Three Stores of Value You Can Depend Upon, Amidst Financial Instability & Monetary Meltdown
An artist’s approach to markets, history, and personal response-ability. (Or, one man’s journey to tackle existential anxiety head-on)
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1. Hardship Lingers in the Muscle-Memory.
I returned to England from a passion-led two-year stint in South America at exactly the wrong time. It was Spring 2008, employers were becoming nervous at the growing credit crunch, and a consulting role in the luxury travel industry was removed from my grasp before it had even landed. In a fury of anger and helplessness, I drove to southern Spain with a car-load of assorted possessions, and trawled the Costa del Sol searching for income in two different tongues.
If your financial memory serves you well, you’ll remember that Spain was among the worst afflicted economies of the 2008 crisis. Over the next two years my income fluctuated between four-hundred and a thousand euros per month, the bonanza nights coming when I peddled overweight American families from the beachfront to Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas, and then onwards another half-hour up the most incremental incline to the Plaza de España. Never again did I have quadriceps like I had during that crisis. And I was also afforded, not for the last time in my life, an intimacy with a few faces of hardship.
Finding myself outside the looking glass of a contracting economy, I spent two years as something of an invisible migrant, lucky to have the sofas of better-off friends to get me through. As my compatriots would routinely blow two-hundred pounds on a night’s drinking in Gibraltar, or stick their nest-eggs into now-discounted real estate across Europe, I ruminated my days along to pirated Tony Robbins programmes, rueing just how unstable and shaky my inner psychology must be, especially compared to those of seeming success. But who can maintain psychological robustness when they dip, and linger, below the poverty line?
Then one day a rather eccentric job offer showed up: sole salesman for an abandoned ghost-town of 240 newly-completed golf-course villas near upmarket Sotogrande. Each day I’d wander to work in freshly ironed hopes and linen shirt, but throughout five months sat in the showroom only one potential buyer ever came into the place. Burly, British, and with the demeanour of a Cockney gangster, he took me to the clubhouse with his cronies, and proceeded to flip a coin in front of my impoverished face, telling his crew he’d leave it to fate to see if he made a bid for the entire estate.
Ninety-five million euros, I quickly tallied the value of the entire Mediterranean-facing residence. Which if the coin showed heads, would pocket me the greatest commission a rookie real estate agent would have ever seen.
The coin showed tails.
I’ll leave it to a future occasion to share stories of my sparse and sorrow-distorted love-affairs of this time, suffice to say that amidst such financial uncertainty I turned utterly inwards, spiralling into a personal depression. Shoebox bedroom. More time traveling to gigs than actual hours wage-earning. Coldest winter in eighty years. It all laid on thick. Yet within that desolate landscape I forged new dreams of online business, location-independent living in the Philippines, and completed a double certification in personal coaching. I’d listen to hours of podcasts each summer’s afternoon, staring at yachts bobbing in the marina, and on a good day, dine on two-euro falafel in the late evening sunset along the dusty Carrer de Sant Pau.
I know the quiet horrors, and redemptions, of being muscled out of an economy during a crisis.
2. Three Depths of Economic Perspective. Choose Your Altitude Wisely.
Fast-forward a decade and I live that free-from-the-system life I once dreamed of in the jungles of South-East Asia. I sip morning coffee each day on a balcony, listening to the sounds of birds and crickets. I write about beauty, intimacy, and personal transformation, have investments and a stash of emergency funds, and provide for a sweet and darling other. Flying to Kuala Lumpur on February 2nd was our first experience of a jetful of masked passengers. Ever since, I watched the trickle, the stream, and finally the deluge of Covid cases roll in.
Perhaps like you, weeks spent in hard lockdown forced my attention upon areas of life where I had little understanding. First, a degree in epidemiology to evaluate the chances my family would, or wouldn’t, live to see me again. Second, a masters in economy, specialising – pleasantly – in long-term debt cycles and hyper-inflation, and how the best of societies dwindle into destitution. Third, I amalgamated it all for a PhD in complexity theory, computing and intuiting how best to position oneself before a changed, changing, and potentially collapsing world.
During twenty years of market stability, I fled the towers and spreadsheets of London in search of life’s mysteries. In times like these, even the lovers among us must turn toward the pragmatic. Do I have a back-up generator, dried pasta and gold bullion if the SHTF? Ooh, things have been changing in the geopolitical landscape since the Iraq wars and the demise of the Soviet Union! Seriously, I don’t have to worry about stocking up on toilet paper? Of course — in Indonesia we have the bum-gun! Does anyone have confirmed confirmation as to our visa status? Days upon days of all-new thought streams filled my mind. But even months later I still cannot grasp exponential growth, the legal changes sneaking past us, or how travel might look in a world where globalisation seems to be retrenching.
But the majority of my studies have centred around understanding the global financial system as a coffee-sipping jungle mystic. Perhaps like you, as I’d log into the same general media outlets in attempts to make sense of this white-water world each morning, I’ve found my attention elbowed and shoved in various different depths. Panic here! Opportunism there! Scapegoating and blame-throwing in every direction! Hubristic clairvoyants proclaim their premonitions come-to-life! In this carnival of sense-making and agenda-staking, in Whom, exactly, can we trust?
I loved my recent story of figuring out what’s going on in the world of money. It was a journey infused with a morbid arousal similar to what one might feel during long nights in dirty speakeasies looking for kicks. Furtively, I’ve sought solid ground for positioning myself and my woman for what might come.
But first of all let’s ask, what is the economy? Simply put: the total trade of goods and services, the exchange of value across a country or world. The net worth of humanity’s production. What is of value within this economy? Well, that’s a textured and shape-shifting question. There might be more in the marketplace than there are people, animals, or species. There are goods of planned obsolescence, basic needs and age-old commodities, and artefacts that arouse avarice the world over. There are services of fleeting value, and those born of infinite depth. Everything that is produced has a value. How does one win — or at least not lose — I wondered, in the economic game? Let’s look ahead…
3. Looking For Certainty In A World Without Ground.
Whatever scenario you’re to find yourself in, to make sense of what’s going on and to plan for what’s next, one must look for patterns in information. First along in my financial studies came the daily news. Loud YouTube thumbnails. Desperation-infused titles. Strong interviews with vociferous and impassioned voices. What’s up today, what’s down and who’s losing out, all whoosh through a disoriented mind in another day lost to clickbait. Panicked hearts ditch investments here and stuff them there. Anxious minds acutely focused upon red and green digits in a bid to time markets.
Second, a calmer conversation, a cup of coffee. Pundits trace fiscal proceedings back a few years, bemoan terrible policy, and point to hypothetical scenarios that might await us around the corner. Quiet adjustments to the portfolio. Revised expectations of this year’s dividend payouts. The wife gets less attention as the mind mulls it over, late at the computer into the studious night.
Third, and easily the minuscule conversation among the rabble, a few detached individuals embark upon deep historical studies, pointing to the rise and fall of empires and the cyclical nature of things, as ways of making sense of where we are now. Billionaire Ray Dalio illuminates our collective blindspots by pointing at “things that have never happened in our lifetimes but have happened many times before.” Demographer Neil Howe reminds us how everyone who got us through the equivalent crisis of the last cycle have now all passed away, and no living soul possesses the keys to save us from this one. Fellow writer, my own mentor Zan recounts tales of Newton’s hyper-productive annus mirabalis during the Seventeenth Century Plague, Casanova’s joyful and often penniless exploits around the belles époques of Europe’s capitals, and taunts us all the while with the sobriety of Ecclesiastes. Plague? War? Total civilisational meltdown? There is nothing new under the sun.
In summary, I saw how we can relate to the world economy from different altitudes or perspectives. There’s the hustle of the day-to-day perspective, the complex intelligence of a few decades’ macroeconomic study, and the stood-aside humility of observing the patterns of history: patterns larger than even the mightiest ruler’s span of control.
Albeit a rookie in economic research, I clearly noticed how at each level of abstraction I took from the market’s day-to-day fluctuations, I experienced increasingly more emotional liberation. Merely witnessing the stock market’s plunges without skin in that game was enough to raise my heart’s palpitations. Surprisingly, reading that we might endure the fall of an empire as the Romans did in the late fifth century, or that we might be storming towards World War Three, arouses in me a curious sense of gratitude. Oh… we’re… here… I… get… it… now. Placing our collective moment amidst even the harshest of civilisational turning-points gives me some perspectival ground in the midst of all this madness. A place to rest my trembling feet and at least imagine potential circumstances to prepare for. As in the downfall of a relationship where one prefers to hear the painful truth rather than linger without closure, the enlightened doomsdaying of imagining ourselves before all forms of worst-case scenario actually brought me a welcome sense of urgency and purpose. Stupefied by the possibility that my mid-life might fall upon the largest economic reform in history, my mind sparks with a morbid sense of awe. What a story I might be able to live through! Then calmly, I put into place my plan of contingency — my own small way of playing the game.
4. Is There A Deeper Perspective on The Economy Yet?
When a man comes to me for relationship advice, he often wants a fail-safe opening line or a quick-fire method to liberate him from a particular conflict or issue. Instead, I invite him to look at more transcendent questions. What is the nature of the feminine heart? What does it mean to truly love a woman? What is needed from me to evoke the devotion of a real beauty? What cyclical relationship patterns are bound to show up in almost every couple’s life — ingrained parts of human nature if you will — and how can one mitigate, sidestep, and bring humour to these cycles?
It’s my experience that the man who contemplates such questions winds up becoming the embodied answer, attracting the relationship of his dreams while resolving day-to-day issues without emotional sweat. Few men are up to the challenge of seeing the relationship dance from this greater abstraction, however. Over-run by anxiety, the masses instead pasture upon terrains promising “instant results”.
So what would be the economic equivalent of asking these bigger questions? Sure, we’d do well to study history, and uncover the deepest possible principles of civilisation’s financial motions and cycles. Furthermore, we can ask the question, “is there a principle that lays even beyond these large-scale cyclical patterns?” Is there a mystery even beyond deep nature, where things take on even more coherence?! At this point in the essay the mystics will be feeling me, getting that we’re talking about the Tao, deep presence, or the way of the Lover-Beloved. In more secular language we’re speaking of that inner space of well-being that’s available in the midst of any external circumstance. The source of all novel action and creativity. The depth of awareness from which all easeful action comes. If this still sounds nonsensical to you, I’ll break it down and make it pragmatic throughout the rest of this article.
But before we begin, an intrepid question:
In what state of mind, and in which depth of understanding, must the founders of today’s mightiest organisations been in the moments they conceived these institutions?
Can you place yourself in the depths of creativity or emotion from which emerged the world’s most coveted artistic and designer rarities… those priceless objects which transcend fashion and recession?
What kind of compassion flooded the founding mothers and fathers, as they created our world’s most beloved institutions and services?
And are there individuals or enterprises that are immune from financial collapse… or even civilisational collapse?
Think about that.
I quietly know that there is a position that can help us break any economic fall should it arise. And I quietly know that this position is not a rocket-fuelled adventure into outer space.
Instead, I know that I am very small. A workaday ant, patrolling my workaday round. And if I look up from my workaday perspective, I see those pulling the macro-economic levers at the centre of our colony as very far from my individual control. Yet if you are to study the workaday ants who pull on those levers, you see that they are far too small to control the direction of the economic tides as they might wish and behest. In fact, they do our whole colony best when they learn to sail with the currents. I, humble worker ant, have little control over a short-term debt cycle, the ending of a long-term debt cycle, or the fate of my insect nation. The only economic fate over which I am sovereign, however, is my productivity, my attention, my time-investment. And my attunement with the next ants in line.
It is said that the only philosophical question is to choose whether or not to die. The fundamental economic question on a personal level, I see, is whether to try to control the course of your fate, or, in full, open acceptance, learn to sail with the tides. We might never control the economy, but they can never stop my production. They can freeze my assets, block my supply chains, and print my currency into oblivion… but they’ll never take away my ability to think, create and love!
5. So, Those Three Stores of Value I Can Bank On?
There’ll be no talk here about crypto, precious metals or mining stocks. Although I’m not recommending you discard investment savvy for a life of mystical immersion — unless, of course, you’re happy to go door-to-door with bowl and orange robe and reconcile yourself with the consequences. In fact, that probably won’t be bad training. Instead, I’m opening a conversation about internal safe havens, places you can turn that will foster your generativity — your true source of economic production — and your human capital in the times ahead. Places where you’ll accrue compound gains on your creativity far faster than any asset class will, in this brave new world.
I believe we are in need of a deeper humanity to see us through the times ahead.
I believe those most primed to face the full human experience are those most able to get us through.
And I believe that those able to create goods and services from their deep humanity will become the indispensable ones. The linchpins of an otherwise disparate and stultifying economy.
Now, do I blanketly believe in full-scale economic catastrophe? Actually no: the truth is usually more textured than our negative and anxiety-laden projections. But as we shall explore, there’s power in becoming intimate with your most-feared scenarios.
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Store of Value #1: Meditation
As the ticker-tape of Covid cases and casualties rolled in, I chose to meditate on the emotions and sensations that these wild events provoked. I was anxious, uncertain, afraid, and I sat still with eyes closed, feeling the heat, the chills, and the vibrations that moved through. I observed every thought-loop that rattled around my panicked mind. I sat in solitude with the effects this global unfolding was having on my system. Stumbling into the horror that I might not see my overseas elderly family again, I phoned them up and asked them about their fears, how the news was affecting them, if they thought they would die, how they would cope if they never saw me again. The family heart cracked open. Profound tears were shed. I’d never had a more valuable and moving conversation with my family, about more timeless and human themes.
As premonitions of an impoverished 1930s-esque world haunted me, I thought back to my threadbare and dependent young self in Spain, and wondered — as I did back then — if I’d ever progress on anything meaningful to me in life. Since I value expressing purpose more than I value consumer goods and holiday homes, I realised that no-one could strip away my spirit. Meditating on my fear of destitution, I felt propelled to read, to dig deeper into my purpose in life, and take it all deeper a notch. Adrift in a world fragmented in individuality, I wondered if all my years seeking beauty around the planet were of a hedonistic and small-scope motivation. Tethered to a world threatened with poverty, I now wonder if my path has come full-circle, and that beauty is quickly needed to soothe a more imminent human void.
Thank you, Covid, and thank you, meditation, for connecting me to my family and to my purpose in utterly priceless ways.
So how does one meditate? Simply sit on a cushion, follow any of number of simple techniques, and eventually your thoughts and emotions will slide, allowing a new wellspring of peace will come through. While some mine bitcoin, meditation is mining the transcendent, and anyone whose actions in art, business or relationship are tinged with meditative freedom are on a path of value for all involved. What is beauty in a woman? Beauty abounds in those moments that are unfettered by self-consciousness, where her heart radiates something autochthonous and sublime. What is beauty in a man? The same phenomenon in its masculine form: and the whole world will pay to be around it.
The clarity of mind and subtle radiance that comes from sustained meditation practice is impactful for you and for everyone who consumes your efforts. Walking the world with the after-hum of a good meditation is free, yet adds value to everything you’ll ever do. On a human level, the compound interest effect of meditation, when added up over the course of one’s life, adds up to a greater wonder than the riches accrued from compounding dividend stock. If you’ve ever completed a good stint in the monastery, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
As I continued to meditate amidst all manner of horrible and alarming feelings, meditation did what meditation does: it cleared a space between all the worry, and returned me to the place inside that knows bliss; that is bliss. I strengthened my connection to the part of me that’s happy regardless of financial health, and felt a subtle yet controversial ecstasy in the moments where I acknowledged with my woman that perhaps, just perhaps, our best days are now behind us.
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Store of Value #2: A Focus on Beauty
In a world where businesses are closing by the thousand, which of them are so meaningful that you would go out of your way to save them? What products and services stop you in your tracks each time you encounter them, and would break your heart if they ceased to exist? Is anyone asking questions like these in the boardroom?
To coalesce something of spirit or soul into an artefact, service or product, you create value that goes far beyond the monetary. People pay a premium for beauty, for personalisation, and have done since Gilgamesh pestered the citizens and beasts of Sumer. Beauty, or meaning-value, is the forgotten and under-exposed opportunity in our marketplace at present, and true beauty, which is something each of us can learn to cultivate, always brings with it the chance of redemption.
It always strikes me when I hear people reminisce on how their happiest memories came from times when they were financially fragile or hard-up, and how a shared, communal experience can bring more existential value than a seven-bedroom mansion replete with pools and a garage full of cars. What would you give your life to protect? What would you fight a war for, and forsake yourself for, with your last remaining breath or fibre? Chances are, it’s a person, object, or cause born of beauty. Beauty in the time of meltdown is of the lover and the muse, soft, ephemeral and impractical. Yet I feel that it’s beauty and only beauty, that evokes the champion and the warrior within us. Could beauty be our saviour because it arouses our desire to save?
The question is, do you know true beauty when you see it? And for how many hours each day do you stay connected to beauty’s whisper before life’s troubles divert you elsewhere? Can you reside in beauty in such a way that all your future products and services become imbued with it? Does beauty then exempt you from economic destitution?
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Store of Value #3: Quality Contemplation (in Quality Company)
By contemplation I refer to the conversation happening in one’s own mind and heart. And the quality of that inner conversation determines the meanings we make, the decisions we take, and our emotional responsiveness when faced with life.
What is the quality of meaning you’re able to make from our current circumstances? Does your inner conversation consist of panic, feeling oppressed, or of a wider curiosity about the nature of things? Is there a larger internal conversation of inter-connectivity and wonder taking place? How would it be to make higher quality meaning from within your own mind? High quality challenge and input from the outside can improve the quality of your contemplation, which provokes your own inner resources to rise. On the flip-side, days spent adrift in unexamined media-viewing, or cynically deriding every initiative as conspiratorial or futile, might just well stifle and condition your sacred inner contemplation.
Contemplation is the practice of making sense and making meaning, and we’ve been living in a meaning crisis for a number of decades. So many of us have been educated and trained to propagate a professional life-cycle that involves little of our deepest aspirations. Debt-fuelled consumerism and corporate ladder-climbing isn’t many people’s vision of happiness, so why would we be sad to let that whole system go? And could we actually play a part in what’s next? I mean, bitcoin has threatened to.
Through quality contemplation both in our minds and with quality company, we gain salvation from the worldly anxiety that threatens to trammel us, more accurate perceptions of the events unfolding in the world, and a sense of belonging to a more empowered network of action. We become open to new ways of tackling our personal challenges, and we become connected to a group worthy of celebration. The more we give the gifts of our inner contemplation to others, the more we grow in influence and leadership.
I believe that a man will begin to spread his legacy when he learns to tap the sublime, or his own visceral depths, throughout the annals of his work-life, his relationships, and his relationship to himself. As he does this, such a man becomes a linchpin within his tribe for genuine cultural regeneration, and any economic fears become allayed because his productivity has become exalted.
My question to you is this: how good is your current thought-environment, and do you need an upgrade? Is there a notion of purpose of legacy inside you — a gift you were born with that’s much more durable than any financial up-cycle or downturn — that is very much in demand during these uncertain times?
When times get tough, your survival and well-being might well be called on to extract a form of value that’s needed in a strained and confused marketplace. You might even be demanded, within your family and communities, to merely lead others into measure, sanity and cooperation. And while powerless over the greater natures that govern our economic cycles, quality productivity, injected with soul, beauty and true contemplative meaning, might just hold your way through. And rather than return to the corporate zombie-land of the alienated and dwindling set-up that was our old system, may more of us be inspired to create new iterations of business, politics, relationships and art that restore beauty and inherent meaning to the fore.
I’d like to finish by thanking the teachers and commentators who have provided an historical perspective on pandemics, economics, and even collapsology during these recent days. May we be released from feeling trapped within our current circumstances, may we accept the fates that come, be freed from mental suffering, and find new wells of creativity.
Outside of the news-cycle, birds are calling and children are flying home-made kites just across the glade. Empty roads were a delight to travel through, and we’ll never forget those moments we ventured out and witnessed the Vanilla Sky. With all their devastating stress and uncertainty, these are the days of our lives: and there is much, much more to come.
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Jordan Luke Collier is a transformational coach and a leader within the Ars Amorata community: a gentlemen’s organisation which focuses on reclaiming beauty in a world that’s largely turned away from it.
Jordan takes a handful of clients each year on a deep exploration of intimacy, life calling, and taking the adventurous, passion-led route through life.
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