Archive for January, 2016


Posted in Uncategorized on January 24, 2016 by citydesert

“Darkness” is shorthand for anything that scares me — that I want no part of — either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. The absence of God is in there, along with the fear of dementia and the loss of those nearest and dearest to me. So is the melting of polar ice caps, the suffering of children, and the nagging question of what it will feel like to die. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love — if I could just find the right night-lights to leave on.
At least I think I would. The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life (literally or figuratively, take your pick), plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.

The problem is that there are so few people who can teach me about that. Most of the books on the New York Times “How-To” bestseller list are about how to avoid various kinds of darkness. If you want to learn how to be happy and stay that way, how to win out over your adversaries at work, or how to avoid aging by eating the right foods, there is a book for you. If you are not a reader, you can always find someone on the radio, the television, or the web who will tell you about the latest strategy for staying out of your dark places, or at least distract you from them for a while. Most of us own so many electronic gadgets that there is always a light box within reach when any kind of darkness begins to descend on us. Why watch the sun go down when you could watch the news instead? Why lie awake at night when a couple of rounds of Moonlight Mahjong could put you back to sleep?
I wish I could turn to the church for help, but so many congregations are preoccupied with keeping the lights on right now that the last thing they want to talk about is how to befriend the dark. Plus, Christianity has never had anything nice to say about darkness. From earliest times, Christians have used “darkness” as a synonym for sin, ignorance, spiritual blindness, and death. Visit almost any church and you can still hear it used that way today: Deliver us, O Lord, from the powers of darkness. Shine into our hearts the brightness of your Holy Spirit, and protect us from all perils and dangers of the night.

Since I live on a farm where the lights can go out for days at a time, this language works at a practical level. When it is twenty degrees outside at midnight and tree branches heavy with ice are crashing to the ground around your house, it makes all kinds of sense to pray for protection from the dangers of the night. When coyotes show up in the yard after dark, eyeing your crippled old retriever as potential fast food, the perils of the night are more than theoretical. So I can understand how people who lived before the advent of electricity — who sometimes spent fourteen hours in the dark without the benefit of so much as a flashlight — might have become sensitive to the powers of darkness, asking God for deliverance in the form of bright morning light.
At the theological level, however, this language creates all sorts of problems. It divides every day in two, pitting the light part against the dark part. It tucks all the sinister stuff into the dark part, identifying God with the sunny part and leaving you to deal with the rest on your own time. It implies things about dark-skinned people and sight-impaired people that are not true. Worst of all, it offers people of faith a giant closet in which they can store everything that threatens or frightens them without thinking too much about those things. It rewards them for their unconsciousness, offering spiritual justification for turning away from those things, for “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

To embrace that teaching and others like it at face value can result in a kind of spirituality that deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention. I call it “full solar spirituality,” since it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith. You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith. This sounds like heaven on earth. Who would not like to dwell in God’s light 24/7?
If you have ever belonged to such a community, however, you may have discovered that the trouble starts when darkness falls on your life, which can happen in any number of unsurprising ways: you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, your child acts out in some attention-getting way, you pray hard for something that does not happen, you begin to doubt some of the things you have been taught about what the Bible says. The first time you speak of these things in a full solar church, you can usually get a hearing. Continue to speak of them and you may be reminded that God will not let you be tested beyond your strength. All that is required of you is to have faith. If you still do not get the message, sooner or later it will be made explicit for you: the darkness is your own fault, because you do not have enough faith.

Having been on the receiving end of this verdict more than once, I do not think it is as mean as it sounds. The people who said it seemed genuinely to care about me. They had honestly offered me the best they had. Since their sunny spirituality had not given them many skills for operating in the dark, I had simply exhausted their resources. They could not enter the dark without putting their own faith at risk, so they did the best they could. They stood where I could still hear them and begged me to come back into the light.
If I could have, I would have. There are days when I would give anything to share their vision of the world and their ability to navigate it safely, but my spiritual gifts do not seem to include the gift of solar spirituality. Instead, I have been given the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season. When I go out on my porch at night, the moon never looks the same way twice. Some nights it is as round and bright as a headlight; other nights it is thinner than the sickle hanging in my garage. Some nights it is high in the sky, and other nights low over the mountains. Some nights it is altogether gone, leaving a vast web of stars that are brighter in its absence. All in all, the moon is a truer mirror for my soul than the sun that looks the same way every day.”

Full text available at:

Barbara Brown Taylor “Learning to Walk in the Dark” [HarperOne, 2014]
“Taylor has become increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to associate all that is good with lightness and all that is evil and dangerous with darkness. Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well? In “Learning to Walk in the Dark”, Taylor asks us to put aside our fears and anxieties and to explore all that God has to teach us “in the dark.” She argues that we need to move away from our “solar spirituality” and ease our way into appreciating “lunar spirituality” (since, like the moon, our experience of the light waxes and wanes). Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen. Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.
With her characteristic charm and literary wisdom, Taylor is our guide through a spirituality of the nighttime, teaching us how to find our footing in times of uncertainty and giving us strength and hope to face all of life’s challenging moments.”

On Not Creating Clones

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2016 by citydesert

“A fundamental principle in my spiritual life is that it must be original and authentic. I am not an image of any one of the saints, no matter how great they may be. Instead, I take from them what benefits my life in order to maintain the beautiful image in which God created me. If I were to imitate a certain persona, I would depart from God’s purpose for me. The only thing for a relationship with Christ is to be honest and truthful.”
Fr. Matta El Meskeen, Summary of a Conversation with Dom Emmanuel Lanne, O.S.B (1976).
So much of popular Orthodox “spirituality” seems to be about creating clones, replicas and duplicates of some artificial ideal, often negatively defined or supposedly created by mechanistic actions. We are each called to be who we were created – uniquely, individually – to be. We are distinctly different members of the one Body as St Paul reminds us [1 Corinthians 12:12-31]. If I, as a foot, strive to be changed into an eye, or resent being a foot on the assumption that an eye has higher status, I betray the unique nature of my creation. A body composed entirely of eyes, or of feet, is not a functioning body.

The spiritual life of the Hermit is not superior – only different – to the spiritual life of the wife or husband, mother or father. The vocation of the Priest is not better than – only different to – the vocation of the carpenter or the physician or the lawyer or the street-cleaner.

A square red peg hammered into a round hole surrounded by small pieces of the peg. Hammer in the background. On a white background

A square red peg hammered into a round hole surrounded by small pieces of the peg. Hammer in the background. On a white background

Each one of us is called upon to discern the Divine Purpose in our individual and different lives, and to avoid struggling to force those lives into rigid molds constructed by and for someone else. The only way in which a “square peg” can be made to fit into a “round hole” is by doing violence to the very nature of the “square peg”.

Giving Up Relentless Connection

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2016 by citydesert

“We all live in a state of relentless connection. When we’re not connecting physically, we connect compulsively through some medium. The concept of solitude is starving. Being completely alone is a form of vulnerability. You’re presented with infinite moments to reach into the innermost voids of your mind. Without usual distractions, you will likely face things that you haven’t. It’s just you and your mind. There is a good chance something beautiful will emerge from clarity. In other words, alone time is the shit.
letters to a young poet
Recently, I began reading “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. A lyrical Austrian poet, Rilke shares his knowledge on writing and existence with a young man named Franz Kappus through a series of letters. One of the key themes is the priceless value of solitude. Rilke discusses the benefits of solitude in the context of writing poetry, as Kappus is an aspiring poet, but the guidance he offers applies to just about everything.

Solitude is essential, in the process of creation. Whether it’s working on your craft or a marvellous thought that you’re trying to muster, locking yourself away for some time will leave you and your mind alone to do some purposeful fondling.

Essentially, what Rilke proposes is that, in order for one to be successful in their work, one must enter solitude with the purpose of viewing it as a required circumstance– like a tool. In order to get comfortable with the idea of solitude, it’s important to acknowledge our original state as human beings. Rilke states in “Letters to a Young Poet”, “We are solitary. It is possible to deceive yourself and act as if it were not the case…How much better…to take it as our starting-point.”

He continues, “Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you.”
This goes against the modern relationship with alone time. In my own life it is relatively nonexistent, mostly because it’s generally less attractive than being with people that I enjoy being around. It is commonly believed that solitude is loneliness, and will in turn bring anxiety and sadness. Rilke deeply believed in the “trick of reversal” – turning negative human emotions into things that can be of service to you. So, essentially, Rilke advises Kappus to “convert solitude from a curse into a blessing.” The difference between solitude and loneliness is perspective.

Connection is ridiculously important to me, but I’ve learned that it’s important to welcome solitude and connect with myself with equally as much excitement in order to have an intimate relationship with my mind and to produce quality work.

Problematically, it’s harder today to be disconnected than it was when Rilke was creating because of technology and the immediacy that we’re accustomed to. This generation is used to being constantly informed, and without constant access to information through cell phones and other devices, we feel uncomfortable. Decades ago, it was as easy as shutting the blinds and not answering the phone – now, there are temptations bombarding us from every angle. How is it possible to connect with your mind in an intimate way if you’re constantly being influenced by outside sources?

In order to formulate a true, self-aware piece of whatever you’re creating, you can’t possibly be connected in the same way that people usually are. You have to spend time in your mind disconnected from other influences that are subconsciously affecting your ability to find your own voice.
Many people experience an overwhelming, make-believe disease called FOMO (the fear of missing out), including myself, which is basically a summation of all of this talk about shying away from isolation. Frankly, I think this is a product of our ultra-connectedness as well. It’s so human and habitual to want to stay in contact with people that you enjoy, so being without them at all, when you have the option of not disconnecting, seems utterly unappetizing…

If we can reverse the fear of being isolated, we can turn it into a tool for development, and be happier and more creative as a result.”

From “Why solitude is a blessing not a curse” “The Plaid Zebra”
Full text available on-line at:

The Eremitical Life in Ethiopia

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2016 by citydesert

“Though it has long since disappeared in the West, the eremitical life is still widespread in Ethiopia. The cenobitical monks and indeed the ordinary people regard the hermitage as Man’s highest abode on earth, and often monks seem fearful at the possibility of God calling them to it.
In almost every monastery there are a number of monks – perhaps one tenth of the total-who confine themselves to their cells. They are described as “the monks who never see the sun.” They have no responsibilities within the community and do not attend the daily common prayers. Food is brought to their huts each day by a single monk permanently designated to the task, and the hermit only emerges for the Mass in church on Sundays and feast days. Usually their cells are within the monastery compound, though sometimes they are a short distance away: at Debre Damo, for instance, hermits can be seen in apparently inaccessible caves in the sheer cliff beneath the monastery.
Other monks or lay people can visit them (if they can reach their cell), and even today many of the rulers of Ethiopia, including the Emperor himself, frequently seek the advice of these hermits on both spiritual and temporal matters.
Besides these monastic hermits, there are countless holy men (ba’atawi) living in remote forests and caves throughout Ethiopia. These men have totally rejected human contact, and if they ever visit a church they “come by night, crawling through the undergrowth so as not to be seen.” as an admiring priest described it. They live only on the wild fruits and herbs which Nature provides.
A few of these holy men are ordained monks who have left their communities, but mostly they are lay people – as another monk put it, “God has called them to holiness from nothing, as Christ called Peter and Paul.””

From: Robert Van de Weyer “The monastic community of Ethiopia” Full text available on-line at:

For Ethiopian Hermits, see:

The Man Who Quit Money

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1, 2016 by citydesert

Mark Sundeen “The Man Who Quit Money” [Riverhead Books, 2012]
“In 2000, Daniel Suelo left his life savings-all thirty dollars of it-in a phone booth. He has lived without money-and with a newfound sense of freedom and security-ever since. The Man Who Quit Money is an account of how one man learned to live, sanely and happily, without earning, receiving, or spending a single cent. Suelo doesn’t pay taxes, or accept food stamps or welfare. He lives in caves in the Utah canyonlands, forages wild foods and gourmet discards. He no longer even carries an I.D. Yet he manages to amply fulfill not only the basic human needs-for shelter, food, and warmth-but, to an enviable degree, the universal desires for companionship, purpose, and spiritual engagement. In retracing the surprising path and guiding philosophy that led Suelo into this way of life, Sundeen raises provocative and riveting questions about the decisions we all make, by default or by design, about how we live-and how we might live better.”
“Daniel James Shellabarger (known as Daniel Suelo, or simply Suelo, and The Man Who Quit Money, born 1961) is an American simple living adherent who stopped using money in the autumn of 2000. He was born in Arvada, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, and currently lives part-time in a cave near Moab, Utah when he is not wandering the country.
Suelo gained fame in October 2009 when his profile appeared in the US men’s style print magazine “Details”. This story was picked up by websites such as “The Guardian” in the UK, “The Huffington Post”, and Matador Change. He was also interviewed for the BBC in September 2009, by “The Denver Post” in November 2009, and the Brazilian INFO in November 2009. His story has since been repeated by many websites and news agencies around the world. Suelo was the subject of a 2006 video profile entitled “Moneyless in Moab” (2006), by Gordon Stevenson and a 2009 video profile entitled “Zero Currency” (2009), by Brad Barber as well as being featured on KBYU’s Beehive Stories (2010), also by Brad Barber.
Penguin approached Suelo about writing an autobiography, but he said that he would not accept payment for telling his story and he would be interested to do so only if the book was given away for free. Penguin was not interested in this approach, but asked a friend of his, Mark Sundeen, about writing a biography. Sundeen wrote “The Man Who Quit Money”, which was published by Riverhead/Penguin in 2012, and Suelo did not accept any money from his book but requested that the publishers give away a number of copies to people for free, which they did at promotional book tours. A short film about Suelo, narrated by Mark Sundeen, is on BBC News Online.
Suelo is one of a number of individuals who voluntarily live without money. These also include Heidemarie Schwermer, Mark Boyle and Tomi Astikainen. Suelo appeared as a guest writer on Mark Boyle’s blog in January 2011.”
“When I first heard the story of Daniel Suelo, I was immediately intrigued. After all, Daniel lives entirely without money and has done so for the past 12 years. In 2000, he put his entire life savings in a phone booth, walked away, and has lived moneyless ever since. Most frequently, he lives in the caves and wilderness of Utah where he eats wild vegetation, scavenges roadkill, pulls food from dumpsters, and is sometimes fed by friends and strangers. Daniel proudly boasts that he does not take food stamps or government handouts.
I found myself very interested in hearing what he has learned from the experience and how it might inspire me in my own journey to live with fewer possessions. So I contacted Daniel to see if I could ask him a few questions about his life and what views on money and possessions have shaped his existence. He graciously agreed. This is how our conversation went:
1) Earlier this year, your story was documented in a book titled “The Man Who Quit Money”. I opened this interview with a brief introduction. Am I missing anything here Daniel? Anything I should be adding to help us get a better understanding of who you are and the life you have chosen to live?
I don’t care for the statement, “Daniel proudly boasts that he does not take food stamps or government handouts,” because it can be construed that I put myself above those who must take food stamps or government handouts. I don’t judge those who do. I merely mention that I don’t take government assistance for the sake of those who might think I’m living on their tax dollars. I do boast about having few possessions and no money, because it’s ironic fun to boast about nothing special (wild creatures, after all, have few possessions or money and it really feels like no big deal), and to boast about what the rest of our commercial society debases.
I will add that I do make a small exception to taking government handouts: I use the public library to maintain my blog, website, do emails, and read books. This does cause ire in people searching for loopholes in my lifestyle. In my blog comments, a woman once responded to their anger by declaring that she pays taxes and doesn’t use the library, and that she donates all her library time to me. Then they were quiet.
2) I find it interesting that so many of the articles highlighting your story include something similar to this line: Suelo “came from a good family and has been to college. He was not mentally ill, nor an addict. His decision appears to have been an act of free will by a competent adult.” So, for starters, you are clearly not a crazy man. Correct?
A crazy man does not think himself crazy, so my opinion on the matter is meaningless. People will have to judge my sanity for themselves.
But it would be nice if we lived in a world that considered it crazy to cause harm to ourselves, others, and our environment or to praise those who do cause such harm. Then we’d have to say we live in a truly crazy civilization. A sane society would consider it crazy to kill living things and destroy food and water supplies in order to amass something that nobody can eat or drink, like gold, silver, and money. It’s crazy to sacrifice reality to the idol of illusion.
3) The thinking that led to your journey into willful moneylessness evolved by degrees during your travels. Could you share with us some of the foundational beliefs that have evolved in your life that led you to make this decision to give up money entirely?
My first thought of living moneyless came when I was a child. In my Evangelical Christian upbringing, I wondered why, if we were followers of Jesus, we didn’t practice his teachings–namely giving up possessions and doing not for the sake of reward (money and barter), but giving freely and receiving freely.
When I left home for college, I studied other religions and found that all the world’s major religions teach giving up possessions and doing not for the sake of reward. If all the separated witnesses are saying the same thing, it must be true. Ironically, few practice the one thing they all agree upon in word. What would happen if we actually practiced this stuff, I thought.
My dad also took us camping a lot, and I was a nature freak. I couldn’t help but see how perfectly balanced nature was, and it ran on no money. Why, then, couldn’t we?
As an adult, I thought it through more thoroughly. Nature’s economy is a pay-it-forward economy. This means one sows, another reaps, ad infinitum. For example, a bear takes a raspberry, and the raspberry bush demands nothing in return. The Bear takes with zero sense of obligation, zero guilt. The bear then poops somewhere else, not only providing food for soil organisms, but also propagating raspberry seeds. You never see 2 wild creatures consciously bartering. There are no accountants worrying what the bush will get in return. This is exactly why it works, because nobody knows how it works! There is no consciousness of credit and debt in nature. Consciousness of credit and debt is knowledge of good and evil, valuing one thing and devaluing another. Consciousness of credit and debt is our fall from Grace. Grace means gratis, free gift.
My next impetus for living moneyless came from observing the world economy and politics. Do our economy and politics function well? It’s self-evident, isn’t it?
My next impetus for living moneyless was to find authenticity for myself. To do out of one’s heart is to be real. To do for somebody, expecting something from them, is ulterior motivation, which is to not be real, which is to prostitute oneself.
My last impetus for living moneyless was to heal myself. Okay, I guess I’ll talk about my craziness. To heal myself was to first see myself as crazy, and only them could I become free of craziness. I was suffering clinical depression. Mental illness is rooted in having unnecessary, thoughts and to let go of unnecessary thoughts is to free oneself from mental illness. This is basic Buddhist philosophy. It is the philosophy of all the ancient religions. To cling to thoughts is to possess thoughts and this outwardly manifests itself in having unnecessary physical possessions. We accumulate what we don’t need out of fear and anxiety. This is true craziness. Unnecessary thoughts and unnecessary physical possessions (including possessing people) are inextricably linked. To accumulate unnecessary possessions is not to live in abundance, as we’re led to believe, but is to live in scarcity. Why would we have too much stuff if we believed the universe was abundant? Why would we worry if we weren’t crazy? Worry is simply lack of faith, faith that everything we need is in the here and now.
4) Your spirituality is clearly an important part of your journey. In what ways, have your spiritual beliefs strengthened you for this journey and lifestyle?
I mentioned above that this is about faith. Faith is eliminating unnecessary thought, trusting that everything we need comes as we need it, whether it is the right thoughts or the right possessions. Faith is being grounded in the Eternal Present. This is the common truth of the world’s religions.
5) What are some of the most important lessons about money/people/society you have personally learned over the past 12 years? And did any of these lessons surprise you?
Most important is that I’ve learned our true nature lives moneyless, giving freely and receiving freely. Even the most staid CEO is human underneath, and gives and receives freely with friends and family. By cultivating this nature in myself, I can see it in others, and it can be cultivated in others. When our real selves are cultivated, the gift economy is cultivated, our unreal selves (based on ulterior motivation) and all the nonsense drops away.
I have been surprised at the intensely angry reaction thousands of people have had at my living moneyless. It used to bother me, but now I realize that anger doesn’t come from people’s true nature, but from the facade they build up. The facade is threatened by reality. Who wants to hear that the basis of our commercial civilization is an illusion? Money only exists if two or more people believe it exists. Money is not a physical substance, but merely a belief in the head. Money is credit, and credit literally means belief (e.g. credibility). Money is literally a creed, the most agreed-upon creed, or religion, in the world. And what fundamentalists won’t get angry if you question their creed?
6) The reality of today’s society is that most people will never make the full leap into moneylessness like you have. Do you believe that your lifestyle still offers important inspiration for individuals and families? And if so, in what ways?
As I said, we all live moneyless at our core, in our everyday actions with friends, family, and even strangers. People tell me almost every day that they find living this way inspiring and even comforting. Even if people don’t intend on giving up money, they can still find that it isn’t the end of the world if they lose their money. If you are not religious, it is comforting to be reminded that life has flourished in balance for millions of years without money, and why should it fall apart without money now? Nature evolved you from an amoeboid to a human over millions of years, with zero money, so why should nature give up on you now? How is it that, when natural disasters (tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis) hit towns and cities, people suddenly forget about money and start helping each other? It’s comforting that we have a true nature beneath the falseness and ulterior motivation of commercial civilization.
And if you are religious, it’s comforting to know there is profound truth at the core of your religion (whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Sikh) that actually works if you practice it, that it isn’t all a lie. If we don’t practice the core truth of giving up possessions and ulterior motivation that every religion teaches, then of course our religion becomes a destructive lie, as we see all around us.
7) What are the practical steps individuals can take to free themselves from their pursuit (and bondage) to money – even if they will never live entirely moneyless?
People get overwhelmed unless they realize that all the tools they have are here and now, and steps can be taken right here and now.
Everybody, no matter how entrenched they are in the money system, can freely give and freely receive. Freely giving and freely receiving is our true nature, is true human-ness. And everybody is human. As I said earlier, it’s about being real, cultivating our true nature, and everything else falls into place, and all the falsehood drops away, no matter what station in life people are in. Even if somebody is totally skeptical about what I am doing, I challenge them to make it their goal to be totally real, with themselves and with every human interaction, and I propose they will then know whether or not I’m living a pipe dream.
Somebody once commented that our cities and towns could not function without money. But I say they and the world can’t function right now in the present system.
Take classic American suburbia, for example. People don’t know their neighbors, and everybody has their own cars, computers, TVs, lawn mowers, washing machines, etc, etc, as well as stockpiles of food and land they could grow food on. All we need is right here, but the only thing that’s holding us back is not physical reality, but belief, dogma. What if we actually spoke to our neighbors and agreed to share, like we learned in kindergarten and in church? What if we realized we could share cars, computers, washing machines, have dinners together, etc, which would not only save us expense, but would save expense on the environment, and, as a bonus, put smiles on our lonely faces? Then cities and technology would start serving us, rather than us serving them. But what’s holding us back? Not reality, not scarcity, but only our thinking!
As far as going all the way and living without money, people often ask me to teach them survival skills. Often I feel like I don’t know many skills, that it’s really about determination and getting up the confidence more than actual skill. Sometimes I tell folks to imagine something really silly: what if somebody offered you a million dollars to live without money for a year? I guarantee most people would figure out how to do it, skilled or no. This is about finding a determination, a motivation greater than a million dollars!
8) I’m curious how concerned you are about spreading this message of living free from money…
Yes, I now have a strong urge to spread the message. At first I just wanted to live my own life, whether or not anybody else took notice or not. Then I realized a message was errupting in me that I could no more suppress than an erupting volcano. Our society is not sustainable and we are not only heading rapidly into, but most the world has already reached disaster, due directly to our being trapped by our own beliefs. I want to shout this out to the world. But talk isn’t enough. It must be talk with action, right now. We could debate whether or not Paul Revere was trying to gain attention for himself, or we could simply take notice that the British are invading and we have to get off our butts!

From: Joshua Becker “The Man Who Quit Money: An Interview with Daniel Suelo” becomingminimalist Full text available on-line at:

Daniel Suelo’s Facebook:
Living Without Money website:

Walden on Wheels

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1, 2016 by citydesert

Ken Ilgunas “Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom” [New Harvest, 2013]
“The story of a student who went to extraordinary lengths – including living in a van on a campus parking lot – to complete his education without sacrificing his financial future. In a frank and self-deprecating voice, memoirist Ken Ilgunas writes about the existential terror of graduating from college with $32,000 in student debt. Inspired by Thoreau, Ilgunas set himself a mission: get out of debt as soon as humanly possible. To that end, he undertook an extraordinary 3-year transcontinental journey, driving to Alaska and taking a series of low-paying jobs. Debt-free, Ilgunas then enrolled himself in a master’s program at Duke University, using the last of his savings to buy himself a used Econoline, his new “dorm.” The van, stationed in a campus parking lot, would be an adventure, a challenge, a test of his limits. It would be, in short, his “Walden on Wheels.” Ilgunas went public in a widely read Salon article that spoke to the urgent student debt situation in America today. He offers a funny and pointed perspective on the dilemma faced by those who seek an education but who also want to, as Thoreau wrote, “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.””
““Walden on Wheels” is a self-deprecating travel memoir about a five-year period of my life when I dealt with student debt.

To pay off my $32,000 student debt with a useless liberal arts degree from the University at Buffalo, I move to a remote work camp in Coldfoot, Alaska, where I work as a maid, cook, and tour guide. Later, I hitchhike 5,500 miles across the continent, canoe across Ontario, Canada with “voyageurs” (people who live and dress like the 18th Century fur traders), work on a trail crew in Gulfport, Mississippi, and finally I head back up to Alaska, where I finish paying my debt off as a backcountry ranger in the Gates of the Arctic National Park.

When I get out of debt, and when I enroll in a graduate program at Duke University, inspired by Thoreau, I move into a 1994 Econoline Van — my “Walden on Wheels” — where I secretly live in a campus parking lot to stay out of debt, and where I put to use the many lessons about frugality and simplicity and adventure that I’d learned on my journey before.”

“Not long ago young Americans collectively reached a dubious milestone: $1 trillion in student debt, which represents a fivefold increase since the turn of the 21st century. But don’t blame Ken Ilgunas. It’s true that he graduated in 2006 owing $32,000, but he found the situation so terrifying that he worked frantically to pay it off. Then he earned a master’s degree without additional borrowing by living in a Ford Econoline van in a parking lot at Duke University.
In “Walden on Wheels,” his thoroughly endearing account of the whole business, Mr. Ilgunas exemplifies a hard-pressed generation of graduates who find themselves burdened with unprecedented levels of debt at a time when good jobs are scarce. He is sarcastic yet not cynical, jaundiced yet far from bitter, and ultimately filled with the idealism we expect—and need—from young people embarking on their adult lives.
The author portrays himself at first as something of a slacker dude, his prose leaning heavily on self-deprecation for humor. “How strange it was,” he marvels, “that the government, my college, and a large bank were letting me, an eighteen-year-old kid—one who didn’t know what ‘interest’ was (or how to work the stove . . .)—take out a gigantic five-digit loan.”
In fact, though, he is far more inquisitive and interesting than the stereotypical young laggard, and what makes his real-life bildungsroman so compelling is watching his transformation. This is a guy who starts out sounding like a refugee from “Wayne’s World” and ends up a reasonably credible latter-day Transcendentalist—if you can imagine Seth Rogen channeling Thoreau.
Endowed with an admirable work ethic, Mr. Ilgunas gets through the University at Buffalo by laboring more than 30 hours a week pushing carts and stacking lumber at a Home Depot. HD -0.82 % Unable to find a job upon graduation, he unwittingly follows Horace Greeley’s advice and goes west—all the way to Alaska, where he encounters the sublime in the unspoiled Arctic landscape and throws himself into backbreaking toil at a far-flung truck stop. He is not alone in undertaking menial work upon graduation. As he notes, in 2009 there were 17.4 million college graduates in jobs that didn’t require a degree, including 365,000 cashiers and more than 100,000 janitors (5,057 of whom with doctorate or professional degrees).
Like any self-respecting heir to the great Romantic tradition, Mr. Ilgunas yearns for freedom and experience, love and meaning, and thus his student loans oppress him as a form of bondage. The debt is like some remorseless god: monstrous and impossible to propitiate. “What little money I was able to put toward my debt always felt negligible, pointless even. It was like throwing a glass of water on a burning building.”
He recognizes that student loans, acquired thoughtlessly, can have ethical implications. His best friend is driven by an even larger student debt to take a hateful job as a telemarketer for a profit-making college—enticing students to borrow in order to get an education even less remunerative than his own.
Some graduates carry their student loans to the grave, but Mr. Ilgunas is determined to avoid this fate. With room and board provided by his Alaskan employer and little to buy in a town so remote that, in tourist season, the population “triples to thirty-five,” he manages to pay off most of his debt in just two years while earning just $9 an hour.
The beast vanquished, Mr. Ilgunas soon realizes that merely eradicating his debt can’t by itself produce a meaningful life, so he pursues a relatively impractical degree in liberal studies at Duke, where he moves into a vehicle on campus—rather than a cabin at Walden—to avoid the fetters of indebtedness. He vows to “polish my intellect at school but sand down my body to a fine grain with a tough life in the van. I’d embrace a bare bones, uncluttered simplicity—a voluntary poverty.”
Such claims run the risk of sounding earnest and pretentious, but the author’s hardships make them seem heartfelt and even uplifting—which is not to say that “Walden on Wheels” is without problems. The most serious one is that the author acknowledges, at the outset, that he has tinkered with his tale to suit the telling, altering names, details and the sequence of events. He deserves credit for coming clean; memoirists often take such liberties, and some make up their stories from whole cloth. But by playing with the facts enough to warrant such a warning, he undermines the credibility of his whole enterprise, and we end up wondering just how much of this colorful material has been Photoshopped for better presentation.
Mr. Ilgunas also seems blind to his generation’s biggest error, which is paying huge sums for mediocre schooling. His own mistake was borrowing to attend a costly second-rate private university for a year—the same place his friend spent four years only to find himself paying his own debts by inflicting a similar burden on others. Fortunately Mr. Ilgunas had the sense to transfer to a state school, where he piled up debt more gradually.
Yet ultimately Mr. Ilgunas’s borrowing turns out to have been a blessing, for it raised his consciousness and propelled him into a series of adventures far more instructive than his time in any classroom. Unlike so many students burdened by loans, at least this one got his money’s worth.”
From: Daniel Akst “College and Its Discontents” “Wall Street Journal” June 3 2013
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