Living with no money for 12 years
In follow-up to my recent post reviewing Eric Fromm’s “To Have or to Be,” I’ve re-watched a few short documentaries on Daniel “Suelo.” Daniel Suelo is a middle-aged man who is homeless, refuses to use any money, and is, by all outward appearances, very happy and centered. In the film below, “Moneyless in Moab,” Suelo explains his philosophy and how he found himself choosing this lifestyle.
Suelo describes how the greatest pain around homelessness is the social stigma and the way that people treat the homeless. He explains his belief that suffering is caused by attachment to things and even his own life, and how he meditates to quell occasional anxiety about his lifestyle. In short, he has an extremely well thought-out philosophy on the natural moneyless ecosystem being perfectly in balance. Suelo explains “it’s so ego-less to go shit in the woods, that that’s why it’s the most holy act I could do.” I couldn’t help to think about how similar his philosophy and interpretation of the Garden of Eden story was to Eric Fromm’s – the moment we become self-aware as humans and individuals, separate from nature and other humans, is the moment that we begin to suffer.
Suelo describes some additional philosophies and experiences in this subsequent interview, after he’s been living without money for 12 years.
Suelo explains in this video how his study of world religions showed him that the commonality of all religions is that they encourage the casting-off of possessions and acting spontaneously for the act’s own end without seeking external monetary reward. Again, his interpretation is strikingly similar to Eric Fromm’s in “To Have or To Be?”.
Perhaps this all seems quite radical for a personal finance blog, but I do blog as the “radical finance guru”! However, let me be clear that I’m not about to give away all of my possessions and live with no money. I don’t think I would recommend that course of action unless you are experiencing serious pain in your situation, have little or negative money anyway, and are looking for a truly radical change. Rather, I think Suelo’s experiences and philosophy towards money can enlighten our own outlooks.
First, the most inspiring part of Suelo’s life and story is that he appears to be happy, well-adjusted, and socially engaged. He has close friends, is not starving, and is self-actualized. He has a deep philosophical life, and he blogs at Moneyless World. Many of us living in the moneyed world could only wish for so much contentment in life. Today as I walked through the downtown area for lunch with this post on my mind, I couldn’t help but notice the number of frowning or worried faces rushing through the crowds. Perhaps we need some perspective.
Suelo’s philosophy also lays bare how much of the psychic role that money plays is one of control, perhaps even compensating for our social or psychological alienation. I must attest that my most joyful and content experiences in life are when I am fully present in the moment – either engaged in an activity or spending time with loved ones. Money has little to do with these experiences, except for it’s instrumental role in enabling my continued shelter, sustenance, and transportation.
This reality lays bare that many of us are using money as a drug. Suelo says this in the video above. Some of us experience the drug of money when we earn it, drunk with the rush of money like a gambler. Perhaps the most common way that money is drug-like is its use for consumption – to numb boredom or even depression. Then, the worst use of money may be the sadistic – taking conscious or unconscious joy in the use of money to subjugate others – either literally as employed labor – or more symbolically through the consumption of status symbols (cars, clothes, and access) that may make others feel inferior, or at least make us feel superior.
So perhaps we can learn from Suelo that we must consciously do the work of peeling back the layers of accumulated emotional problems in our relationship with money. To be sure, money serves a very valuable instrumental role for nearly all of us, but this is not necessarily a problem. If we can unlearn nearly all of the emotional and socially-determined constructs of money, perhaps we can use it for it’s true purposes – as a medium of exchange, store of value, unit of accounting, etc. We can minimize the use of money as a means of controlling others [Suelo and others would say it is impossible to eliminate the controlling nature of money]. If we can learn to use money efficiently for its intended purposes, we can begin to focus on the higher functions of human life – autonomy, self-directed creativity, love, and experiencing joy in the present moment.