I was at an inspiring Introduction to Permaculture workshop in February, hosted by the Cowichan Green Community. A man a little older than me put up his hand to ask a question. “Is there a point at which this all starts to pay off?” he asked. “I mean, I recognize that everything I’m doing in my backyard is worthwhile, and that I’m teaching my kids valuable life lessons and all. But we don’t have endless resources, and I feel like I’m just outlaying money all the time for supplies. Is there a point at which that stops and I start to make money or even break even? How do you (the panel) pay your bills?”
The panelists spoke in response, mostly about the intangibles, all the worthy reasons to think about growing your own food, etc that aren’t about money. One of the permaculture instructors, who had 5 acres that he had transformed, said, “I still teach and speak for money, and I sell salad greens, and….” In other words, lots of jobs required to pay the mortgage. Another responder did say what we all wanted to hear, “Yes, don’t worry. Once the infrastructure is set up, the rewards will come back to you.”
I was struck at the time by how common this question really is during this time of social transition. So many of us are compelled to change our lives, to get out of the cycles that perpetuate environmental damage, to find more meaning in our time alive. But we often come back to the same question: how do we pay the bills at the end of the day?
I think I may have stumbled onto some of the answers in my previous posts without really realizing it. A long conversation with my wise friend at Turnstone Bodytalk helped too. These are still unrefined, but here are some recent revelations.
I talked yesterday about money having a certain magic about it. It sounds a little flaky, but many respected financial advisors, like Suze Orman, have said similar things: money is a reflection of yourself. If your life is not honest, your financial picture won’t be healthy. I now think it’s not a choice of “Your Money or Your Life,” the reality is that Your Money IS Your Life. I mentioned that I believe money is life energy. I’ve always read that as money is what we trade our energy for. I’m now suggesting that money doesn’t really exist, it’s just a reflection of (and only one of many other reflections of) our lives. Bear with me.
We all know that money is an ephemeral thing, especially today when I hardly ever use cash. It just all feels like numbers somewhere. And the credit crash made obvious how true this is. Nobody’s actually trading cash back and forth; companies become able to move debts “off their balance sheets”. They just make it disappear. I owe so much on my mortgage because society has decided that this is the value of the property. Why is this 1/2 acre worth ten times what it would be in Nova Scotia? Every country in the world owes everyone else so much money and we’re all so interdependent that the debts will never be extracted. (I should read Margaret Atwood’s book Payback.)
We think to ourselves that we need money to meet our needs. And we do, sort of. The bank will kick me out of my house if I don’t pay the mortgage. But our needs are not fixed. Needs flow and change. If I don’t have a need, or if I can meet a need directly (like growing food or foraging), I don’t need that money either. One day I probably won’t have a need for this particular house and its mortgage.
So the point is this: figure out the life energy and don’t fixate on the money.
If my life feels good and right for me–deeply and honestly–my needs suddenly simplify a great deal. I need friends and relationships. I need simple, healthy food–and more often these days, less of it than I think. I need shelter, but even that is done without regularly by humans all over the world.
Each of these needs can be complicated, but right now–and fortunately for me, all of my life–they are being met. I have not reduced my needs to match my reduced income; we didn’t deliberately go on a budget and then resent the deprivation. I am blissfully happy, in part due to the circumstances which have reduced my income. My happiness has meant my needs are fewer too. The bank balance hasn’t really changed.
And because I am living joyfully and my needs are reduced, my life in fact IS sustainable. At least in this moment. I’m sure in due course, this will change, too.
I have pondered many times the question, what is sustainability? Many of us, I know, feel that the economy as it is currently structured is not sustainable. And we sense, therefore, that it is foolish to structure our lives according to the economy. And we try and figure out another way to structure our lives, and we worry about how we will pay the bills. In other words, we can’t quite let go of how we will fit into the economy.
I have realized that the answer–for me at this moment, anyway–is to follow where life energy pulls me (I’m going to anyway, I might as well not fight it! 🙂 ). As my wise friend said, our minds can’t imagine what doesn’t yet exist. And the new way to live, differently than the economic and ecological system we have, isn’t quite visible yet to most of us. But that’s because we’re not living it yet.
So let’s live it first, and let our needs be met in new ways that we can’t even imagine.