I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately; to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau
This past week, as part of the 52 in 52 project, I read Mark Sundeen’s, The Man Who Quit
Money. If there is any man alive whose life captures the essence of Thoreau’s words, it is Daniel Suelo. In placing his last $30 in a phone booth in the year 2000 and living penniless, off of the grid, Suelo has indeed gone in to the woods, lived deliberately and to this day continues to learn what it is that life on this Earth has to teach him.
Daniel Suelo was raised a Christian Fundamentalist. An important fact in that his quest to live moneyless is inexorably linked with his passion, at times mystical, to get behind the purpose of life. According to Damian Nash, Suelo’s best friend, The Man Who Quit Money “captures the highlights of each major stage in Daniel’s spiritual journey, showing his growth from an enthusiastic fundamentalist to a serious Old Testament scholar to a mystical cultural anthropologist to a gifted student of world religion to a disillusioned social worker to a desert naturalist to a beloved hobo to a profound visionary in our troubled economic times.”
Having given up money and living in a cave in Moab, Utah, Daniel is far from a hermit. He has his own blog and website, Moneyless World – Free World – Priceless World and Living Without Money, that he maintains out of a public library. He volunteers at a community garden and a domestic violence shelter, has many friends, a family that loves him and displays a knack at engaging people from all walks of life. The details of how he survives serve to furnish a plot for the biography. What drives this book however are Daniel’s economic, philosophical and religious ruminations. In speaking of his unique life choice at the outset of the book, the explanation of his “path” seems to weave together all three of these themes (a common refrain throughout the book):
If we’re following our path, then worrying about what could or should happen is a worse illness than what could or should happen. And it’s more likely we’re going to be out of balance if we worry. The idea is that the future will take care of itself if we remain in the present. I really don’t know what I’ll do and I don’t think about it that much. Some might call that irresponsible. But that’s part of the path I’m on.
It is the ever-present and being in it that drives Daniel Suelo. He explains:
“Before, my hardships were long-term, complex anxieties,” he says: “What am I going to do with my life, how am I going to pay rent or pay insurance, what’s retirement going to be like, what am I going to do for a career, what are people going to think if I do this or that? To me that stuff is actually unbearable. And I think most people are dealing with it. Now my hardships are simple and immediate: food, shelter, and clothing. They’re manageable because they’re in the present.”
In making his life manageable by giving up money, Daniel is able to peel away the artifices of consumerism and in doing so live within the “eternal present,” the place where he deems true enlightenment can be achieved:
“The only way for him to live ethically in this corrupt world, he felt – the only way to access that eternal present that he’d found in the monastery – was to abandon money. Suelo wanted neither to own nor to be owed. In the words of Christianity, he wanted the Lord to forgive him his debts, and he forgave his debtors. In the words of the Bhagavad Gita, he wanted to release himself from the fruits of this labor. To give freely without expectation of receiving. Only then could he break free of the Western concept of linear time. Credit and debt kept us fixated on the past and the future. In the words of the Buddha, Suelo wanted to cut the tangle of attachments, to break the circle of reincarnation and dwell in the eternal present.”
The biography is well written and Mark Sundeen in his non-intrusive analysis raises broader questions about our own relationship to work, compensation and happiness. I especially like the fact that when the book is about to take off into the nether world of New Age mysticism, the author himself keeps us grounded with his light touch and humorous anecdotes:
After our Qigong Session as we sat outside the cave and watched the sun hover over the opposite cliffs, I pulled lunch from my pack. I had brought cheese and crackers and chocolate and an avocado. I watched Suelo closely. With all the talk about Jesus and ancient Hindus, I expected him to grind rice-grass seeds into flour with a mortar and pestle and then bake unleavened bread.
He revealed a clear plastic jar with an aquamarine lid that I recognized as the vessel for Skippy peanut butter. Instead of brown goop it was filed with brightly colored gemstones, red and yellow and orange and green. Crystals? He unscrewed the lid and extended the jar.
The narrative around how Daniel Suelo lives without money is indeed fascinating; however, as mentioned, it is the philosophy, the why behind what he does, that proves to be so enlightening. I appreciate that through Suelo I am introduced to the Feminine Theory behind the Holy Spirit; that I am now reading Pierre Tilhard de Chardin’s, The Phenomenon of Man; that I’m beginning to see that living in a minimalist fashion does indeed help us appreciate the immediacy of our lives.
Living in the present. It means that your awareness is completely centered on the here and now. You are not worrying about the future or thinking about the past. You are doing what you have to do now and doing it well which in turn guarantees a good future. Call it providence, call it the back packer’s guide to survival, call it what you will; however, Suelo’s story shows us that we can live in the present and his life echoes the 10 tips that Joshua Becker puts forward as the requisites for this type of existence:
- Remove unneeded possessions.
- Fully appreciate the moments of today.
- Forgive past hurts.
- Love your job.
- Dream about the future, but work hard today.
- Don’t dwell on past accomplishments.
- Stop worrying.
- Think beyond old solutions to problems.
- Conquer addictions.
How much was I moved by this book? I now have a folder in my Google Reader entitled Living Ever-Presently.
The Man Who Quit Money: to date, it’s my book of the year.