Marshall Sahlins, in his essay The Original Affluent Society about the nature of so-called “hunter-gatherer” societies, describes them as “taking the Zen road to affluence.” What he boils their success to is “limited necessities and a proliferation of means.” The whole notion that “tribal peoples spent their entire lives trying to find food” is pure propaganda. Hunter-gathering People spend little time hunting, gathering or anything related to what we imagine as “survival,” nor do they have these categorical separations in their ways of being that someone acculturated to being “employed,” i.e. “used by others” defines their “activities” by.
These are Life-coherent societies. Life grows into ever-expanding and detailed coherence with the dynamics of a Living Reality that extends from the smallest creature to the stars and living in a way where the human expression reflects the principles and relationships that unfold from the micro to the macrocosm. This has nothing to do with any sort of idealism. It’s simply natural to all of Life that hasn’t been forced into deviating from Living Intelligence.
In this way of being-in-Life, the difference between “fishing,” for example, “tides,” “astronomy,” and “geology” only illustrate the separation from Living Intelligently that characterizes the mentality of someone who no longer lives-in-Living. To the latter it may never even occur that someone who does live-in-Living does so with qualities of Attention and Abilities far more subtle than even “the coherence of fishing, tidal movements, astronomy, and geology.” Such qualities of being make our categories infinitesimally minute as compared to the Awareness actually engaged. All of us categorize the experiences of people with different ways of being into the categories and characteristics of our own frame.
Feeding oneself and each other is only a small part of coherent human living and yet it is related to all of living. For life-coherent people there are much greater adventures in self- and life-realization than learning what’s edible or how to get a bigger screen HD television. As I shared in The World Transforms in Natural Intelligence, humans who grow up in and with the living world competently navigate a landscape of infinite opportunities for nourishment by age ten. Mastering the knowledge of what’s edible would be the next step after getting weaned from breastfeeding.
Many other discoveries await.
What is the Zen road to affluence? The Zen road to affluence means realizing wealth as a Quality of Life, of Intelligence, Capacity, Discernment and the recognition that everything we could possibly need and desire is always right at hand, if only we develop the capacity to recognize and connect with it.
This wealth is not about what we have or don’t have. It is about our ability to recognize where we are, what is already here, and our capacity to not only get, and be fed – certainly perfectly legitimate concerns during childhood development – but also to feed, to sustain, to grow, to offer, and to realize ourselves.
SOME PEOPLE, and they are the people we think of as primitive, live well without ‘doing’ much of anything. They do not have jobs, they do not work nine to five, they certainly do not work for anyone else. They do not farm, they do not have to take care of animals. All of them, women, men and children wander around and find things to eat: fruit, roots—they know their environment intimately. Of course, because they feel part of nature. They spend their days doing what they do best. Some like making things, they make canoes, or cloth, or pots, or they carve. Some like hunting or fishing. Some people have a talent for staying in touch with another reality, they are priests, shamans, healers. Some of them have a talent for making other people feel good. I have probably learned more from these so-called primitive people than from any other.
People who live very close to the earth, or the ocean, with very few of what we think of as necessities of life, live well. Sadly, it is no exaggeration to say that as soon as we come and bring them ‘civilization’, they plummet into abject poverty and ill-health.
The people I got to know—aboriginal people in Malaysia, as well as wonderfully healthy and self-sufficient aboriginal people on a few islands of the Pacific, in the mountains of the Philippines—were different from each other, of course, speaking different languages, with different customs. But they are alike in that they were happy. They were content.
These people were hard to find, because our aggressive and intense civilization has driven them to the most inaccessible parts of the world. They lived off the land or the ocean. They did not have to rely for any of their needs on the outside. They could find all the food they needed to sustain themselves, they could find or make material for shelter and clothing. They carved canoes, made blowpipes, they rolled a powerfully strong rope from the fibers of coconut husk. And beyond what they could find and make in their environment, they did not need anything, nor did they want anything more.
They enjoyed life, they lived life. Life did not live them, as happens to us.
People in the United States are always proud to tell me how “busy” they are. People in wisdom-based cultures typically ask, “why are you so busy?” Busy-ness is not a sign of intelligence.
The counsel I have received from indigenous elders from Oregon to the Yukon, to the Andes, to Indonesia has repeatedly been, “SLOW DOWN! PAY ATTENTION! Use your Attention to Learn how to Slow Down EVEN MORE! THEN pay Attention again. Keep doing it and you’ll discover something quite amazing.” I have heard that same advice in at least a hundred different ways, from the Northwest Coast of North America to the highlands of Java and Sumatra: “Pay attention to where you are and what is already going on here.” I’ve also had many people tell me, “You can’t learn anything if you’re in that much of a hurry”
When I speak of “hunter-gatherers” or “autochtonous people,” we typically think in “anthropological” terms. All of the programming we’ve received, the documentaries we’ve seen, the books we’ve read all train us to define ourselves and others by way of differences. Almost no one will consider that in the mere consideration of another way of living we’re not merely speaking about how one feeds oneself in a rainforest and with a loincloth, as opposed to how we do. How many of you would even dare to wonder whether you could apply hunting-gathering intelligence in whatever environment you are in?
When I discovered, thirty years ago, how little time Life-Connected Peoples spend with food or shelter, I decided that I wanted to learn those skills in my life. I have and it’s been amazingly liberating and rich.
We look at indigenous people and we look at what they have, looking for objects, not relationships. What they are, connect to, and know is largely invisible to people divorced from our own ancestral, natural, place-based, community-related knowledge and appreciation of being-in-a-generous-world.
This is not alien to our ancestral European wisdom, either. The Greek philosopher Epicurus said:
“Thanks be to Blessed Nature who has made all necessary things easy to obtain, and all that is difficult, unnecessary.”
EVERYTHING we could possibly desire is available to us, when we learn to truly focus on what sustains us well and stop chasing after endless distractions from our own creative, relational capacities.
BE Your Wealth
The Zen road to affluence embraces an adventure in learning to BE our wealth, not just for our own sake, as some “personal idea” of our “self,” but in relationship to our world and in recognition that, ultimately, our capacity to enrich the Aliveness of our World enriches us as well, naturally.
Everything is related. We are a part of something. We are not only an “individual,” we are also the fruit of ancestral choices and consequences. We are seeding and feeding the qualities of life of those who follow us with the seeding and feeding which we, in turn, receive and replicate. The existential and relational delusion fomented by sick imperial cultures is that “our Life ends.”
No, actually, our living feeds living, not just with our death, but also with our living. We are not “getting out of here.” We are a part of all of this. So, what we sow into the experience of future generations of ALL Life Forms is what we will experience in ANOTHER Life Form.
Wealth requires being healthy. As pointed out in Wealth Lives, the etymology of “wealth” is “health, wellness, weal.” How many of us hear the word “wealth” and think of vitality?
Without health we cannot develop any high-level, subtle and responsive intelligence. Life operates in LIFE logic.
Taking yourself to wealth requires taking your body to health. You can’t sidestep that one.
If your rent, food, and bills are more than your income, you either get your expenses DOWN or you start running around all stressed about money. Your body gets flooded with the stress hormone cortisol, which is toxic to new nerve cell growth required for learning. Your capacity for intelligent evaluation of your situation and coherent action goes to hell. Many spend a lifetime on that hamster wheel spinning out of the busy-ness of a mind that can’t see beyond the next step, not even to notice that it is spinning in circles. This plays no small part in why stupidity is hard to self-assess.
I have spent years living richly all over the world, including the U.S. and Europe. Eating well. Living well. Extraordinary health. GORGEOUS places. Amazing experiences in places few people ever visit, and many other incredible life forms do. Great relationships, conversations and contributions. And on ridiculously minute amounts of money for a lifestyle that most millionaires can’t afford. It’s Simple. Most people can’t fathom either the simplicity or richness of the living that is available easily, if we would dare venture beyond all the B.S. we’ve unconsciously inherited about “what you have to do to make a so-called living.”
I look around me and I see a lot of people struggling. They live in houses way bigger and more expensive than what they can afford or, more importantly, need for their well-being, full of “precious” STUFF that keeps them chained to an infernal busyness and stress that also destroys their wealth.
Historically there is one class of people who are “busy” all the time. The ancients knew them as slaves; people who beg for kindness from their masters, yet refuse themselves the kindness that leads to mastery.
“For men in a state of freedom had thatch for their shelter, while slavery dwells beneath marble and gold.” ~ Seneca
Having grown up as a Slav, the ethnicity that the word “slave” comes from, I spent a childhood “always-busy” in a household where we always “had to be doing something.” My father taught us how to work, starting at age six, with precision and excellence. That has served me well.
Consider Semi-Retirement FIRST
When I struck out on my own at seventeen I immediately decided to go into semi-retirement. I had no money and no support. I was just a young man looking to make my way. Semi-retirement under those circumstances sounds absurd, right?
I decided that I would NOT spend my life busy all the time. I had already spent two years as a Hindu monk and learned that it is possible to live a VERY high order of existence and comfort with very few possessions. I decided I would work hard and precisely in order to learn and gain skills. I would measure my wealth in terms of the comprehension and skill I gained as I went along, and the number of days spent living in ways that make me most alive. I would live for a Wealth of Aliveness, without shunning material things and without clinging to them. Material things were to be enjoyed, not “married.”
Very, Very Rich is Very, Very Simple
As soon as I started spending time on sacred mountains, I learned how richly I could live with a simple tent, a warm sleeping bag and camping mattress, learning to live off the land, grow gardens, especially permaculture gardens, supplemented with some very simple supplies from the store, the company of all kinds of plant, animal, fish, mountain, star intelligences, and the distillation of the wisdom of some of the best human minds and spirits left in the books they wrote, along with the wisdom of local people and elders. My experiences in gorgeous, natural places not only enriched me daily, but have enriched me with skills, insights, even memories that have thrilled me for my entire LIFE.
I learned to CHOOSE Life’s Gorgeousness and to LIVE IT.
Grow a Garden EVERYWHERE
With time I began to discover that, in many places, the plants I would clear to put in a garden were actually more nutritious than the ones I intended to plant. Eventually, I discovered that the places and plants I thought were “wild” were actually ancient and humanly-made, complex, permaculture (not agri-culture, from the Latin agres: “field”) ecosystems designed by humans to sustain humans and a whole other community of animals and plants that also sustain us and which we sustain in turn. With yet more learning, unlearning and guidance from elders, I began to participate in sustaining and contributing to the complexity of the ecosystems which I began to know, live in and be nourished by over decades.
I began to travel the world in a different way, growing permacultured landscapes all over the place that don’t look anything like what we think “gardens” are. I’d plant and transplant all over an area where I inhabited, whether on private or public land, in ways that modern people would not even notice. I have “wild” gardens growing all over South and North America in places where I love to live and be well-nourished. This is what humans have done for millions of years.
People-of-the-Land began orienting me to the reality of their world, and not just my crackerbox ideas “about” it. They began to show me that the world is an amazing, rich, dense, complex, ordered, meaningful and sensible garden sustained over hundreds of thousands of years by human beings. When homo sapiens sapiens (a human who knows and who knows how to know) got acculturated into the existence of a homo ignorans ignorans (a human who ignores and who ignores that s/he ignores, rather insistently) we got cut off from this essential knowing that leads to simply knowing-how-to-live, too.
I go back to the places I have lived and have even more abundant, nutritious, fully-vital and organic food then when I first went there. To moderns, all of that nourishing food looks like “weeds.”
To Enjoy More Possessions, Don’t Be Possessed By Them!
Though I regularly eliminate excess possessions, even materially my life is more and more luxurious. I have a world full of everything. I’ve learned to orient and connect to more of existence, and recognize and create new possibilities for ALIVENESS, in more and more countries. For much of the last six years, for example, I’ve lived in gorgeous homes in the rainforest of Brazil, on the pampas of Argentina, on the coast of Uruguay, in the high mountains of Southern Brazil, in pristine places in Utah’s Canyon Country. How?
A few paragraphs ago I spoke of how many people live in houses larger than what they can really afford. Most people read that and think, “Oh, I should live in a smaller house.” I certainly thought that way for years. Later I discovered that I could live in larger and MORE luxurious homes – for FREE! EASILY! IN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN THE WORLD!
I’m not moralizing here about the size of your house, your car or anything. I’m talking about living RICHER; NOT about giving up anything, but about ENJOYING MORE OF EVERYTHING. I’m not talking about the one-month vacation in the vacation home you make payments on for thirty years, I’m talking about being on PERMANENT vacation in luxury homes around the world… even getting paid for it!
With the passing of years and experience, I’m not even interested in trying to convince anyone to abandon struggle or to live differently. I’ve found that the company of people who need convincing in order to enjoy life isn’t very fulfilling! Rather than convince them, I’d rather let them be and spend time with Life Forms that are vital and passionately engaged in living.
I’m not moralizing about the times we live in, either. We are in a phase in a cycle. This, too, shall pass.
Natural Intelligence awakens to the REALITY and to the possibilities of these times, these places and these circumstances. The modern mentality, cut off from Ancestry, doesn’t realize that the Natural Intelligence of what we so diminutively and reductively call “hunter-gatherers” is, more than anything, a learning Intelligence, a being who lives in exquisitely enchanted curiosity about every detail, nuance, particularity, connection, change, mutation, and cycle in their world. ALL of us have the option of engaging creatively, curiously, playfully and VITALLY with the playful, generous GORGEOUSNESS of our World. As we recognize the Aliveness of our world, we also begin to recognize, realize and CELEBRATE our own in more joyful ways!
Many people have vacation homes that sit empty ten months out of the year. Empty houses rapidly fill with mice who love to chew on electrical wiring, insulation, and just about anything that fluffs into nice little nests for their exploding population of offspring. Having someone trustworthy live and care for these homes is a huge contribution to the peace of mind of the owners and the well-being of gorgeous homes which rarely get used beyond the summer season. What’s in far shorter supply in much of the world than gorgeous homes to live in for free are people whose word can be counted on 100%, who act with common sense and take responsibility when situations arise.
Truth-FULL, Trust-WORTHY, Response-ABLE People are Given the World
The wealth that’s in short supply these days are Truth-FULL, Trust-WORTHY, Intelligent and Response-ABLE People. BE one of those People and people will gladly offer you the best of their world. What’s missing in their world are not homes, or cars, or food, or money, but Truth-FULL, Trust-WORTHY, Intelligent, Contributive and Response-Able People, too.
It’s amazing to notice, in my 53 years in this human shape, to see to what extent so many people’s word has become worthless. The flipside is that if you are one of those rare people whose word is 100%, you already stand out in ways that many will treasure.
If you are such a person the world has a thousand opportunities awaiting you wherever you show up with excellence and capability. We create opportunities, not just for ourselves, but for others as well, instead of waiting for them. We don’t just try to get rich, We live rich by learn to enrich others IN LIVING. This is how Natural, Living Intelligence makes this world. We can participate with the same Intelligence.
As I’ve traveled, I’ve learned how to make OTHER people wealthier, even monetarily; to improve their health, transform their homes into food forests – even houses with zero soil and in the middle of cities. When we do this for people they are VERY happy to have us around, happy, well-fed and treated to the finer things of life, including cozy rooms in their home, lots of friends, introductions to their cute cousin who would also like to enjoy the company of someone worthwhile, and free reign of their home on the coast and their hacienda in the mountains, along with their fine riding horses, when we feel like taking some time for solitude, writing or retreat.
I prefer my Luxury Homes by the THOUSANDS!
I say that I have thousands of luxury homes around the world to enjoy. People laugh. They think I’m kidding. I’m not. I am a Hunter-Gatherer. I SEE the Beauty of my World, LIVE in it, CELEBRATE it, and CARE for it in whatever Shape it comes; human, plant, animal, luxury home, car, whatever.
I don’t need to wear that like some badge of honor, beyond the willingness to honor Life’s Invitation to something generous, sumptuous, liberating, healthy, simple and fun.
Most people are so busy trying to own stuff that they have little time to enjoy what they own!
I choose the Zen road to affluence like our ancestors did. I choose to live rich! I absolutely refuse to trade my wealth for the bankrupt money of the Shylock slave traders! That doesn’t mean that I don’t have money or refuse it. But I understand that very little money is needed for tremendous amounts of wealth. When I grow wealth, which lives and lives well in the Intelligence of what is actually living, my wealth will grow not only for myself, but for everything I help to grow, My needs for money will diminish proportionately.
None of this has anything to do with “living like they did back then.” It has everything to do with “living creatively in the mostly-unappreciated and unrecognized realities of today.” With experience, I’ve learned to allow and to challenge myself to live more simply, and richly. It becomes even simpler and richer as I master the skills to live this way. I go direct to the essence of what makes me more Alive, without the distractions most people’s lives are consumed by.
Few people imagine that they could, for example, live for six months in a beautiful home on a wild, pristine coast with a four mile beach for only a few thousand dollars – or much less – all-in for the full six months! I’ve done it for years all over the world!
It takes moving from “thinking” in the abstract to moving intelligently and discovering the nature of the many realities of what you desire. It takes moving attention from only looking at what we want to get to what other people need, desire and would be enriched by, thanks to us. Most people won’t do that. They’ll spend ten years of their life at a job they don’t necessarily like to buy that home instead of spending ten months of their life gaining the skills to enjoy 1500 homes around the world, for example. Then they’ll meet me and say, “Boy, I wish I could live like you do.”
The reality, for most people who tell me that, is not that they can’t, but that they won’t. The greatest challenge to anything we desire is not ability – because with practice and effort we develop it – but WILL. Those who WILL, DO. That takes being willing to
Do what you can’t until you CAN.
That’s learning. Every bit of learning you DO makes the rest of your Adventure more and more Beauty-FULL.
Those who WON’T, DON’T. Those who WILL, DO!
That goes for the rest of what we say we desire.
Many people content themselves with being busy all the time and chasing money. I have no objection to their choices. I don’t waste my energy trying to get people to choose differently. There is nothing evangelical about what’s offered here. We are ALL part of the ecosystem of Aliveness and we are all bound to make Good Ground, finely ground. Consider that, because your time in this human shape is not only counted, but endowed with amazing possibilities
Possibilities Grow with Capabilities.
Capabilities Grow with Learning.
Learning Grows by Doing what WE CAN’T, until we CAN.
Then we allow the World to BE as Big and Generous as it really is,
instead of confining it to the smallness of what we imagined it to “be.”
However we live our lives, we feed Aliveness, one way or the other, unavoidably. We are all edible. Remember that. Like my teacher Rockman used to tell me, “You’re on a one-way trip to the grave. Edit your own movie.”
As WE grow in Living Wealth, money ceases being a big deal. Money, like everything else, is circulating all around us. It is as easy to come by as we ARE Wealthy, Intelligent, Healthy, ALIVE and willing to BE a contribution to others.
To Live Richer, Enrich More Lives
In Natural Intelligence we learn more and more ways to enrich more and more lives, contribute and lead ourselves to new capacities and mastery. Instead of only being a “one-trick pony” in need of somebody else to be riding him to “perform” we learn to live full-spectrum
Learn to Live Richer, NATURALLY
Occasionally, I offer very small, live-in, affordable retreats for inspiring individuals who desire to develop their capacities to experience new, more vital, simple and rich roads to affluence in different parts of the world, to grow in THEIR capacity to recognize and create opportunities and to enrich others and, thus, themselves. I sometimes open my homes, workshops and laboratories of Living Wealth, around the world, for people who would like to gain skills to create Living Wealth, learn money-generating skills, learn languages and experience different cultures, while sharing, connecting and expressing their skills in collaboration, play and creation with others.
Wealth is Your Natural State. If You Are Not Living RICH, You are Living Unnaturally. LEARN Something!
This is how nature does wealth: in mutuality. Nature is not “conserving.” Notice how many apples an apple tree puts out: enough to feed the birds, the horses, the pigs, the passersby and a whole bunch more to rot on the ground and feed the soil.
The Zen road to affluence is not about how much we get but about how much we generate, care for, ENJOY and make live more abundantly. There is a tremendous gift to any living thing in ENJOYING it. Not “saving” it, not “improving” it, but simply ENJOYING, caring-for and nurturing.
How do you feel when someone ENJOYS you?
Look at life, the Qualities of Living Beings and the energy and thrill with which a bird, for example, sings or takes flight. Look at the expression of incredible, ancestral ALIVENESS that awaits your recognition in your mirror. Are you ENJOYING Being?
When we generate abundance, creativity and fun all around us we find ourselves living in a nucleus of abundant ENJOYMENT far surpassing what a person with lots of money has. We find ourselves enriched by having enriched everything around us.
“Survival” is no longer our frame. “Survival” is a form of misery that’s foreign to the Natural World. Only domesticated and denatured humans “survive,” and only when the wisdom of Aliveness, of generativity and of the seed has been lost to us.
When we awaken our perception of and relationship to the world in terms of the actual world and its living logic; when we re-examine the foregone conclusions about the world that 99% of the people around us would be in perfect agreement with, we discover that almost 99% of them are 180 degrees contrary to actual reality. The world is far more generous than our ideas of it.
On the Zen road to Affluence we rediscover the Wisdom of the Seed and of Seeding Living Wealth, in our bodies, in our relationships, in our world. We BECOME the Wealth that we desire to live in. We become generative, joyful, creative Artists in the Brilliant Celebration of Living. We re-embrace the Wisdom of Aliveness. We become the apprentices, celebrants, minstrels, gardeners and poets of Growing Vitality.
Wealth is a Quality of Being, not a Quantity of Stuff. All of the Stuff imaginable and existing in the World only requires our Being to connect with its Being. With Aliveness, we can ENJOY ALL of the STUFF that truly fulfills us. ALL of it. WAY more than if we dedicated our lives to having to own, store, dust off, keep stuff, and be possessed by IT. We ENJOY whatever we desire. Then we put it back into circulation, ready and open to enjoy other stuff, and MUCH, MUCH MORE, like people, and places and Living Beings, and the adventures of learning and growing and discovering our amazing universe. How many people exhaust their Aliveness trying to accumulate, instead of really enjoying themselves? How many of us Grow Our Aliveness and allow it to connect us to everything we truly ENJOY?
The Zen Road to Affluence is the Direct Road to Affluence. We don’t put a bunch of useless junk and detours in between ourselves, our Aliveness, and our Enjoyment of Life. EVERYTHING that we desire is already here on our planet. Everything desires to be ENJOYED, RECOGNIZED, APPRECIATED. We recognize ourselves as living in the midst of Infinity, not as some hip, catchy perspective, but as the challenge and invitation that Living Reality extends to each one of us to gain the mastery to connect directly with what Truly Enriches and Enlivens Us, to quit accepting substitutes, half-measures or poor approximations.
Which is Way-finding.