Before we had paper money, we had coins. Before coins, it was shells, beads, cacao beans, seeds that marked a quantity of value. These are all forms of currency, which means a current/flow of energy. The meaning most people attach to money makes it something so elusive, it can lure us away from noble goals of contributing to society, and into a dichotomy of scarcity/greed. It is a very valuable practice to deeply examine our relationship with money, and to recognize that we don’t have to subscribe to the scarcity/greed polarity which is what makes money seem so evil.
We must not make the mistake of wishing for and being attached to the goal of living without money, as long as we are entirely dependent upon it to stay warm, move ourselves about in vehicles, have water brought into our homes, etc.. To do so sets up a very negative relationship with the very source of our survival. How can we hate what keeps us alive, simply because we are telling ourselves the story that we don’t have enough to live the way we wish we could live? It is crucial that we learn to not only be grateful for what is available to us, but to completely honor what it takes to provide these things–if it’s not money directly exchanged from our own hands to the provider of the sustenance, it is through the hands of someone else that we have some exchange with. Nearly all people who believe they are getting something “for free” are doing so because someone else is exchanging energy for money. It changes the dynamic of money entirely when, for example, one pays their electric bill with a feeling of gratitude for what they have been able to do because of having power available to them, rather than begrudgingly giving up the money, spiteful that we still need to pay for power because it’s become a controlled commodity. That kind of attitude does not attract a strong current of support into our lives. If anything, it reinforces the feeling that we are on a treadmill and never receiving enough to get anywhere.
A very interesting phenomenon occurred halfway through the Permaculture Design Course I did a year ago, which was established on a “gift economy” basis. People were asked to pledge a contribution in some form, be it money, work hours, or material gifts, or a combination of the three. We were advised of the typical cost for a class like this with full accommodations ($1000-2000), and were asked in advance what we had to offer in exchange for education and certification in Permaculture. Our teachers agreed to teach this two-week course on the faith that the 24 students would contribute enough to compensate them for their teaching, their travel expenses, and the time spent away from projects at home. The land that hosted the class also needed some compensation for the food, electricity (including power that pumped all the water we used), time spent maintaining the facilities and kitchen, and a contribution to the property which could have rented the space out to someone else for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Built into that space rental would have been the cost of insurance, property taxes, mortgage payments and infrastructure costs. The gift-economy format was experimental, and we all learned a lot of valuable lessons from it. Here is what occurred:
About a week into the class, the teachers announced that it was now time for everyone to offer up their donations. Those who fully intended to contribute in cash handed their envelopes to the teachers within a day or two of this announcement. Those who had in mind some sort of work/trade arrangement with the teachers and the land either verbally discussed that with them, or handed them something in writing. I myself gave as much money as I could afford to give, and offered various skills in work/trade for the rest, to be cashed in upon at a later date (including custom clothing for the teachers). I also had some building materials available for use if desired. I remember feeling like I wished I could have given more, because I knew that what I was receiving was infinitely valuable to my personal growth, my ability to support my family more sustainably, and my ability to contribute more to my community. And I think some others felt the same way–guilty that they couldn’t give more. For some, that guilt may have paralyzed them from offering anything at all. It seemed like a few interpreted “gift economy” to mean if you don’t think you have anything of value, you just don’t give anything, and lean on the fact that some people in the group had good jobs and contributed $500 or more. A few people may have been completely unrealistic about what it took for these teachers to get themselves across the country and immersed in educating a sometimes challenging group of people, and possibly not aware that “good vibes” don’t pay for airfare.
The teachers asked that we circle up and have a meeting about this, because once they added up the financial contributions, they found that the amount fell far short of their expenses. This was the cause of much frustration and stress for them, and the students seemed confused about what suddenly seemed like an expectation which had not previously been disclosed. The feelings sweeping the room were of indignation, guilt, shame, sadness, fear, even some anger. We were shown a breakdown of how much it cost to host and teach the class, and compared that to how much money had been received. We were at about half. The other gifts contributed were considered and definitely appreciated, but without meeting the very base expenses, our teachers were essentially paying to depart from their lives and projects at home to come and teach a bunch of broke hippies about permaculture. It was very important for us to realize how unfair that was. It was also important for the teachers to recognize that they had not made it clear from the start the very minimum amount of money they needed in order to feel compensated for their time and knowledge. Assumptions got muddled up with faith, and it was very uncomfortable for everyone.
Thankfully, the folks at Heartstad Intentional community were well-versed in non-violent communication, and our conversation was conducted with ardent and compassionate concern for one another. There was some anger, some tears, some laughter, and ultimately an incredible sense of bonding as we held space for each others fears and epiphanies. I can only speak for myself, but I came away from that experience better understanding the value of someone else’s time, and with a new commitment to making sure energy exchange agreements are outlined clearly from the beginning so assumptions don’t get in the way of helping each other get what we need.
I wish to begin a support group series, either in person here on the land, or online via Google Hangout or some other video chat service, that open up a dialogue and invite each of us to reflect upon our stories about money, perhaps considering making adjustments in the way we think about our exchanges. I think it would benefit everyone on an individual as well as community level to better understand how much of “being broke” is self-perpetuated, and explore ways of changing the dynamic that makes it so hard for us to give money to others in exchange for their goods or services, even if they are things we really appreciate and need. To be not fixated on money as an end game, but in right relationship with it as a tool to manifest the things we believe in, is in my opinion the definition of financial success.
It is important for us in the early stages of community participation that it’s understood by everyone that Dreamseed needs as much support as it can gather up from people, and some of that support needs to come in the form of money so we can build a more adequate and inspiring infrastructure for future events and classes. We do a LOT here without directly spending money, by getting materials for free, by putting in man-hours and trying to be efficient with our time and resources. However, what isn’t always clear is that to go pick up free building materials, we need money for gas or to rent a truck. It takes money to create storage space for keeping materials. It will take money to register and fix up the trailer I am getting from Our Sacred Acres so it can be available to the community for hauling free building materials. Every time the toilet is flushed or the shower run, it costs money to run the electric well pump. Time spent on preparing for, hosting and cleaning up after an event is time our residents spend away from making money from other work. Firewood burned during events requires time to chop and stack; time which could equal money if spent elsewhere. And aside from all this, the mortgage and insurance costs are nearly $2000, just to be able to live and work here. For us, time is the next best thing to money in terms of making progress. Money is the most direct way to get material things, while time is usually what progresses our projects along the best. A balance of both is what’s required to make these dreams come true.
If you have been invited to an event at Dreamseed, we ask that you please consider everything I have shared here, and take some time to research what we are developing here for use by the community so you might feel more inspired to support us with a cash donation, commitment to future work hours, or a combination of both. We try to maintain a list on this website of materials items we are in need of, so please check that list if you might have something we could use. We will be doing some crowdfunding over the winter to raise the money we need to build a community roundhouse for workshops, yoga classes, ceremonies, movie screenings and more. Your pledge to help spread the word will make all the difference in the success of that fundraiser. We wish for you to have everything you need and more, and to make good choices about what you do with the energy you have to contribute to the world.