In this world of commodified, controlled & privately owned resources most people (I’m guessing here, but I’d say most people, as in more than half the world’s population) operate from a scarcity mentality. Money is usually how we understand this. Try this experiment: see if you can go through an entire day without using money in any way. Go an entire day without talking about money. Or, more subtle yet, without even thinking about money. Sounds simple. Not necessarily easy, but it will certainly bring your attention to how unconscious our relationship is to this representation of resources. I say representation of resources, because money is not water. Nor is it food. As the Cree proverb goes (that I’ve been toting around on my canvas grocery bag for years):
Only when the last tree has died
and the last river has been poisoned
and the last fish has been caught
will we realize that we can’t eat money.
Sure, we may know this with our heads, but how deeply do we live it in our lives? And how freely can we live with a consciousness of the value of things without tightening around ‘not having’?
I was surprised when I went to Sweden to find that there seems to be a similar anxiety around money as in the US. Being there, it felt like people were working hard & long, even though my understanding before going was that this was a country based more on the premise of everyone having access to wider security nets than I’d experienced in the US. Or certainly in India, where your best bet for retirement is still to birth a boy-child so he’ll bring home a wife who can look after you in your aging years. And it does seem to be true that Sweden has far greater systems of support for its citizens, as well as more open arms for the citizens of other countries–refugees, than many places I’ve had the good fortune to experience. Yet there was still a lot of shopping for things & a lot of talk about money & how to make it, have it, spend it… I don’t mean to pick on Sweden here. It’s only that it was a recent experience for me &, in this regard, a surprising one.
This is a great comedy bit by Louis CK about money, human progress, happiness & entitlement. That last word has been swirling around my mind for a few years now. Our relationships to resources, what are they? How conscious are we of them? Even if you don’t do the money experiment yourself, try noticing how many times in a day money is spoken about or used around you. And what is it, really? Paper, metal, or plastic representations of numbers on a screen that tell you whether you can afford to have something right now, or perhaps never. Today, here at ecodharma in Catalunya, Spain, the tax man is coming to visit & we’ve been jokingly instructed to “look poor” because this place exists solely on donations, on contributions from people who stand behind the eco-dharmic mission with their money. Currently there’s a crowdfunding-type initiative for an activist training centre to be built nearby that requires 40,000 euros to get up & running. I want to contribute. Yet I am living on very little when it comes to dollars. Or euros, or whatever you call your money in your country. I’m living on the remains of what my grandfather left me 2 years ago. My intention with myoga online yoga school was/is that it would sustain me personally at the same time that it sustains others in their self-practice inquiry & development. But it barely sustains itself in the costs to keep it running! However, my deepest intention has not been to make money, but rather to co-create effective change & community. And in that I feel successful. Still, I do want to contribute to the good work that this Ulex Project will do, because I can see & feel what being here with the folks who are doing it is doing for me, but what can I give aside from a few dollars?
I know that I am giving back in other ways while I’m here. I work 6-9 hours in a day, 4 days in a week on all sorts of things that need doing, & I love it. I love learning how to make sourdough bread so people have bread to eat. I love learning how to cook tasty food for 15 people who are vegetarian. I love cleaning out the meditation yurt & going into the local community to gather supplies & getting to meet the 400 happy goats that supply our cheese.
I love clearing dead wood & gathering it for the AGA kitchen cooker that also heats the stone room I sleep in at night. I love learning how to lay an earthen floor by mixing an insulation aggregate with cement & water in a cement mixer & then hauling it around in a wheelbarrow. I love teaching yoga to the participants in the Mindfulness for Social Change course this week. This is all work whose tangible effects & benefits are evident.
Here the water flows from the rain clouds down onto the cliffs above us & is then filtered down through the limestone rock into the pipes, where it comes out as it would from any faucet in any modern kitchen. It’s such a direct relationship that I feel inordinately blessed & it seems to me that because of this awareness the water actually sparkles as it emerges from the tap. Even though I go to a nearby knoll to sing my water songs so I don’t disturb people by singing next to their yurts where the stream runs down (& since we’re all meant to be silent until check-in at 9am), I do not feel I am compromising these songs by not being right next to running water. When I first arrived there had been a sudden & strong snowfall that caused many, many tree limbs to snap & the entire meditation yurt to collapse. Aside from the anthropromorphic sadness for the trees’ branches, & the work of dismantling the yurt & re-mantling the greenhouse that couldn’t hold it, the snow was beautiful. Frozen, crystalline water that covered the cliffs & hillsides, & that made my below-zero boots a blessing. The impact of this sudden snowfall was evident in the gushing streams & the utter coldness of the water rushing forth from the cold tap. So even on the knoll in the burgeoning spring with no visible stream in sight, I know the water is there within the rock. What’s more I know the water is there within the bones & blood of my own body.
Why is it that we are taught such a scarcity of thinking & being in the world? Why is it that money is touted as all important?
There was a time when people starved on these hillsides. The soil is so rocky that barely anything grows for humans to eat. But now, because there is money to buy metal, plastic & wood, there is a polytunnel that is sheltering 200 kale seedlings (that I helped to transplant yesterday), which is important for a community that is vegetarian/vegan in a landscape that is bright with light but also light on humus & often low on water. There was apparently a time that the Cathars, persecuted by the Catholics, retreated to these hills & died here. So we live in fortunate times where tools & resources can be bought to carve out a tenable life with this land. A time, only a few decades on from a fascist regime that replanted the forest that starving people had over-harvested, but planted the trees too close, causing disease to rise up in the narrow spaces between the pines.
Yet the people working here receive only a small stipend each year, enough for some travel to see family & perhaps the usual dental & doctor visits, but not enough to save for retirement. And perhaps not enough to feel flush to step away from this world-out-of-time should the time come to re-enter the tarmac tracks below the one rocky road that requires a RangeRover-type vehicle to even reach here. Of course they are not here to make money, but to co-create effective change & community.
Where do we start when we feel we don’t have (or worse yet, are not ourselves) enough? With feeling, thinking, seeing that we can. So often I find that money stands between our dreams & our day’s dose of “reality”. How often have you thought you couldn’t even dare to dream of doing something because you didn’t have the money? When & how are we taught a different level of resourcefulness? And when & how are we taught about re-sources at all? Do you know where the water you drink originates? How it’s treated before it reaches you? Have you ever considered how absurd it is to “own” land? It’s hard for me to explain this but I just can’t get my head around this concept of owning land. And the more I study indigenous & nomadic cultures, the more at-home I feel in that non-land-ownership worldview than I do in the worldview of mortgages, refinancing & shackling oneself to a plot of earth that you can’t take with you when you die anyway. I mean, yes, I know it all is the way it is & it would be ridiculous of me to espouse a return to nomadic tribal living, but I’m also not sure I can fully buy into buying a house either. Well, I know I can’t because I don’t have the money. And that’s my point here.
So many of us in the world feel amputated by this idea of not being able to acquire.
Although, when I look around me I do see more & more nomads. Maybe it’s just the milieu I’m in, but look at all the “e-preneurs” funding their world travels without whatever business they have online. ‘Get more Instagram followers so you, too, can live this exotic lifestyle!’ Maybe you even think I have this lifestyle! I don’t. I’m very conservative & frugal with my funds, except in the thousands I put into my website. But even then I’ve all-ways had support. Countless, countless kind & generous people have housed me, fed me, given me funds. I could not be here if it were not for my earthwidetribe.
How we each contribute is contingent on how we’ve been trained to understand we can.
I value all sorts of things that cannot be tagged with a money sticker. Is this a condition of being human? That we can worry about what we have or don’t have? That we can fixate on a future that may be filled with untold abundance, but more often we feel we have no future because we have no funds now to fund our dreams of what it could be then?
So this morning when we were told to “look poor” for the taxman, I jokingly said I better take my pearl necklace & lapis rings off. For, it’s true, I choose to travel with my riches. I choose to wear my riches while I have them. I choose to Blossom Now AND Trust the Longer Journey, which means I’m not going to hide the beautiful things life & loved ones have given me just so others won’t feel uncomfortable around me. Which is odd isn’t it? That we should judge someone as being rich simply because they wear rich things. And so what if they are?
What really does define richness?
Is it having a lot of whatever you want–money, jewels, clothes, food?
Or is it giving a lot of whatever you have?
Right now I am unclear about my mission in life & I have seemingly lost all ambition & most of my attachment to a particular identity, so I have more time & less ego, which makes me perfectly happy sweeping the floors. Is it a problem if I do it wearing pearls? Why do we assign riches like gemstones to special events? Why is sweeping the floor not a special event? And why not feel adorned in the beauty of the earth while doing it?
Yesterday I cooked both breakfast & lunch. Someone else had started the fire in the AGA cooker to heat the office upstairs. I’ve never cooked on one so I used the gas stovetops instead. Understandably someone–who is far more aware of the limited resources here than I am–got upset. I didn’t get upset that she got upset because I knew I didn’t know. It wasn’t like I was willfully wasting resources. I simply didn’t know because I hadn’t been taught any other way. So I appreciated learning yesterday how to cook on a woodstove–how to remove the rings to cook closer to the fire, how to stack the firewood to heat it enough to roast veggies in the oven, how to fill all the kettles with water & put them on top for those wanting tea throughout the day, & how to cook over a longer period of time because it’s not as quick as gas. This is resourcefulness–learning how to make the most of what you’ve been given, of what you already have.
That Louis CK episode is funny because it’s true, which is the case with comedy–it’s a mirror that somehow makes us laugh as we face ourselves. We all have different levels of having learned how to make the most of what we’ve been given. This was my mission when I was teaching more intensively–
to empower students to empower themselves to find greater liberation in this lifetime. To find freedom to unfold.
And when I say that I treat all people like children, I don’t mean I am condescending, but rather that I do my best to treat everyone with respect, including children, yet also without assuming that they know anything. More & more I endeavor to ask what someone knows before I spout off, because I surely know how much I appreciate others doing the same for me. We all know a whole lot more than may be visible. And we all could learn a whole lot more than our egos might like to reveal. I’m often astounded at just how resourced people are, yet they think of themselves as poor in some way.
So how do we give when we think we don’t have anything to give? Or get what we think we want when we don’t know how? I’d say by first taking an inventory of where & how you are right now, & then making the most of what you’ve already been given. When I felt poor–like I had nothing to give–& yet started streamlining my belongings I realized just how much stuff I actually had. I sold some of it but a lot of it I gave away. And much of what I gave away I had been holding tight to myself, saving for the day when I could use it or wear it. How wasteful, it suddenly seemed to me, when someone else could use it or wear it today instead of next year. Giving my precious belongings away not only created a friendly, even sacred, exchange with another, it also made me think of things as having their own lives. How much happier my bowls are now doing what bowls do best–holding things. Or my books–how much happier they are now that someone is actually opening them & learning from them, instead of sitting & waiting for me in storage.
I’ll admit there was a certain recklessness involved in this process. It’s not that I felt I was dying, but something like that, something akin to the truth-realization of the ephemeral nature of it all. As morbid as that may sound, it has been a key part of bringing me more fully into life.
So how do we give what we can?
By first recognizing what we have, what we’re attached to, & what we can lovingly let go of.
And also by trusting that more will come. There’s a wider view inherent in blossoming. There’s a trust that one will be held, that money and other resources, other treasures, will be bestowed upon one. It’s risky business & really you can only do it to the extent that you can currently do it. I’ve given what I can to the Ulex Project & I’m proud of that even though in money terms it might seem neglible. There is no hierarchy when it comes to giving to what you value. Every little bit is valuable & valued. If it’s not, then it might be time to reassess who you hang out with.
And how do we get what we want? Same. By inventory-ing what we already have, which creates awareness of how our energies are tied up, which then enables us to free up by re-lease-ing what weighs us down so we’re lighter & more focused on where we’d like to go. I also find that gratitude expands me & the courage to ask for what I want or need allows others the opportunity to assist. I’ve been learning that we all receive & release what & when we can.
How & what do you hold tight to, out of fear? Who & what do you give freely to, out of love?
I all-ways love hearing from you, so please comment if you feel moved to do so, Mox