This is one from the archives, a post from the previous incarnation of The Global Yogi, written in the European summer of 2016. I have added updates from my understanding of money and our financial system as of November 2019.
About a month ago I was in Zagreb, Croatia having a conversation on Skype with a friend in Colorado in the US. As someone who grew up pre-internet I still find this kind of thing quite amazing. I told him that I had recently lost my purse while on a one night stopover on the way to Slovenia in Trieste and I hadn’t yet got my bank to send my card over. I told him I felt like I was doing an inadvertent experiment in Trust Life.
I was also interested in the idea of living without money, as this inspiring German woman, Heidemarie Schwermer did for many years.
It turned out that my wish became my reality in a way, as I spent the last month travelling the world without any bank cards and with just a little money that I received through the kindness of others. Once I was in this inadvertent experiment, I decided to go with it, not to resist. I wanted to discover if I could get by, by trusting the universe to provide all I needed; by trusting in life itself.
I know that this idea that humans have invented that we need money to survive (we also invented the money) is an illusion that we have created. What we need to survive is love, food, shelter, companionship and a sense of life purpose.
Trust that the Universe has your back, and even in the most seemingly difficult and trying circumstances, it always provides you with everything you need.
Lesson 1: I Have Anxiety Around Money
After losing my purse on the windy night I arrived in Trieste in northern Italy (some Italians will tell you it’s more like Austria) my Blah Blah car driver Pietro, someone I had got to to know on the 4 hour drive up from Rome with two fellow ride sharers, came to my rescue. I was distressed both at losing my purse, and at the rough and unfriendly nature of the few Triestians I had come across. I had my bags with me, and needed to leave them somewhere so I could go and search for my lost purse, and the first hotel (with a very generous spacious lobby) said that no, they would not be able to mind my bags for 15 minutes while I searched for my purse. Lucky for me, Pietro was not from Trieste – and generously offered to help.
As well as booking and paying for the hotel for that night, Pietro loaned me 50 euros, so with this I could pay for my next Blah Blah ride to Ljublijana, Slovenia. Trieste to Slovenia is only a few hundred kilometres, so by early afternoon, my Italian driver Mario had dropped me off in the street of the Airbnb room in Ljublijana that I had managed to pay for using my Paypal account.
I was lucky to stay with a lovely Slovenian lady whose family was away in New York at the time. The house was a big solid double story brick house with a piano in the living room (which I played quite a bit!) and a beautiful veggie garden. I spent a day riding the bike (lent to me by my host) around the beautiful town of Ljublijana, visiting the squat Metelkova – a community housed in a collection of beautiful old buildings each decorated with very beautiful artwork by residents.
Established soon after the fall of communism, Metelkova is now a thriving artists’ community. Though technically illegal, it is supported by the Slovenian government and the mayor of Ljublijana. By this time I had about 30 euros left from the 50 Euros Pietro lent me. The next day I took the bike again and rode into town, to the square of the big gorgeous pink church (did I mention that Ljublijana is one of the prettiest European towns I have ever seen!) where I was meeting a Slovenian friend I had met in Bali. Before meeting up with him I took a moment to reflect on the beauty and richness of my life. We had met about nine months previously at a ‘Contact Improv’ workshop in a very magical secret retreat place in Ubud, Bali, and now, here I was visiting his home country for the first time, and meeting up with him for lunch. Wow. We had a vegetarian Thali at an Indian restaurant while catching up with each other’s adventures. Like a true gentleman, he paid for me: another of my many blessings (thanks!).
That evening I got a Flixbus (low cost Intra Europe bus company) paid for with Paypal for about 17 euros that took me across country a few hours to Zagreb in Croatia. In Zagreb I changed my 30 remaining euros to Croatian kronas and got a tram, and then a taxi (when I found I was hopelessly lost) to my Airbnb forest house right in the centre of town.
In the house in Zagreb I was reminded of my days of living in share houses in my twenties (it was like I got to be a twenty-something again!). People came and went. There was a fair bit of beer drinking and smoking and lots of talk. I made an impromptu dinner party for my fellow housemates – an Italian girl Naomi from Lake Garda and Marco, the Croatian guy who had rented me the room – plus a Russian friend of Naomi’s who was visiting for a week and some Croatian friends of everyone. With my Croatian Kronas, I went down to the shop and bought muesli and milk and a bit of fruit for breakfast, and then every day I picked a pear, some figs or an apple from the trees in the garden.
Running short of cash, I asked Marco if he would let me transfer some money from my Paypal account to his and he could give me the cash in Croatian money. He said yes. I made the transfer. And I noticed almost immediately that I was anxious. My anxiety stemmed from the thought that randomly appeared in my head that: he has my money now and he may not give me the cash.
Why, I wondered, was I so mistrustful when it came to money? Marco had given me no cause to suspect that he was about to rip me off.
Why the anxiety?
I realised that just money itself made me anxious.
I had attached too much importance to it, bought into the myth that it is the foundation of everything: that without it you are nothing. So in between the making the transfer and receiving the money, I felt anxious and vulnerable and with a sense of ‘something may go wrong here’. Of course nothing went wrong and day later Marco handed me a few hundred kronas.
UPDATE 2019: Now I understand at a deeper level where my anxiety around money comes from. We live in a world where our Earth, even though we mistreat her, continues to give to us abundantly, all that we need for our sustenance. She gives us air and water, and ground to live on. The trees give us oxygen and shade. The valleys give us respite from the heat, the mountains give us a whole new perspective on life. All of this is given freely by mother nature. But we humans, with our money system, have developed a way of giving which is conditional. I will give you this service or product, if you give me X amount of money. If you don’t give me that money, I won’t give you that thing. This turns us into bargainers and barterers. We need to make a deal each time we need something, even if that deal is that we accept without any argument the money price attached to the thing we need or want.
This means also, that if I have services to offer you, I need to attach a price to them, which I require you to pay before I give. So in this system there is not free giving and receiving, like it is with mother nature, but rather giving and receiving based on the price of the offerer meeting the financial capacity of the receiver. Everything becomes a deal and a transaction. To me this indicates a lack of trust. I need to then accumulate money because I don’t trust that my needs will be met just by the fact of my existing on this planet.
Something else that also makes me very uncomfortable, is that if I work for myself in this system, this turns me into a salesperson. In order for my gifts to be received by others and to make a living, I need to sell them. I need to promote them, and advertise them, rather than just offer them. I need to turn my energy to jumping up and down and shout about them to get people’s attention and convince them to make a purchase, when really in my heart of hearts, I just want to give my gifts. So the barrier that money creates diverts my energy from the giving into the promoting of my gifts.
And in the event that people don’t buy my gifts, then I am left in the sad position of having gifts I wish to give to others but am unable to. This reminds me of the metaphor of the vast amounts of food which are thrown ‘away’ each year by supermarkets and other food produces, not because it is bad or off, or that there is not a need for it, but because no one has paid money for it. Luckily, some countries, like France are now starting to make laws prohibiting the dumping and disposal of edible food.
It seems to me that our current money system creates false barriers between giver and receiver and prevents many people, based on their financial capacity, from getting their needs met. And at the same time, the system creates a false barrier for people who have gifts to give, making them have to jump through a whole system of hoops called ‘sales and marketing’ before they are able to give their gifts. And let’s not forget to mention the people who, through deep fear of ‘not enough’ pile up obscene amounts of money in their bank accounts so that they can feel powerful and safe, thus stopping the flow of money to the people and the places it is most needed.
Lesson 2: The Universe Always Provides
After two weeks in Zagreb, I was ready to go to Romania, where I would be doing an exchange at a soon to be yoga retreat in the mountains. I got another Flix bus from Zagreb to Budapest, and then organised another Blah Blah car ride from Budapest, Hungary, to Brasov in Romania, the closest town to the mountain retreat in that mythical and storied region called Transylvania. I was very excited!
I realised that it might be cold up in the mountains, and I didn’t really have any warm clothes. With my Zagreb housemate Naomi, we had found some clothes left in front of a charity bin right in front of the house, and she found some jeans that fit her perfectly. I found a skirt and a jersey top, which was very tight as a little too small for me. But I still needed some jeans and probably a warm jacket of some kind. I had about the equivalent of 10 euros left in krona. I wondered how I could find some jeans for this much.
On my last day in Zagreb I went on a tram ride to Maximir Park, a stunning green forest haven established by one of the first governors of the city in 1787. This park also holds the honour of being the oldest public park in Europe. It is more like a forest than a park, full of families, walkers, joggers and even a few mountain bikers. On my way back it was getting dark and I still had in my mind the jeans I needed. I got off the tram, walked a few metres and suddenly I stumbled upon a charity shop, which was running a sale. In bright pink strips stuck across the front window, there it was (in Croatian, but I got the gist): everything for 6 kronas – the equivalent of 1.50 euros.
OK, thanks universe, I said: this is my place! Inside I found a dark pair of jeans, hipster style and slightly flared at the bottom. OMG! These were exactly the jeans from my imagination! And here they were right in my hands. Would they fit, I wondered?
I tried them on and they fit me perfectly. In the jacket section I found a purple cashmere wrap, extremely warm and rather elegant. That would also come with me. Then I found a violet cardigan type thing, which would be perfect under the cashmere wrap, and finally I found a cropped army greet crocheted cardigan which would add a little touch of style to a few of my t-shirts. I bought them all for 6 euros and still had 4 left. I felt a very profound sense of being taken care of. It was like love. I felt loved by the universe, which had directed me to this shop, and literally wrapped me up in the warmest and most luxuriant and stylish fabrics for the miniscule price of 6 euros…!
Lesson 3: Asking for Help Connects You More Deeply to Others and to Life
I realised over the course of this month, that using money can make us feel separate from others, and thus, separate from the experience of life. Having money to pay for things can give us a false idea about our own independence, making us feel that we don’t need to depend on the help of others, because we can buy it (it doesn’t matter if they actually want to help us or not). This idea of separation is an illusion.
Money gives us the illusion of power, and if we believe it, then we can easily come to believe that without it we are powerless.
Our personal power comes not from money but from a well deep within us: the very source of life, what the yogis call prana.
When I discovered that we were only a couple of miles from Bran Castle, the gothic fortress that was the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I had to go and check it out.
But my money had run out again, so I mustered up the courage to borrow some euros from my hosts, and rode their squeaky bike down the hill a few kilometres into the small village of Bran.
Though my hosts had warned me, I was still overwhelmed by the sheer number of visitors who had had the same idea as me. There was a whole cottage industry that had grown up outside of the gates to the castle, with people selling all kinds of trinkets and souvenirs as well roasted corn on sticks, pop corn, roasted nuts and ice creams. I made it into the castle, which, though heaving with people from all around the world, offered up a picture of what life must have been like for the medieval inhabitants in the days of Vlad III Dracula, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, a Transylvanian count who lived here and was apparently the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s fictional vampire. He earned his tagline through his practice of impaling his enemies when he invaded Wallachia (the geographical and historical region of Romania) in 1456, to regain power his family had lost to the invading Ottoman Empire and then Hungary.
Corridors were narrow, roofs were low, fireplaces were enormous and there were no bathrooms. Oh and in case you got on the wrong side of Vlad, there was a chamber of horrors where you might be subjected to a few hours in a spiky chair if you were not first pierced by the knives of the merciless closet of daggers.
On leaving Romania I was going to get another Blah Blah car from the mountains of Bran down to Bucharest. My host Daniela was kind enough to drive me down from the mountain village to the nearest town where my driver was supposed to be picking me up. But at the last minute he texted and said that he would have to charge me four times the money to pick me up at the appointed place because it was further out of the way than he expected. I followed my instinct and said no, and decided to hitchhike instead. I also had no choice, because I didn’t have four times the original amount we had agreed upon.
Daniela dropped me off at the main road and I got to work and made my sign: ‘Bucharesti’. I had read on hitchhiking forums that this is what you do. It was exciting and I was feeling very proud of myself. I was all by myself, on the side of the road, waiting for a lift, and holding a sign, written in Romanian… Anything could happen!
I was excited about who I might meet, and wondering how long I would have to wait. Within five minutes, a couple in a new looking blue sedan passed me, and stopped about fifty metres up the road. I grabbed my bags and went up to get in their car. They were a Romanian couple in their thirties who were returning from a beer festival in Brasov. They didn’t speak a lot of English but were very friendly. After an introductory chat I settled into my spot in the back of the car and the woman in the passenger seat put on some old eighties songs – Crowded House, Queen and others, and turned up the volume. So there I was cruising through the gorgeous green countryside of Romania listening to ‘Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you….’
I realised that hitchhiking was such a beautiful metaphor for life. You never know what is going to happen, and this, precisely, is what makes life interesting and thrilling. This is the essence of aliveness.
We stopped by the side of the road to buy some fresh fruit and veggies. There were melons galore, raspberries, potatoes, beautiful apples, all propped up on wooden carts. And not long after, passing through a pretty town, my hosts explained that this was the town where the army had caught and killed the infamous dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.
When we arrived in Bucharest, my new Romanian friends asked me where I was staying. I told them the address, and much to my surprise, I realised they were navigating with Google maps to drop me at the exact address. After a few missed turns and double backs we found it. By the time we arrived it was getting dark and a little chilly. I was so, so grateful that this lovely couple had taken the trouble to drop me at the exact address of my accommodation for the night and I am sure this will stay with me forever. I felt really deep inside of life and connected to the web of life through my journey with this couple. I felt a super warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach. I was again supported and held by a kind universe.
Lesson 4: Your Friends Are There for You
By the time I got to Bucharest my cash had run out again. I realised that I would need to think of a way to get some more cash so I could get from the airport to my friend’s place in Dubai. So after a restful sleep in a big bed in fresh sheets in a spacious and clean room (so grateful was I for that), I sent a message to a couple of friends on facebook asking if they would be able to make a transfer via Western Union for me. My friend in Sydney called me straight away. ‘Hey, it’s you!’ she said. ‘Yes, it’s me’ I said into the facebook phone hookup from my laptop. ‘I just wanted to check it wasn’t some scammer from Nigeria or something’.
‘No. It really is me.’ I confirmed with a laugh. I am really that world-gallavanting friend that you know, asking you to lend me money over facebook!
‘OK, how much do you need?’ my friend asked.
‘So, hmm. Maybe two hundred and fifty euros?’
‘Sure you don’t want more?’ she said. (She is an accountant and was probably tallying up what I would need to get me from Romania, to Dubai, to Malaysia, to Bali and back to Australia.)
‘No, I think that will do.’ I didn’t want any more money that was absolutely necessary to get me back to Melbourne within the next two weeks or so.
Within about an hour I had packed up my stuff, said goodbye to my Airbnb hosts and headed down the street. I found the closest Western Union branch and after filling out a few forms with my passport (the only ID I had left after losing my purse) I collected the 250 euros from my friend and headed for the bus stop to the airport.
After a fun flight to Dubai on Wizzair where I met a lovely young Romanian woman who was heading to meet her boyfriend in Abu Dhabi, I landed at about 6pm, changed money and got a taxi to my friend’s fancy condo right on the beachfront. I was tired. I got out of the taxi and finally found block number 3 and I buzzed the door of my friend’s apartment building.
‘Oh my Gaaad’ came her voice with a lilting American mid West twang down the intercom. (We hadn’t seen each other in the flesh since we met at Bali Spirit Festival five years previously).
‘You made it!
‘I made it!’ I confirmed.
‘Isn’t it! Amazing!’ I replied (thinking, yes – wait until I tell you about all the different hoops I had to jump through to make it here!).
I was so genuinely happy to have made it to the door of my friends house, in this city of scorching sun, high rises and malls in the desert, floating in the arms of the world.
The next day I checked my facebook messages and found that a good friend who now lives in Abu Dhabi had also sent me money to Western Union. I felt extremely blessed and abundant – in both money and friends, even though by this time I had realised that I’d lost my mobile on the way from the airport to my friend’s place. A couple of nights later my friend (from Abu Dhabi) came over for dinner and I cooked a vegetarian dinner for the three of us. I got to see my Saudi friend Mohammed who I hadn’t seen since I was Melbourne about a year previously, and my Dubai friend Jaan got to make a new acquaintance who lived not so far away.
I felt so deeply supported and so deeply grateful for this experience with my friends. And I wondered if my subconscious had perhaps engineered this whole experience right from losing my purse in Northern Italy to losing my mobile now in Dubai to help me to see that I am always supported: that I am loved and that there is nothing to worry about. That everything is OK. Maybe this was the message that I needed to receive, and I needed to manifest such apparently challenging circumstances so that I would finally get it. The world is a safe place. Another big part of the message was that all material things of this world are transient.
Buddhism teaches us that the nature of life is suffering, but we can transcend suffering if we let go of attachment; if we recognise that all things in this life come and they go. I experienced quite strong suffering at losing my mobile for the first few hours or so, and then I was able to let it go. Everything that we have now, one day we will not have. Everything (including material things, experiences, people) is impermanent, and is constantly arising, and passing away. And it is only when we can’t accept this and attempt to hold on tight that we suffer.
Lesson 5: Offer your Gifts and Know That You Will Be Supported
From Dubai I flew to Kuala Lumpur (ticket paid for with Paypal using E-dreams) and spent a couple of days eating seafood Laksa soup in downtown KL. After miraculously being able to buy a ticket from KL to Bali using my saved credit card details within Air Asia member portal (because I still had not received any replacement bank cards), I arrived late at night in Denpasar and woke up to bright sunshine and heat. Dropped safely back onto my favourite tropical island.
I showered and went down for the hotel breakfast (I had booked this one also on Airbnb using Paypal) of watermelon, mango, papaya and banana, followed by fried vegetarian noodles / mie goreng (what?! – yes, my thoughts also). I had a week in Bali before I would be heading back to Australia.
What to do? Where to go? I had just a little cash money left over from what my friend transferred me via Western Union, so I would have to find a solution.
I decided I would offer my services as a yoga and or meditation teacher. I thought of a few places I knew that took volunteers in exchange for board and lodging and emailed them. By the time I had finished my coffee, I saw a reply had come in.
Someone called Lars from Bali Silent Retreat had written: ‘Yes, we need you!‘ (Oh, the joy of being needed!).
‘Can we talk?‘
Wow. This was exciting! Law of attraction in action, again. I replied to Lars and we hooked up on Skype. He asked me a few questions about my teaching experience (on and off teaching classes and individuals for the past few years) and then he gave me the gig. I was so happy. I would spend the next week living in the most tranquil of places, deep in the Balinese countryside, at a silent retreat!
Life almost could not have gotten any better. I hired a Yamaha 125cc motorbike with the last of my cash, and with my backpack on my back and my laptop on my front and my guitar hanging off my shoulder I headed up to the mountains.
What followed was one of the most beautifully relaxing and fulfilling weeks of my life so far. I fell in love with the Silent Retreat, with its abundant lush gardens, overflowing with fresh fruits and veggies which are served at their table daily, with its serene and beautiful labyrinth, with the library full of amazing books about the spiritual path, and with the absolutely fabulous food served up every day from the freshest of fresh ingredients and cooked into the most delicious and tasty morsels.
And though I was a little nervous before each class, I really enjoyed teaching yoga and meditation in the shala each day, either at 6am in the morning, or at 2 in the afternoon. I experienced a very deep feeling that I was in the right place, at the right time, doing what I was meant to be doing. If you teach yoga, the Bali Silent Retreat has an ongoing Seva exchange program. In the end, the most precious things that we will have left when we are old is our memories: of love given and love received, of joy and sadness shared, of friendship. This is my biggest lesson.
I recognise that money is neutral, and is just a useful tool to enhance life, an easy way to buy the things that we need without having to complicate things too much. I am still interested in the barter economy and in all the ways that we can live without money, but I am going to embrace it as a positive and beneficial thing to have, to enhance my life by buying me the things I need, and also so that one day I can also help out my friends who might need some fast cash.
Update 2019: I recognise that money is a tool, but the way that it is created – all of the money created in our financial system creates an equal amount of debt – and the interest on that debt makes people into slaves to money. The reality of interest bearing debt means that money is the only thing in the world that is not subject to decay. The rule of nature is that everything is subject to death and decay, and so a thing needs to be shared and distributed within a certain time frame otherwise it will decay. This naturally prevents avarice. Money though, not only does not decay, but with interest, the longer you hold it and don’t circulate it, the greater it becomes. This means that those with money naturally end up, over time, with more money, and those without it, end up, over time, with less. How do we change this money story so that we can live in a more equitable and beautiful world, where money is distributed more fairly, and flows to the places where it is most needed? By implementing negative interest. If money it not used, then, over time, its value decreases (instead of increases). Effectively, this means that like all else in nature, it if is not flowing, but stagnant, it will decay. I believe this is the beginning of the solution to the problems caused by money.
These ideas are shared in much greater detail in the book Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.
If you would be interested in joining a retreat with me at Akasha Wellness Retreat in Romania, let me know using the Contact form. 🙂
Living without Money / Heidemarie Schwermer: http://livingwithoutmoney.org/about-the-film/about-heidemarie/
Metelkova Squat, Ljublijana, Slovenia: http://metelkovamesto.org
Hitchhiking / Sharing Economy Community: http://www.trustroots.org
Flixibus Low Cost Bus (Pay with Paypal!): http://www.flixbus.com
Blah Blah Car Share: https://www.blablacar.com
Akasha Wellness Retreat, Romania: https://www.akasharetreat.com
Bali Silent Retreat, Bali: https://www.balisilentretreat.com
Volunteer (and Paid) Yoga Teaching Jobs: https://yogatrade.com