“You have to make money before you can do good.”
“You have to make money before you can follow your dreams.”
Nothing really makes any sense, as far as the unexamined assumptions young people hear – they are all paradoxes. For example, there’s the idea that money can not buy happiness and at the same time, don’t become a poor, homeless person; that is the ultimate shame.
Well, I am poor, homeless and have never felt freer or happier.
I live in paradise and I eat like a king. I spend my days volunteering in places doing some semblance of permaculture, working with my hands all day with breathtaking views of mountains and my own eco-lodge to curl up in in the evening, and at times between battling crabgrass and attempting to stuff a beautiful kitten into my inner pocket for a warm snooze, I have a little chuckle thinking how useless this life must seem to many of my friends who’ve known little beyond the life of university, internships in big companies and work. I chuckle, imagining they must envision this kind of life in a kind of maybe, faraway, not-really-my-thing, for-a-little-while kind of way.
Perhaps they do not even know this, or perhaps they do not even wish to admit it to themselves. Perhaps they are ashamed or afraid to admit this, or perhaps this is purely just my projection onto them, my own judgment – held lightly and somewhat amusingly – of their inner worlds. But I had had this conversation with so many young people throughout my time in NZ that when I came to Bolivia, Peru and Chile and have Couchsurfed here, I’ve been surprised to see the same echoes repeated in different cultural contexts.
There is really no nicer way of saying it, so I’ll go ahead and say it: ‘I want to be rich.’
Of course, no self-respecting young person aware of global issues and capitalism’s hand in all of this would ever admit this, in those words, with that level of frankness. And of course, no one just wants to be rich; they also want a successful career, a wonderful, caring husband or wife, a beautiful house, a nice car and so on and so forth, but the ‘dream of the modern world’ (the trance) nonetheless. These young people I know love nature, love hiking, love the stillness and peace that comes with it, and so of course, like myself, fantasise about fairytale cottages, a vegetable garden, chickens and fruit trees, but – unlike me – as a getaway home. They’re not really serious. They don’t really want to get their hands dirty – making it themselves, tending to the food forest, turning the compost heap. This is particularly true of friends of the upper middle class whose parents have immigrated to New Zealand, left the life in the Third World behind, and have consequently been indoctrinated that manual labour is for dumb people and the only way to be successful is to go to university, get a degree, a Masters, a PhD, work in a high-paying job and get rich. They haven’t even had the chance to really work with their hands – until their hands are chapped and rough and covered in dirt that is impossible to remove – and therefore have never really had the chance to fully see the meditativeness in this, the simplicity, the joy. They think it must surely be absurdly boring or menial – or such a waste of the human mind. So the fairytale cottage in nature is a ‘when I’m rich enough’ dream, a getaway bach, and perhaps they want something a bit more chic, like a fancy inner city apartment or something like their family homes, with mahogany tables, giant paintings, big Persian style rugs, a glass coffee table.
I just want things made with my own hands.
For those of us who’ve clocked it, who’re serious, and who’re part of this generation coming of age, this must be such a difficult place to come from, to build friendships and relationships from. A friend of mine asked, you’ve been travelling for almost a year, why haven’t you fallen in love yet.
I could think of a thousand responses for this.
Such as: my life is moving too fast, you can’t create that level of emotional bond with someone when you know you’ll be gone in a few days or weeks. Such as: I’ve been too relaxed to make the effort, too at ease. Such as: when you live your life with love, you fall in love everywhere and all the time, so you don’t draw distinctions any more – every thing, every human being, every plant, place, animal, experience becomes a thing worthy of love of the deepest kind, and having a ‘relationship’ in the way we use the word currently ceases to be of importance – the immediate interaction, the power of Now becomes most important. A simple chat with a Bolivian grandmother knitting scarves for her grandchild on the roadside. A toothless Peruvian who goes out of his way driving the minibus to save you walking three blocks with all your luggage. A roadside seller who gives you extra food for free, just because you stopped to ask how they were.
But perhaps the truth is: when you fall in love with someone, you don’t just want to share a life together. You want to share the dream of the life together. And I don’t want to be rich. In fact, I don’t really want to have much to do with money. There is no way you could pay me a million dollars to work even just two hours a week in a fancy company – because I’m out. I’m out of the system. I see the matrix, the finite game, the corporatocracy, the whole illusion of money for what it is, and I’m out. I’m happier outside, by the by – I spend all my days in the sunshine, working with my hands for what I need – food and shelter – and receive the gifts of nature in return: cats to cuddle, humans to have beautiful long conversations with, a kind of agelessness, a sense of play, love and wonder at all things, no stress – and I would trade none of these things for wealth under no circumstances.
Whereas with many of the young people I know – even those who are well-meaning, have worked in an NGO or three (often at least partly for having more things to put on their Curriculum Vitae) – it’s different. They say to me, “I want to work in a big company for a few years somewhere, make money, save up…” and then follow my dreams, or “I don’t know where I’ll go after my degree – maybe Australia, UK, Canada, USA” – all the places that, in the Third World anyway, are sure signs of sheer success, that you have ‘made it’ and are earning the big bucks. I’m not in this world anymore and don’t plan to be. I don’t even plan to prostitute myself to a system I don’t believe in in the short term, nor do I particularly relish the thought of emotionally and morally supporting someone (like a life partner) who is in the bullshit of the current system and stressed out, losing sleep, getting white hairs, plagued with anxiety and depression for no reason, irritable, always watching the clock, watching TV, watching his cell. It would feel fake. It would feel like cheerleading for the side I don’t agree with, don’t feel tied to, don’t feel love for. It would mean sacrificing my integrity for someone else’s ‘dream’ of ‘getting rich.’
I hold this lightly, amusingly, however, because I feel ultimately it’s their own ‘stuff’ to deal with, their own inner work, in the long run. Not mine. I’m out; I spend less than $100 a month and am happy, free, in flow. Back home, and probably in Chile and Peru also, the young professionals I know spend probably $1000 a month and are full of stress, anxious, lonely, depressed at times, dissatisfied with shallow relationships when what they really crave is deep human connection, stuck in front of a computer 8-10 hours a day, sitting down, in a city-scape of giant glass buildings, and with deadlines galore.
I wouldn’t trade my life with theirs under any circumstance.
It strikes me that I once lived this life too, I’ve been on that side, and that a couple of years ago, I too, might have had my own version of I just want to be rich, cloaked in some kind of justification around ‘working just a few years to get out,’ ‘seeing what the ‘Dark Side’ is like,’ ‘it’s not so bad; they’re all human – I like my team and enjoy my work,’ or ‘I still have my own values and principles, and my dream remains.’
I think there’s a deeper reason for this though, and many of these young people themselves have said it to me outright: “I don’t know what I want.”
When people live in the world so disconnected from their fundamental human needs, when society itself teaches us to be un-feeling, non-‘needy’, independent young adults, when our culture is full of people who tell us we need to have such-and-such to have ‘made it’ …then it is no wonder that young people grow up disconnected so fundamentally. They may recognise, in moments, something that truly and utterly fills them with love, resonance or makes them come alive, but along comes ‘life’ (aka pointless stress and deadlines for shit we don’t really want to be doing) and sweeps it all away in one great big way, so we forget, we forget to do the things that really make us come alive, we forget to go to the places in nature that really recharge our batteries, we push it aside, we say for later, when I’m old and toothless and retired, or better make money first then follow my dreams, or you can’t live in paradise till you have tons of money, and then what happens?
Well, nothing happens.
We never really follow our dreams. We live out our lives ‘making money’ and hope our kids will somehow live out our dreams for us – because now, of course, there’s the kids we need to ‘make money’ for – but they fall into the same pattern, the same trap, because that is what society teaches them to do. So what happens when you grow up and you don’t know what you want or need? You end up choosing money, because it’s the only key you have, the only key you know. It’s the idea that if I don’t know what I want, I’ll just go ahead and make lots of money, so that when I DO know what I want, I’ll be able to have it, because money will enable me to have it. Money becomes the great enabler, the fairy godmother who can grant any wish. And without money – we are nothing. Or rather – it is not that we are nothing, but we have no possibilities and so can’t become anything or anyone.
People like these youth are fundamentally afraid of being poor, being homeless, and having needs.Videos like the following break my heart up so badly and leave me bawling my eyes out, but are also a powerful reminder that poverty and homelessness – especially in developed countries – is the ultimate social disgrace, the biggest, blackest fear:
I ask these young people to try hitchhiking or couchsurfing – not because we necessarily have to but because it might be fun, it could be an adventure, a door-opener, an amazing friendship – and they are intrigued, in a ‘dark secret’ kind of way, in a ‘tattoo-in-a-hidden-place’ way, but feel embarrassed, guilty, afraid, like ‘that’s not me.’ It’s a shame to admit you ‘want to be rich’ but it’s an even greater shame to be poor. The bottom line is that they come from a family and culture where they’ve ‘made it’ when they are independent (rather than interdependent) and therefore somehow magically have ‘no needs’. And therefore, to admit they have needs (or a particular need) is not a great act of vulnerability, courage and trust, but of shame, guilt and fear. So they don’t consider the possibilities of hitchhiking or couchsurfing – it would be the ultimate shame, admitting you’re homeless, admitting you can’t pay for a ride home. So they lose the opportunity for an incredible conversation with a complete stranger thanks to pride. They lose the opportunity for being and living in gratitude and receiving generosity thanks to pride. Pride and its flipside: shame.
Marshall Rosenberg writes:
I came to the conclusion that [love] was not just something you feel, but it is something we manifest, something we do, something we have. And what is this manifestation? It is giving of ourselves in a certain way.
‘To me, giving of ourselves means an honest expression of what’s alive in us in this moment. It intrigues me why every culture asks upon greeting each other, “How are you?” It’s such an important question. What a gift it is to be able to know at any given moment what is alive in someone.’
‘To give a gift of one’s self is a manifestation of love. It is when you reveal yourself nakedly and honestly, at any given moment, for no other purpose than as a gift of what’s alive in you. Not to blame, criticize, or punish. Just “Here I am, and here is what I would like.” This is my vulnerability at this moment. To me, that is a way of manifesting love.’
Money becomes the liberator – and also the trap. It traps you into thinking that if you do not have enough of it, you cannot do what you want and you cannot ask for what you need or meet your needs in any other way. And you can never have ‘enough’. It traps you into thinking that simply asking is not enough, that you cannot just walk in the world with love – but rather, the best bet is with love and with money – that you cannot just receive unconditionally. Receive it now and pay it forward, and hope through your very energy, those you give towards will do the same. It traps you into thinking that there is just No Way to survive in the world without it (as animals do), or with very little of it, so it paralyses you into inaction, into not learning the skills of permaculture or natural farming, or thinking ‘it’d be nice for a while but then I’d get bored of it’ (as if it is only a world with money that makes anything ‘exciting’) or makes you think oh, well, volunteering is nice but it’s for the upper middle class. One unexamined assumption I face constantly is, “Oh, you’ve been travelling for so long, you must be rich; how did you save all that up?”
Dear readers, dear Couchsurfing hosts, dear curious indigenous peoples and friends: I have nothing. I have love and time and energy. Not money. In my first five months of 2016, I struggled to finish $500NZD – that’s less than $100 a month, or about $3 a day. And I lived in the most wonderful of places – jungles, breathtaking sierra, canyons, mountains, cordilleras – slept a sound ten hours every night, had long rambling conversations, gave classes in conscious cooking and acrobatics, sang, got to know places tourists rarely stay in for more than a week off by heart over months, and never went hungry. Granted, yes, I did choose to come to ‘developing’ countries, but even so, you can go and talk to any of my friends or locals who live here and they will tell you flat out that yes, it’s cheap, but no, even they could not live with so little. Money is a tool, but not the only tool. Money is a ticket, but not the only ticket. Johnny, at Altai Oasis, says, we forget we’re using a tool and it becomes the thing itself. But tell me, if you suddenly woke up and had everything you’d ever wanted and could imagine or hope or dream for…would you throw away the tool? Could you bring yourself to? Why or why not? Why would you need it any longer anyway?
This post has nothing to do with demonising money – because that would be entrenching the us-versus-them warrior mentality, the separation-and-disconnection mentality, the finite game even further. I don’t mean to say money is ‘bad’ or that we ‘shouldn’t’ use it or want it or need it. If we were to demonise money, it would be akin to devolving ourselves of responsibility and therefore projecting our shame, blame, guilt and fear onto some external entity, scapegoating, and even further alienating ourselves from our feelings and needs by locking ourselves in heady ‘Jackal’ land, as we call it in NVC, or continuing to live in ‘victim’ as the MKPers refer to it. Despite the title, this post has actually got very little to do with money itself, or the desire to ‘be rich’ – that’s just a symptom, an excuse for not delving into what we really need or want, a procrastination tool for saying first I’ll make money and later I’ll follow my dreams…when I figure them out. So this post has really nothing to do with money and everything to do with young people I come across not knowing what they want…and not making an effort to find out. And therefore being locked in inertia, paralysis, a mediocre sense of dissatisfaction with the day-to-day, mild depression, anxiousness, loneliness and the ever-recurring spasms of what the fuck am I doing with my life? in the middle of tea breaks and when the Excel docs fail to load fast enough.
These young people have a lot of inner work to do. If they keep living inside Business-As-Usual, I think they’ll be less and less able to do this work – there needs to be a break, a jolt, a long period of absence from the family, the culture and BAU (aka Bullshit-As-Usual). And I’ve been able to help, through questions and stories and informal facilitation for many of the people I’ve hosted or surfed with. But it is their work ultimately. As for me – I take the path of least resistance, as per Taoism, of least effort. I flow. I don’t choke myself up in the madness of BAU and unnecessarily complicate things that do not need to be complicated. I remain in touch with my feelings and needs and fall into meeting them – without the wanting, without effort. Just as is, just because. No deadlines, no stress. Those things are not my circus – not my monkeys.
So…why do I keep in touch with these youth and young adults?
Well, often, I don’t, not directly and intentionally anyway. They knock on the door. They say something. After I leave a place, a host, a family, I share with them only the joys and sorrows of my own journey, but am hesitant about enquiring on theirs. It’s taken me a long time to realise why: because I think, fundamentally, I might be a terrifying person to be around – something I usually cloak under the justification that ‘I don’t want to freak anyone out’ or ‘be too intense,’ but it remains. Gerald from Arequipa says to me, one evening, the others – they’re scared of us. They’re ill at ease with us; they sense something is off, something is deeply wrong. Because they know we could destroy them. We could totally destroy their way of life, everything they hold dear, their reality. The illusion of their reality. That they could wake up.
But some people keep coming back. Some people I keep coming back to. I wonder – why?
Because they know they might be destroyed…but are willing to lean into the fire and be reborn again, come alive. They keep coming back, and leaning into the fire further and further.
That gives me hope. That gives me closeness and a kind of deep, human connection I jump buildings for.
To the young people who tell me I don’t know what I want, I say this: get outside. Leave the screens behind, the ultrafast broadband connection and try sun-and-stars connection. Go into deep nature for a month, two months, six months. Forget the routine. Sleep more – and connect with your subconscious more. Write down the dreams. Fast. Give unconditionally. Ask for what you need. Be silent. Forage for food. Spend a few hours every day with your bare hands in earth. Breathe deeply. Don’t write to-do lists. Wake at dawn, sleep at sundown. Watch the butterflies, listen to the roar of the stream in the valley. Listen. And if you need to, also get inside. Teal has a great list of suggestions for techniques at the end of her article, so I won’t repeat them here. Live with wonder, awe, curiosity, play. Watch the clouds.
Everything you ever wanted is already here, really.