I’ve been sleeping outside recently, and I don’t know if it’s the stars talking to me, or the wisdom offered by this particular moment in the vast space we call time, but I’m beginning to grasp the absurdity of the value we place on money. Maybe the word “value” is what’s absurd. It calls into play a hierarchy that’s entirely human-created. Take the stars, for example. Not only do they not know they’re stars, but they have no preference for stardom. What surrounds them and consumes them isn’t of “value,” it’s just what surrounds and consumes them—and it’s not even that. In the words of the old Buddhist joke, language is the horse we ride. We forget we’re riding it. It sets us up for valuing one thing over another. It sets us up for seeing things as things.
Shells, turquoise, gold, tea. These have all been used as currency in the past. I can imagine a future, right around the corner, where the ability to walk, to see, to laugh are our new currency. A good memory, a torn grocery receipt, a leaf under the car. Equal value. Imagine that. A pig’s nose, a lump in a throat, a whip being whipped, a frown being frowned.
Like language, which deals in concepts, and replaces objects with the idea of objects, money separates us not only from our experience of the world, but from each other. Money has become an uber-concept, moving from copper, nickel, silver and paper, to plastic, to numbers in the air. Some people’s numbers have more value than others? They’re numbers in the air! 64 is of greater value than 63? I don’t understand it. What I understand is that two fish feed more people than one fish.
For a few years I lived in a farmhouse in Iowa. Like many old farmhouses, it was a winter haven for mice. They made their way in and out through the many holes in the walls. One evening I came home, stepped into the kitchen and turned on the light. Something over at the stove caught my eye. The front burner appeared to be moving on its own, a slow circling movement I had no context for and therefore no language. Without language, I was invited into the direct experience of what I saw. This, I believe, is the definition of mystery.
As I watched, I felt a kind of excitement that wasn’t burdened by anticipation or fear. It felt like a pure and very present experience of vibrant curiosity. It lasted only briefly, and then the moving burner revealed itself to be a large bull snake, uncoiling from the warm place it had hoped to spend the night. Thought, language, value returned immediately. Along with the snake, the energy of the moment was gone.
I’d like to suggest this: Every time you grab numbers out of the air in exchange for a thing, a purchase, an hour of labor, consider the real value involved, not the value assigned. That makes this world less about money and more about connection. Not just human connection, but the interplay of, simply put, everything.
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