A man who lives without money

By | July 23, 2009

A man who lives without money

His dwelling, hidden high in a canyon lined with waterfalls, is an hour by foot from the desert town of Moab, Utah, where people who know him are of two minds: He’s either a latter-day prophet or an irredeemable hobo. Suelo’s blog, which he maintains free at the Moab Public Library, suggests that he’s both. “When I lived with money, I was always lacking,” he writes. “Money represents lack. Money represents things in the past (debt) and things in the future (credit), but money never represents what is present.”

… I clamber along a set of red-rock cliffs to the mouth of his cave… From the outside, the place looks like a hollowed teardrop, about the size of an Amtrak bathroom, with enough space for a few pots that hang from the ceiling, a stove under a stone eave, big buckets full of beans and rice, a bed of blankets in the dirt, and not much else. Suelo’s been here for three years, and it smells like it.

Night falls … Suelo tramps up the cliff, mimicking a raven’s call—his salutation—a guttural, high-pitched caw. He’s lanky and tan; yesterday he rebuilt the entrance to his cave, hauling huge rocks to make a staircase. His hands are black with dirt, and his hair, which is going gray, looks like a bird’s nest, full of dust and twigs from scrambling in the underbrush on the canyon floor.  …

He moved to Moab and worked at a women’s shelter for five years. He wanted to help people, but getting paid for it seemed dishonest—how real was help that demanded recompense? The answer lay, in part, in the Christianity of his childhood. In Suelo’s nascent philosophy, following Jesus meant adopting the hard life prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount. “Giving up possessions, living beyond credit and debt,” Suelo explains on his blog, “freely giving and freely taking, forgiving all debts, owing nobody a thing, living and walking without guilt . . . grudge [or] judgment.” If grace was the goal, Suelo told himself, then it had to be grace in the classical sense, from the Latin gratia, meaning favor—and also, free.

By 1999, he was living in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand—he had saved just enough money for the flight. From there, he made his way to India, where he found himself in good company among the sadhus, the revered ascetics who go penniless for their gods. Numbering as many as 5 million, the sadhus can be found wandering roads and forests across the subcontinent, seeking enlightenment in self-abnegation. “I wanted to be a sadhu,” Suelo says. “But what good would it do for me to be a sadhu in India? A true test of faith would be to return to one of the most materialistic, money-worshipping nations on earth and be a sadhu there. To be a vagabond in America, a bum, and make an art of it—the idea enchanted me.”

I sleep in the open, at the edge of a hundred-foot cliff. No worries about animals, he says. Though mountain lions drink from the stream, and bobcats hunt rabbits under the cottonwoods, the worst he’s experienced was a skunk that sprayed him in the face. Mice scurry over his body in the cave, and kissing bugs sometimes suck the blood from under his fingernails while he sleeps. He shrugs off these indignities. “After all, it’s their cave too,” he says. I hunker down near a nest of scorpions, which crawl up the canyon walls, ignoring me.

… What about starvation? He’s never gone without a meal (friends in Moab sometimes feed him). What about getting deadly ill? It happened once, after eating a cactus he misidentified—he vomited, fell into a delirium, thought he was dying, even wrote a note for those who would find his corpse. But he got better. That it’s hard is exactly the point, he says. “Hardship is a good thing. We need the challenge. Our bodies need it. Our immune systems need it.

…   “Gold is pretty but virtually useless. Somebody decided it has worth, and everybody accepted this decision. The natives in the Americas thought Europeans were insane because of their lust for such a useless yellow substance.”

He sautés the watercress, mustard leaves, and wild onions, mixing in fresh almonds he picked from a friend’s orchard and ghee made from Dumpster-dived butter, and we eat out of his soot-caked pans. From the perch on the cliff, the life of the sadhu seems reasonable. But I don’t want to live in a cave. I like indoor plumbing (Suelo squats). I like electricity. Still, there’s an obvious beauty in the simplicity of subsistence. It’s an un-American notion these days. We don’t revere our ascetics, and we dismiss the idea that money could be some kind of consensual delusion. For most of us, it’s as real as the next house payment. Suelo doesn’t take public assistance or use food stamps, but he does survive in part on our reality, the discarded surfeit of the money system that he denounces—a system, as it happens, that recently looked like it was headed for the cliff.

Suelo is 48, and he doesn’t exactly have a 401(k). “I’ll do what creatures have been doing for millions of years for retirement,” he says. “Why is it sad that I die in the canyon and not in the geriatric ward well-insured? I have great faith in the power of natural selection. And one day, I will be selected out.” Until then, think of him like the raven, cleaning up the carcasses the rest of us leave behind.

via COULD YOU SURVIVE WITHOUT MONEY?MEET THE GUY WHO DOES: DETAILS Article on men.style.com.

I’m getting news of pay cuts at work. No layoffs yet. But as times get tougher for everyone, I think this story may comfort some people. It seems rather difficult, at this time anyway, for a sane able bodied person to die of starvation in America. There are so many steps from where most of us are now to where this man “Suelo” still survives.

One thought on “A man who lives without money

  1. Silkyray

    I have lived the life of an ascetic, starving my self for day. Living without what people would call a real job for years. You truly do not know what starvation is until you force down a 7 year old can of beans. This life was very enlightening. It enlightened me to the pains of the people who had not chosen this path and where blind to any other. So in my pain I gained compassion. But unlike those I saw around me I had chosen to experience this and knew that living in this extreme would never bring me happiness. Now even though I have studied Buddhism and Christianity for years, and knew of the middle way I truly did not understand it until I had lived both extremes. Let us hope as a nation, as we go though this economic cycle, we all have compassion for each other. Maybe we can learn to live with less and help each other more.

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