Right Now I’m Reading: Sacred Economics

Sacred EconomicsAnother brief interlude from my Internal Audit posts, but a necessary one because this book is deeply changing my worldview, my ideas on what is possible.  Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, writes of the story of money, the mythology we’ve created over time of value, growth, and currency, and how we can move into a more positive, sustainable, and loving future with a renewed idea of money.  And he has the book under a Creative Commons license to boot!

I should say that I generally despise money.  Words like financial, stock, market, currency, make me queasy.  My life and path and purpose have always seemed to be in nearly direct opposition to money as a force of change and decision, to unchecked growth as a dominant paradigm.  But Charles’ vision for a world of sacred money- a return to the idea of gift, to eliminating externalities and the disconnect of corporations and businesses from cultural and ecological realities and a false sense of scarcity- is truly helping me view money in a new way.

“Part of a sacred money supply will be ‘backed’ by those things of which we are collective stewards.  Here is one way it could work: first, we reach a collective, politically mediated agreement on the right amount of nature to turn toward human purposes: how much of the produce of the sea, how much of the soil, the water; how much of the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb and transform waste; how much of the land’s ability to recover from the scars of mineral extraction; how much of the gift of fossil fuels, metal ores, and other wealth; how much of nature’s quiet to give over to machine noises; how much of the dark night sky to give to city lights.  These decisions often require scientific understanding, but just as often they embody value judgments.  Both contribute to our collective agreement on how much natural capital to consume.”

Not since Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing have I been this inspired by a vision that both accurately diagnoses the problems of the present and creates a plausible path for the future.  I want to share this book with my father, a bank examiner for the FDIC, with my college friends, with my grandparents who grew up on farms in the rural Midwest, with cynical colleagues and visionary comrades.  It is so empowering to know there are others out there, changemakers, writers, economists, who can see a way forward.

Positive Practices for Changing the World (and Your Life Too!)

I ended the work day yesterday by reading a few articles from Yes! Magazine, and would highly suggest the practice; Yes! is a perfect panacea for a day of drudgery, for the repetitive and downtrodden daily routine it is all to easy to fall into.  Positive yet not blindly idealistic, Yes! brought back my ‘this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life’ fervor, particularly with this fabulous list of 31 Ways to Jump Start the Local Economy.

This list was affirming not only of my view of how the world and economy should really work, but because it lists several ‘how tos’ that I was surprised to realize my friends and family already pursue!

4. Pay off debts. Try life without credit cards. (even though so many people say it’s impossible)
12. Form a dinner club and hold a weekly potluck, or trade off cooking and hosting. (we don’t do weekly yet, but do host monthly potlucks)
23. Start a local currency or time dollar program to help link needs and offerings, those with time and those starved for time. (props to my mother for starting a Time Bank in Naperville!)

In addition to Yes!’s fabulous list of building community and the local economy, a fellow potluck attendee this past week had a marvelous ‘simplifying and clarifying one’s life practice’:
Write down everything you do for a week and divide the various tasks and endeavors into a ‘more’ and ‘less’ list for the future.

Through observation and intentionality we can live a life of joy.

Priorities (hint: money isn’t one of them).

As a lover of lists, I have done much brainstorming and categorizing of my priorities at various points in time.  Though the specific order has changed a bit in time, near the top of any list of priorities I have ever made is free time.  Relationships.  Nature.  Creating.  Never under any circumstances has money been anywhere on any priority list, let alone near the top.

It wasn’t until the last few months, however, that I clarified what that meant for me in no uncertain terms, and it’s as simple as this: money is never ever worth more than my time and energy.  This came to a head a couple of months ago in a silly misunderstanding with my taxes that involved an incorrectly filled out form (my fault), almost an hour on hold on the phone, and enough mailings back and forth between the IRS and myself that I started wondering if they messed things up on purpose once in a while just to give someone a job.  In the end I very clearly realized that I would rather pay the extra money the government insisted I owed even though I knew they were wrong than spend even another minute thinking or worrying about the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.  Because my mental energy is more valuable than money.

This shouldn’t be a groundbreaking idea, and for many groups of people throughout time it wouldn’t be.  However, in our present world that is thwarted by the financial crisis yet can’t seem to see that a rethinking of systems and a re-valuing of people and culture rather than GDP would make great strides toward building a happy, healthy, sustainable future, the idea that time and energy are more valuable than money is preposterous.  The monetary unit is everything and nothing at once, a measurement of worth that has almost no real connection to the contentment and viability of our lives.

I know I am enormously privileged to be able to feel this way; I am not in debt, am relatively healthy, and am educated enough to find a job and be reasonably respected in society.  But does that mean that the worth of those in debt (not by choice), those that are sick, and those that are uneducated must be measured by a financial stick?  That to me is what is preposterous.

I’ve shared one of my favorite organizations that is redefining worth and priorities and viability in a new, non-monetary way in previous posts, and will here again; the Center for the New American Dream.  While my personal reprioritization is important, we must collectively redefine the priorities of our society in order to affect real change, and the New American Dream is doing just that.

(Full disclosure: in the situation with the IRS they ended up not only paying back the money I sent them, but sending another check for the money I thought they owed me once I reconfigured my taxes.  Sometimes the universe does reward those who know what’s important to them!)

Two Challenges

I’m still in the midst of my year of reading books by non-straight white men, but in response to recent life changes want to add a couple more challenges to my plate.

First, an exercise in financial discipline.  I’m not buying anything for a week (today is Day 1) other than groceries this Friday, because it feels like money has been falling out of my pockets and account as of late.  It’s not for lack of disposable income (which, come to think of it, is a very strange phrase…are we insinuating that purchases other than basic needs are inherently garbage?) but between Craft Beer Week, Art-a-Whirl, and my general penchant for the multitudes of amazing restaurants in the Twin Cities, my weekly spending has risen substantially.  So- no cookies, coffeeshops, restaurants or thrift stores this week.

The second challenge: figuring out what to do with my non-working hours.  Due to the summer return of a couple coworkers, I now pretty much work three days a week, with four off.  Wonderful, right?  Only if I can actually DO something meaningful with that time.

  • Fridays and Saturdays will still be my weekend, for shows and friends and fun, and over the summer almost all of my weekends are committed to trips of various sorts.
  • Tuesdays are generally my get-stuff-done-around-the-house day while Benjamin is at work.  They also used to be for journalling/letter writing, a practice that went by the wayside in the midst of wedding planning but deserves revival.
  • Sundays are the new free day, a day of promise, a day I want to claim as something before too many submit to lethargy or menial chores.  Possibilities: herbal medicine collection/creation, spiritual reflection time and/or meditation, more focused writing time, long walks.  What else might one do with newly freed up Sundays?

Quality over quantity: a lifelong pursuit.

Last night while Benjamin and I were enjoying a magnificent performance of Dvorak’s 7th Symphony by the MN Orchestra- the first installment of their Inside the Classics series this year- I found myself contemplating the cost of the experience.  I should begin by disclosing that we were able to attend this concert at half of the normal ticket cost because I finally bit the bullet and joined Groupon.  However, each ticket was still about $22, almost nothing for an acclaimed orchestra performance, but substantially more than Ben and I ordinarily spend on a weekend entertainment outing.  Because we usually spend $0.  We look for free shows at local bars, of which there are many, and only some of them worth seeing.  This led me to wonder- how have I been unintentionally valuing quantity over quality?  Is this something I really want to continue doing?

No offense to the bands that play free shows at local bars; I enormously appreciate having that option as an evening activity, planned or spur of the moment.  Nonetheless, by valuing the ‘free’ rather than the performance itself, I have likely been missing out on countless opportunities to see stellar shows/theater performances/art shows/concerts.  There is something to be said for actually committing to an event enough to spend a decent amount of money, something enormous even in the event that one is supporting a local artist or musician or non-profit by attending said event.

I have discovered that this ‘free/cheap = best’ mentality has flowed over into other facets of my life as well, namely going out to eat.  As you may have noticed from several previous posts, I LOVE FOOD.  I love the ingredients, the preparation, the community, the fellowship, and the sensations of eating.  You would expect that as a result I would take advantage of the many fine dining establishments in the Twin Cities that highlight local, seasonal, and finely crafted fare (Lucia’s, The Craftsman, and Birchwood Cafe to name just a few).  For the most part, sadly, you would be wrong.  A combination of convenience and self-imposed frugality means that I eat out frequently, but not often at the pricier yet classier locales.

So here is my challenge to myself (and to anyone else who has noticed a quantity-over-quality mentality creeping into their decisions): do less, but do it well.  Go to fewer shows and performances, eat out less often, but when I do both, do what I truly desire.  Save my resources to go to the fancier restaurants I read rave reviews of in The Hot Dish, and for better known bands and unique performances and those beer festivals I’ve always drooled over.  And in the meantime I will work toward a couple of my 2011 Practices to Enact, cooking, walking, writing and exploring the city I love.

But don’t worry Parkway Pizza and The Hexagon Bar; I will still pass through your wallet-friendly doors once in a while.

~Lauren

2011 Practices to Enact

Now that we’re nearly two-thirds of the way through January, it’s probably time to commit to some practices to enact for 2011.  Benjamin and I discussed several joint practices which will hopefully hold us both more accountable, but I have several personal practices to include as well.

Shared Practices
1. Find a spiritual community.  Both Benjamin and I have been out of the spiritual community loop for a while.  Last year I went to meditation at Common Ground off and on, and church at OSLC once in a great while, but never really committed to a particular place.  Though our schedules don’t allow for it now, Ben and I are hoping after we get married to make intentional space for attending some sort of spiritual community on a weekly basis, likely one of the Quaker meetings in the Twin Cities area.

2. Spend more time on friend relationships, both hanging out with people in the area and calling people that are farther away.  I am especially atrocious at maintaining phone contact (as Caleb and others will attest to) and really want to make an effort this year to dedicate time to all of my relationships.

3. Have an awesome, simple, sustainable, beautiful and quirky wedding.  This is well underway, with locations chosen, food discussed, and invitations to be printed and sent within the week.  Details are still in process, and I am finding it difficult at times to explain why many of the consumption-based and/or patriarchal traditions of status quo weddings are not for Benjamin and I (ie having and throwing a bouquet, formal table settings, etc), but will persist in accomplishing our wedding mission statement.

4. Undertake many weekend bike-camping trips.  I printed a map and drew a 30 mile (ish) radius circle around my house, and lo and behold an amazing number of interesting destinations fell within that boundary.  Afton, Stillwater, and the MN Arboretum are among them, as well as some sort of pre-wedding retreat and a weekend out at Living Song farm in Howard Lake.

5. Tour houses in a variety of South Minneapolis neighborhoods.  Though we likely won’t be buying a house until autumn (at the very soonest), touring houses that we find on this great website never hurts, and just might be fun.

Personal Practices
1. Go on more walks.  As amazing as biking is, when I really need some centering, nothing beats walking, particularly when I’m going nowhere in particular.  I’m lucky enough to live just a few blocks from a number of amazing places to traverse, and this year will commit to visiting those places at least once a week.

2. Write write write write.  I didn’t quite reach the December pre-goal of writing every day, but I’ve already begun writing quite a bit more.  From poems in my little journal that I carry everywhere, to blog entries, to letters on handmade cards to friends (if you’d like one, comment here!), my writing has expanded exponentially and hopefully will eventually become as natural of a practice as my morning yoga.

3. Cook more, eat out less.  Though there are a million and one scrumptious places to eat out in the Twin Cities, many of them featuring local ingredients and entirely deserving of my dollars, I need to commit to cooking.  It relaxes me, saves money, and makes lunches at work that much easier.

4. Cut my alcohol, caffeine, and sugar consumption.  I’ve tried going cold turkey on all of these and it has NEVER WORKED.  So I think small steps is the answer.  I’m already on to tea in the mornings rather than coffee, but the pastry habit is hard to break.

5. Commit random acts of kindness.  It’s relatively easy for me to think and get worked up about big ideas/issues, but I have found that I forget about the little actions that are oh so important and soul uplifting for both the giver and receiver.  A craft project on this is in the works (details to be released later when my silly camera starts working again so you all can have photographic evidence of my cutesy projects).  More Bookcrossing, anyone?

What are your hopes and practices for 2011?

~Lauren

I am resolved…

to do many things, but on this particular day, said resolutions are inspired by The Rejectionist’s yearly testing of next year’s resolution for the month of December.  I will still call them ‘Practices to Enact’, I think, because that has a nicer ring to it.  Regardless, here’s how things will go down:

*Eat less pastries/cookies/sweets in general.  I failed miserably at the attempt in November (I blame it on my birthday.  And getting engaged) but hope to have more peer pressure this time and actually succeed.  That and I need to take it easy before the sugar-fest of holiday time.

*Write every freaking day.  Either in this here blog, or in my personal journal, or in the lovely little Greenway notebook that was my goodbye present from Laura K upon ending my LVC year at the Coalition, or poetry in the snow.  Whatever.  Write write write write.

*Start budgeting.  Like really think about the things I spend $$ on now, the things Benjamin and I will want/need to spend $$ on in the future, and map it out.  At this precise moment in time I am not living paycheck to paycheck by any means, but with bike adventures/possible house/a plethora of awesome community activities in the future, it would be enormously helpful to actually track my spending and have a real reason to save for lovely things in the future.  Maybe I’ll make an art project out of it…

*Keep my Facebook-note promise to write at least one letter to a friend at least once a week.  Thus far I have only done this once, which is unacceptable.  This could also help with PtE #2, come to think of it.

*Make progress on growing mushrooms and my t-shirt quilt.  I’ve been working on the latter for years, and thinking about the former for months, and have been in stasis.  But on Tuesday I bought batting and thread for the quilt (and also decided I should sign up for the beginning handquilting class at the quilt shop in February/March taught by a 90 year old lady), so it’s going to happen this time.

December, commence!  Now I expect all of you wonderful people to ask me how these things are going so that I’m held accountable 🙂