Geneen Roth has a problem with money. In Lost and Found, she details failed investments with a longtime embezzling accountant and an entire life savings lost in the Madoff Ponzi scheme. The Madoff debacle inspired the book—and it inspired the deep introspection that led to an examination of what money had meant to her as a little girl. All things are related, very good Buddhism and very good money wisdom.
Roth is a workshop leader and the author of a bestselling book Women Food and God. She has spent decades battling her own dysfunctional relationship to food—yo-yo dieting and every unhealthy diet and bingeing practice on the planet make her a knowledgeable and compassionate weight issues coach. But her meditation and inquiry practice, so useful in sorting out the food thing, also provided the ground and the strength to help her cope with overnight impoverishment at age 56 (with a hefty mortgage and no idea how money works at all).
The book gives numerous examples, culled from Roth’s endless discussions with fellow financial sufferers and interviews with holistic financial advisors and people she quizzed in checkout lines and at parties. A fugue state is a customary reaction to money conversations and attempts to grapple with understanding personal economics. A sense of panic or exhaustion is not uncommon. Unwillingness to probe for the early beliefs about money we learn in our families—very uncomfortable scrutiny for most of us—leads too often to financial illiteracy and abdication of responsibility. The abdication comes with very high interest or outright fraud. Who takes your money—MasterCard or Madoff?
The same issues surrounding food cluster all over money and it is the topic even more radioactive than sex or politics for party chatter. Roth recommends sitting on a meditation cushion and steeling yourself to look, unflinching, at what comes up. But she assures us that a willingness to confront the past is precisely what will free us from it. If you grew up with concepts of scarcity—they are probably as much about unconditional love and enough attention as they are about your bank balance. In fact, those issues are likely reflected in your bank balance. If money was a wall to hide behind in a loveless house then you may avoid having it to dodge the risk of a loveless relationship. Or you might have inherited the conviction that people who have money are greedy or predatory or “bad.” Maybe money equates for you with loss of friends or social position. Maybe it confers on you a sense of entitlement or a lack of empathy. There are as many ways to be out of harmony with money as there are erroneous myths about it.
Money isn’t real, Roth reminds us. At least not real in the same way as sunshine, shelter, sustenance and people. Money is part of what you can’t take with you but it does give you freedom to make choices while you are an embodied wage slave or fortunate heiress. And an important way to view investments is to follow the money to where it works. Does the high tech stock keep climbing on the backs of child laborers in the developing world? Are you benefitting from that windfall the energy company reaps from drilling—and spilling–in a fragile environment? Should you be putting your money where your beliefs are—at least some of it?
Lots of good advice and shrewd observation in this tale of goodies and gambling. Geneen Roth might not have a million dollars anymore—actually, she never had it, Bernie Madoff did—but she managed to keep her house and even patch the leaky roof on it. In the process of dealing with loss, she found a few major fault lines to address and rediscovered what really mattered to her–a significant windfall, in her opinion.
There may be no FDRs with the political will to tackle the great American 21st Century Depression (call it what it is, please) but there are some profound individual antidotes to be applied. Audit your own mind, isolate your own money issues, let go of hereditary beliefs and allot some investment to your own good causes. Figure out how to fill the holes in your soul with compassion, not compulsive shopping. And steer clear of anyone Roth chooses as an investment advisor—she admits she’s still trying to figure all that out.
Lost and Found: One Woman’s Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life Geneen Roth | Viking 2011