“At night, I turn President Lincoln’s face down toward my bedside table.
In the morning, I reveal his profile.
At night, I turn the penny heads-side down.
In the morning, I turn it heads-side up.
I do this every day.
I don’t know why.”
The above is an entry from the first Wicca 101 class I took in 1999. Fifteen years ago, penny-turning entered my life, and it remains a significant part of my spiritual understanding.
While there are many spiritual exercises I had learned or shaped or invented by my mid-twenties, the penny-flipping discipline was the first one assigned to me by a teacher I trusted.
Flip—that is, not flip, but simply turn over—a penny twice a night?? That’s it?
That’s it, and of course that’s not it.
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. So say the sages, eh?
And really, I’d say, to move toward enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
The invitations to attention are limitless. The penny, the wood, the water.
But why a penny? Why turn a penny?
For one thing, in the United States, we have no half-penny. We have no coin of smaller denomination. A penny is the least valuable currency we have. A penny may be seen as nearly nothing, of nearly no value, and as a place-holder for whatever we want it to be.
Does it speak to you of currency, of metal, of the devaluation of coinage?
Is it just an exercise in regularity and routine? Why? What does that get you?
How hard is it to begin and maintain routine? When in your life has routine been different from what it is now? How was it different, and how did that affect your life?
Does the penny speak beyond itself—does it speak of slavery, freedom, capitalism, empire?
What does that penny say every evening and every morning?
If you are too tired to hear it speaking, what does that tiredness itself say?
And of course, it’s not just the penny, but the turning, that also speaks. You are doing something very small, something seemingly meaningless on the surface of things. Why are you doing it?
Why do we sweep the floors of the dojo? Or clean the bathrooms of the ashram? Or stack the chairs at church?
But no, those activities are clearly valuable, right?
What makes the penny-turning different?
I encourage you to find out.
I encourage you to begin the penny-turning exercise, and then put a comment here, or email me. What happens after a week of turning your penny?
Tell me. I truly want to know.