Money & Life
This post has been brewing for a few days and it seemed to me like it was going to be one of those posts that wouldn’t mature and reach publication. I had pretty much given up on it. That was until last night I recieved an email that breathed life back into it. This post is respectfully dedicated to David.
Continuing my discovery of Charles Eisenstein I came across a Kickstarter project called Money & Life. I have never contributed to a Kickstarter project and I have been critical of much of what goes on there … and despite it all, here I am partaking in it.
I have made a(n extremely rare on my part) financial contribution to it but I also felt compelled to write about why I did this.
A Suicidal Budget
One of my dominant teen-memories is my father’s budget-planning spreadsheet. It started as a huge paper sheet and eventually became a computerized spreadsheet. My father used it to plan and monitor the family monthly budget. It was very detailed … to the resolution of an individual haircut. It had expected numbers that were updated as actual expenses took place.
My father was a relatively highly-paid professional (at least as I perceived it = way more then the average salary but never at the top level of disassociated management levels). Yet despite his hard work and despite his careful financial planning the end-result seemed to be that he could just barely make ends meet. As I write these words I feel the need to emphasize the word “seemed” because (a) my persepective and understanding has since evolved and (b) because what it “seemed” to me at the time is what really mattered.
Witnessing my father just barely balance our family budget made me despair. I don’t know if it was the dominant contributing element but it definitely was a core contributor to my dire outlook on life at the time. If my succesfful father couldn’t make it in the world, what chance would I have? That dire outlook led me into a long and difficult struggle with depression that led me to the edge of suicide.
That struggle caused me to shut down and move into a cocoon. Fortunately for me it was a strong cocoon that provided me with an isolation and insulation I needed from life. In retrospect I believe I was gifted with an opportunity to “reset” myself and have another go at life. I came out of it crude, arrogant … but forceful and willing to give life another, skeptical and sarcastic, try.
Making a Living
A combination of skill and luck enabled me to launch fairly quickly into a successful career. It began with an eye-opening abuse. I was hired by one of my father’s former work colleagues who operated a small consulting firm. After about a year I realized he was charging clients absurd amounts of money for my services and paying me something like minimum wage. Fortunately that didn’t last long and I left him behind and moved on into a fruitful and diverse career that lasted ~15 years.
I catapulted into a fairly high income-level. It fluctuated due to transitions that were usually forced on me. But for the most part it stayed failry high and allowed me to live fairly comfortably. I lived a fairly simple lifestyle with a few indulgences. Over the years those few indulgences diminished because the basic cost of living continued to rise and my financial-advancement did not match it. I was gravitating back towards the reality I had witnessed my father document in my teens. Reaching financial stability and independence (rent was a constant and growing expense over the years) seemed impossible.
There was no hope for anything beyond a monthly break-even cycle (with some savings for retirement). This realization helped me end my career. I wasn’t enjoying work much and the work did not provide me with financial resources that would allow me to seek enjoyment elsewhere. I refused to consider having children because (a) I had no intention of bringing them up in the same mindset I was brought up in and (b) I raised the bar beyond financial stability – I wanted to be happy and to provide my kids with happiness. I didn’t see the point of living without happiness, let alone bringing children into an unhappy existence.
My career ended rather abruptly and it left a void. I didn’t know at the time that voids were precious, that they made it possible for other things to appear in my life. Within a week of ending my career
I stumbled into a magical creative journey stumbled into me. I experienced for the first time in my life raw joy … an event that resonated in my body and safely beyond my mind (though it was scary getting there). I consciously surrendered to this journey and … it’s details are not pertinent to this post.
What is pertinent is that this marked the beginning of a period where, though I still had some occassional income from consulting work, for the most part we lived off savings that were left behind from my career. The creative path was also taxing – not only did creating not bring in money, it brough with it additional expenses. It was never a comfortable mode of existence for me … but I did find what I was looking for. I experienced happiness through creativity. My gamble worked … but it wasn’t sustainable.
With more money running out then coming in I was concerned. I knew that this couldn’t go on forever and that without a substantial change hunger would appear. Yet, at the time, it was unclear what that change would be. So we began to cut living costs. Rent being the most substantial expense (with most other expenses aligned with it … where rent is high so is cost of living) we started by moving away from the city (to say “we started” implies initiative, but actually we were driven out by skyrocketing rent prices). Initially we moved to a relatively peripheral town … but rent prices caught up there too. So we retreated to a remote village. Prices were much lower and more stable.
The distance reduced our expenses, but it also brought my creative journey to a stop. It involved interaction with other people and I was too far (without incurring more expenses) to be with other people.
Our life was cheaper and we were fading … inside and out … and still we were not able to change the unsustainable paradigm … life cost money, money was flowing out and was not flowing in. We faded.
It is with some irony that I realize, just as I write these words, that as we were running out of money so came what I considerd to be a peak achievement of my career – a last consulting project that symbolized a mature fruition of my values.
We were heading into a new void. It was different from the post-career void. This one grew slowly, we saw it coming, we met it with open eyes and it required conscious and continuous effort (the previous void appeared very suddenly). This void did not seem to come with a surprising enlightening core. It came with darkness.
And yet, out of the darkness came a very strange option … even now I hesitate to call it light (though it ultimately was). We had been speaking about it for some time, but it suddently morphed from something surreal into something real. We decided to leave Israel and move to village life in Romania … to make an attempt at creating a
truly more sustainable life for ourselves.
Yet we had no money left. We began to work towards liquidating the pensions savings that had built up during my career. It was very hard to do and we were penalized for doing so (there is a 35% tax on pre-emptive withdrawals of pensions funds in Israel). That took abotu a year to achieve. The transition itself (we left the country less then two months after deciding on it) was made possible by a gift of money from my parents … who had to dig deep into their wells of care and faith to be able to support what appeared to them be a crazy venture.
We have been in Romania 20 months, 14 of those living in a village where we are the (owners?) stewards of 9 hectares of land … and we are slowly disassembling sustainability, getting a better understanding of it and striving towards something better … constantly better. We are no longer aiming for survival … we can taste, feel, see and be grateful that we are heading towards abundance.
What About Money?
After an overhelming wave of large expenses we have arrived at a life that is drastically less dependent on money. We are continuously working to reduce that dependency. However the expenses are not over, there are still infrastructures we want and need to put in place and that includes things that cost money. We are currently running in a low-gear, limiting our expenses until we manage to create some kind of income to support our efforts.
After a long period of fading we are now faced with numerous potential income streams. Some income has already begun to flow in from Andreea realizing her ambition as a birth-keeper supporting women in and around birth. Other income may appear in the future as our research efforts mature and we can share ourdiscoveries with others.
But the most fascinating income stream that has come from a social endeavour. Though in some western countries it may be taken for granted, we have launched a CSA-like (community supported agriculture) project where we bring together peasant-families as food producers and city-dwellers as food consumers. The project “Cutia Taranului” is currently seeing 5 families delivering ~140 boxes of food every week in two cities. It is overflowing with many expressions of happiness and abundance. It involves so much more then an exchange of food and money – there is a magical shift in mentality, awareness and behavior of everyone involved.
We ask for a 5% revenue share which peasants are happy to pay. The first payment we received was just a few weeks ago – it was for ~40 euros. It isn’t much in absolute financial terms but for us it signifies a huge shift of energy. We have finally arrived at a place where we can both make a contribution to and find support in our community.
While financial concepts around the world seem to be crumbling and challenged, it is here in Romania, a primitive Eastern European country, amongst the “poor” peasant population that we are finding a healthy and promising relationship with, amongst other more valuable things, money!
The History of Money
While we were still living in Israel I did quite a bit of thinking about my relationship and opinions of money and the vast zoo of social constructs associated with it. That led to lengthy research (mostly Wikipedia) into the roots of money … to abudantly fertile soils and first sacks of extra grain. I began to write about it but that writing process did not mature. Much later I did publish a post covering a small subset of those ideas.
My inquiry led me to some fascinating revelations … there seemed to be a dance between constructive growth (money-related inventions opening paths to new futures) and gross abuse. I believed (and still do) that it is important to both respect the constructive functions of money and be super-critical of its dysfuctional aspects … so that we can work towards making it better.
“Money & Life” seems to be connected to the same thread I was looking into. I am happy that someone is doing this work with a quality and thoroughness I am happy to support. It is BECAUSE money is not yet a balanced quality in our lives that I choose to make this monetary contribution. I want to see this movie and I want it to be seen.