Mind, Money, and Life

Mind, Money, and Life

by Katherine D. Cannon, PhD, CFP®

As long as I can remember the mind has been a subject of great fascination—and wonder. This blog expresses my life’s interests and quests. I offer it to benefit others in creating greater harmony and understanding of the power and appreciation of the mind in our lives, and more specifically, in our experience of money.

As an engineering student, I took as many psychology courses as possible. I considered graduate work in psychology but studying the behavior of animals wasn’t on my trajectory. So, I completed my graduate studies in engineering. Fortunately, we live in a great era allowing continued learning throughout our lives. Many great minds are living at the knowledge horizon of psychology, philosophy, spirituality, neuroscience, biology, physics, quantum theory, and other fields.

The great minds are no longer confined to academia, but offer their wisdom to everyone in abundance —through their books, on-line courses, in-person seminars, YouTube videos, and websites. I have immense respect and gratitude for these great minds and their generosity. In my writings, I’ll introduce you to the wisdom of many of them.

My engagement and interest in the world of the mind calls for a grounding; grounding that I found in math, science and engineering. Twenty-five years ago a call for balance led me into the world of finance. Planning ranges from the ‘objective’ side including, projections, numbers, and analysis, to the ‘subjective’, including values, dreams, and goals related to personal finances. This is where I am, routinely bridging the analytical and the personal.

Creating a framework of the mind
In introducing this Mind and Money blog, it’s appropriate to begin with a definition of mind. “What is mind?” Paradoxically, the mind defies definition—particularly among scientists and professionals working in mind-associated fields.

Understanding the human mind has evolved from ancient Greek philosophy into the founding of psychology and psychiatry with William James and Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century.

In the mid-20th century, the disciplines studying the mind expanded and aligned with the objective scientific approach introducing behavioral and cognitive psychology. Biologists began exploring the idea that the deepest secrets of the mind could be found on the molecular level and later incorporated the role of genetics in cell functioning.

In the late 20th century and into the present, neuroscience has been unfolding multiple approaches to study the brain and nervous system. Notably, the mapping of the brain using imaging techniques that astonishingly correlate the experience of sensory, motor tasks, cognitive tasks to the brain’s neuro activity.

My personal exploration of the mind includes decades of studying eastern philosophy, and particularly, the perspective of Kashmir Shaivism, a philosophy systemized about 1,000 years ago in Kashmir, India. The subjective element—the subjective experience of mind as ‘I’, the mind’s essence —is the major contribution of Shaivism. The subjective ‘I’ and the objective ‘it/he/she’ are equally important perspectives. Though an oversimplification, the East favored the ‘I’/subjective and the West, the ‘it’/objective.

The mind is extraordinarily brilliant, complex, and mysterious. Integrating the disparate perspectives of the mind reminds me of the parable of the five blind men encountering an elephant. Each is attempting to describe the elephant: legs that feel like a tree trunk, the tusk like a hard weapon, the tail as a rope, the side as a wall, and an ear like a leather fan.

In this blog, I’ll build a framework of the mind—our elephant—integrating the multiple insights and perspectives from disciplines across both time and the globe. All offer wide-ranging insights and viewpoints on the mind. Some are grounded in research; others make sense by tracking our personal experience and drawing us into the mind’s expansive capabilities.

Building the framework for the mind-boggling mind
The mind seems mind-boggling even to itself, nevertheless we all have a definite edge in understanding the mind. We all have one—this wondrous human mind!

First in building the framework, we know the mind from direct experience: what it’s like to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. We think about stuff, thoughts, endlessly. We recall memories ceaselessly. And, we weave these memories and thoughts into our stories of who we are and what our life is about and we change them about as we please. We remember what we did yesterday, our birthday last year, a childhood incident. We are all expert planners when we want to be. We know what our body feels like when we’re hungry or satiated, tired or well-rested, cold or hot. And this mental activity is private, personal and very real.

Second, in building the framework of mind, the mind is ‘on the move’, like a streaming video. “Today, I’ll leave about 4:30, stop at the market, head home…” This mental activity readily unfolds, cascades, peaks, subsides, jumps about from topic to topic, rarely resting.

Third, any thoughts, memories, knowledge, insights, feelings we experience come to us through our minds. This may take some reflection. Our minds are our only window on our world through which we experience and live our lives. All behavior and words emanate from the mind’s mental activity.

Later, as the framework of mind evolves, we’ll explore questions about who’s making decisions, our mind’s reliability, and detect biases in decision making. We’ll examine the mind as a story teller and how those stories can affect our future. The subject ‘I’ will come up with a most interesting model offered by a brilliant neuroscientist, Antonio Damacio, in his book, The Self Comes to Mind. In the coming blog postings, we’ll explore the insightful perspectives of many of my best author friends.

Why mind and money?
Looking at the blog title, Mind and Money, you might ask “Where does money come into the discussion?” “How do mind and money come together?”

At the beginning of my career in finance, I discovered Jacob Needleman’s book, Money and the Meaning of Life. I remain captivated by his bold proposition. Needleman, a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University, says the invention called money has entered into our lives in a much more complete way than it ever has in all of human history.

Money occupies all aspects of our culture and has overwhelming influence in our lives, yet few take it seriously. Needleman goes on to say, though paradoxical, even people obsessed with money do not necessarily take it seriously. We take money seriously when we explore and face our relationship with money.

Needleman speaks of money as an organizing instrument in our lives yet the anomaly remains—though just paper it’s so real. This ‘paper’ is taken to be the ‘bottom line’, one of the most central aspects of our lives. As we come to know the mind and its workings, we can unravel this paradox.

I’ve been struck by how deep conversation goes when engaging in financial planning. A couple of years into my financial career, I remember a conversation with a client friend who is a practicing psychoanalyst. In casual conversation, I suggested that I might learn more about a person in a two-hour meeting gathering information for a comprehensive financial plan than he might in a two-hour therapy meeting with a new client.

Therapy aside, an open discussion about finances reflects an enormous amount of information about a person including life goals, values, and even dreams, relationships with family, colleagues, and friends, and on a personal level what’s really important.

Discussions of finances reflect the person’s relationship with money, including the skill to manage money, breadth of knowledge, level of anxiety about money, degree of satisfaction with employment and their success, their sense of optimism about the future both personally and globally—their outlook on life generally.

As Needleman points out, our relationship with money is a mirror reflecting a great deal about who we are, our relationship with others, and our deepest connections in our lives.

Challenges of money
Dealing with one’s money and finances is a challenge requiring an immense amount of human capacity:

  • Dealing with the basics of a sustainable financial life—making income then managing the income with spending and savings—is an enormous undertaking.
  • Savings are not enough—investments that make money are necessary. The abundance of investment vehicles, understanding options and risks, acting and monitoring regularly can be overwhelming.
  • Handling the mostly hidden emotional baggage associated with money, that continues to accumulate through a lifetime, siphons energy and disrupts planning.
  • Preparing financially for retirement requires allocating current income for living expenses in an unknown future that could last three to four decades. This challenge—acting now for the future—is formidable, defaulting to denial for many.
  • Living in the midst of cultural conditioning that too often equates self-worth with net worth calls for a deep knowing of one’s inherent essence.

The challenge facing people in the 21st century to create a sustainable financial life is formidable. An agile, strong, and clear mind is an incredible asset.

Conclusion
Our minds, money, and lives are inextricably interwoven. To better know and understand the mind—to make the mind an ally—can be beneficial in our lives and our financial outlook.

The whole of our lives emanates from the mental activity of the mind—personal and private with interminable movement of thoughts, sense perceptions, bodily sensations, and memories. Activities and conversations stream forth expressing the mind’s content. Managing one’s finances for now and the future comes from this mental activity. Thus, it’s helpful to better understand the workings of the mind.

Money and finances are extraordinarily complex and challenging in the 21st century and have a direct bearing on our lives. By better understanding mental biases in judgement, emotional reactivity, and the mind’s proficiency in story-telling, we can hopefully better navigate money matters.

Expanding perspectives, examining mental conflicts, and shifting framing can unleash greater clarity and satisfaction in one’s financial life.

In this blog, Mind and Money, we’ll build a framework of mind based on the work of many great minds across many disciplines of study through many years. And in turn, we’ll explore money matters and the mind.

The information provided here is for general information only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice.