Tuesday Q (No. 13)

Ever live in an ashram or other monastic type of household? How about a commune? What are your biggest lessons?

Ashram For more, take a peek at the novel.


Saturday hippie: Facial hair

Mustaches and beards were another flashpoint of rebellion. (So what was wrong with looking like Jesus? Or sex?)

It’s one more element of the Hippie Trails saga.

What do you remember most intensely? And where are you today?

Long hair~*~

Hippies came – and still come – in all varieties. Saturday Hippie is a weekly feature that highlights a counterculture awareness and spirit, including a vision of a harmonious global commonwealth on the horizon. The work and the lessons didn’t end in the ’60s and ’70s. Here’s to the Revolution, near and far.

Now, for some funny money of your own

Admittedly, it’s not important that you be able to identify and translate everything that appears on our currency. I’ve just been reminded that officially it’s “obverse” and “reverse,” instead of heads and tails, and we haven’t even said anything about rims, mint marks, designer’s initials, or date of manufacture — all those technical points of the craft. What is important, I think, is that you realize that many messages are compressed to fit into your pocket or pocketbook. As Sardello insists, money remembers.

Now that you know the ingredients for designing money, it’s time for a breather. Get out those markers, pens, or pencils again, as well as paper. (Go wild, and use large newsprint, if you want.) Go to town creating your own imaginary money.

For one workshop, I asked Jane Kaufmann to lead this part. She’s one of my favorite artists, and not just for her playful works; how many other artists do you know who would tell a gallery it’s charging too much for their pieces? What she did was bring wet clay slabs, each the size of a dollar bill, and set each of us loose with clay sculpting tools. She was right: it was more liberating than working on paper. Soon, everyone – from preteens to great-grandmothers – was busily in pursuit. Jane took all of the finished slabs home, fired and glazed them (in green, of course), and returned them for our own private art show. The range of results was both amusing and informative. One, for instance, invoked “Silas Says,” in honor of one of our older members, and, as I recall, “Keep it simple,” as the motto. My favorite, by a pet rabbit owner, had a bunny approaching, on one side, and hopping away, on the other, with the inscription, “It ain’t hay, you know.” I think someone else wrote “Never Enough” as the denomination. And so on.

It seems that government-issued currency is hopelessly bound to be serious. But ours isn’t! Our “funny-money” can be playful, even humorous, as is the case with “barter-bucks” being exchanged in some neighborhoods. (“This note represents one hour of time …”)

Our designs might consider an animal on one side and a plant on the reverse: a bee, a hen, ducks or geese, a turkey, various fish, a sow, cow, elk, moose, and horse, for starters. As for the flowers and grains and trees and berries …

If you’re doing this as part of a group with a longstanding identity, you might consider how to convey its traditions and values. For instance:

How would Presbyterian cash differ from Unitarian, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox?

Would Republican money differ from Democrat? How?

You may also find yourself asking if ecological matters have fallen away from the things cash remembers.

What lessons or messages do you want your currency to convey?

What values would you want to convey?

What color is your currency, anyway?

Go for it!

*   *   *

As often happens in our examination of money, just about the time you think you have it all together, something else pops up. After I’d undertaken the clay dollars exercise, my wife handed me a Whole Earth magazine, Spring 1998, dedicated to Soul & Money. Listen to Peter Lamborn Wilson: “The earliest coins were temple tokens, pilgrimage souvenirs, detachable bits of holy power, made of substances at once chthonic (underground) and celestial (sun/moon, gold/silver) – an exchange not between humans but between humans and spirits.” This goes way beyond heads and tails! But there’s more:

“As coinage is ‘secularized’ it already appears as debased, polluted with lesser metals, subject to ‘inflation.’ But inflation is breath, i.e., spirit. Money begins as half spirit half material, a doorway between worlds.”

Wilson even sees money as an “imaginal machine” and “banking appears as a kind of alchemy, making wealth out of credit, something out of nothing.” He describes the dollar bill as “a virtual crypto-text on the aethereal nature of money.” Look closely and you’ll see he’s suggesting that money is something more than dollars and cents.

Bet you never realized you had all that in your hand when you handed it over to the cashier!

Now, let’s see how they look at that funny money you just created …

*   *   *

Suggested further reading

  • Jack Weatherford’s The History of Money provides a fascinating examination of how our currency came to appear the way it does.
  • David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford University Press, 1989) investigates the values and customs that the four major British migrations brought to American shores. Comparing and contrasting the work ethics, elites, ownership, and possessions of different regions can be quite instructive – especially when you begin to perceive which outlooks you inherit from each strand, either directly or indirectly. These additional insights will prove helpful as our examination continues.

Saturday hippie: Bare feet, bare skin

Part of the hippie experience was a rediscovery – or should we say discovery? – of our own bodies, and especially their pleasures.

Going barefoot reconnected us to the earth. And soon we were exposing more skin – to the sun as well as our lovers.

It’s one more element of the Hippie Trails saga.

What do you remember most intensely? How did it all unfold in your journey?

Bare feet~*~

Hippies came – and still come – in all varieties. Saturday Hippie is a weekly feature that highlights a counterculture awareness and spirit, including a vision of a harmonious global commonwealth on the horizon. The work and the lessons didn’t end in the ’60s and ’70s. Here’s to the Revolution, near and far.

Human nature enters the equation

The fact that coins and bills and credit cards all have fronts and backs can lead you to examine the dual nature of humanity itself: each of us is both a physical person (our mortal animal) and an embodied spirit (thoughts, memories, and values, for starters). Heads and tails appear again, in new guise!

This physical/spiritual dichotomy generates conflict, and money – like sex, food, sports, or the arts – operates powerfully along their interface. Our greatest awareness and creativity occur at the intersection of these two realms: move too far into either one, and troubles ensue.

Here, too, is another strand of inquiry that might lead you far, linking past/future, emotion/intellect, mortal/eternal, or self/community dichotomies; perhaps the greater the span across these divisions, the greater the soul-making. Otto Rank, one of Freud’s leading disciples, developed a remarkable psychology based on the conflicts of this dual nature; his line of reasoning is summarized in Ernest Becker’s landmark The Denial of Death. In Rank’s view, religion becomes a rational linkage between the dual natures, as well as an essential moderator.

Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul, is also aware of this union: “In the medieval world, the job of counting money and keeping it secure was understood to be in the province of Saturn, god of depression, tightness, anality, and profound vision. … The way we fashion cash, checks, and bank accounts also shows the divine spark of Saturn in ordinary monetary transactions.”

When you scrutinize other forms of exchange, such as credit cards, which require your signature, what do you see? What’s in plain sight … and what’s hidden in that magnetic strip?

Is money nothing more than a promise, an elaborate system of IOUs? And if so, to what are you bound?

Or is money a word — a promise — that unleashes great power, somewhat akin to the voice of God in declaring the creation in Genesis?

With that as an example, what visions do we wish to bring forth ourselves, and how does money serve as our word? Our bond, as folks used to say?

Is cash simply “frozen labor” or ‘’frozen time,” storing up past efforts for future application?

Once again, you may discover how far cash wanders.

As one discussion group I was leading left a college classroom after raising some of these issues during a money workshop, a participant noticed a bulletin board awash in credit-card applications. “Get it now! Get the card that puts YOU in control!” The message stared us in the face. “It’s your life. Take charge of it.” Here we had as another example of simply opening our eyes.

Money messages are seemingly everywhere, luring you to selections that may not be for your own good. Are you seduced by the solutions they offer? “Life’s complicated enough. Make it simple,” one brochure boasted.

Comprehending the workings of money, however, allows you to see through concealed motives and the hidden costs – not all of them monetary – within these bold claims. You can rest assured: your simplicity will not be the same as the card company’s.

With these insights, we may finally see money working as a verb. It’s much more than dollars and cents, after all.