao Ping. China is never the same again. Yet by this time, my family was already established in Hong Kong. Over the years, mainland Chinese had learned to let loose of their old shackles and started to worship money as their new God. Millions of people had become rich as a result, many of whom did so through corrupt means. My parents, who maintained their “pure” stance, expressed a lot of disdain for the nouveaux riches in China. Over the past 20 years, these nouveaux riches have amassed wealth like never before, while my family, by this time already migrated to the United States, remained more or less the same economically. Although their conditions did improve over what they had in Hong Kong–with my mom’s hard work she paid off the mortgage of their apartment–my mom still continues to live a frugal life, saving coupons and pinching pennies.
Meanwhile, I had married a musician, who also has the belief system that true artists are poor. As a result of this belief system (B.S.), he did not do much at all to bring in money for the household. But I held on to the same belief, and decided to support this poor artist because I didn’t want to see the same poor, struggling existence that my father had when he was living–penniless until the end of his life (and supported by mom.) I held on steadfastly for 15 years, until one day I broke down, realizing I couldn’t do it anymore. I had given up my aspirations and my well-being while I sacrifice my time, energy and health–as well as my money–to support a “pipe dream” as well as destructive, addictive behavior.
Fast forward to now, being a divorcée, I finally feel free. Freed from the negativity and burden that I had carried on my shoulders for the past 15 years. I am resetting my body and soul (the super human computer) so that the old programming will expire and be replaced with a brand new feeling about money, abundance and genuine wealth. This feeling is powerful in and of itself, deprived of fear and filled with joy. It is also empowering to me and to the people whose lives I touch. I am finally starting to feel “normal” (I see this feeling migrating to one of “great” and “awesome”) to be paid for the valuable services I provide to others in this life time.