A review of Sacred Economics Author Charles Eisenstein with Integral New York
In deeply contemplating the ever increasing, ever more complicated and intertwining crises facing the world today, one can find a common thread: the financial system and the human species’ relationship to money. No matter what the problem, if one looks deeply to the root cause, it’s nearly always money. “What does a money system look like that no longer destroys, but instead heals nature, culture, and the human spirit?” asks Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics.
This was a rare chance to spend quality time in dialog with the emerging philosopher, writer, teacher and (I would say, he wouldn’t) economist. His book is fast becoming a guiding force in the Occupy Movement, or as it’s more widely known, The Global Awakening. Of the many speakers and gurus highlighting problems and offering solutions today, Eisenstein stands out for his ability to pull it all together and articulate root cause and realistic actionable steps toward rejuvenation. He is in a class all his own.
Charles (and I hope you don’t mind us all remaining on a first-name basis) speaks to the spiritual in a way that shows he has arrived there from deep trial and emerged with intuitive understanding of ageless wisdom. He speaks to our institutions and systems with scholarly depth, worthy of a Yale graduate, which he is. He weaves this insight and knowledge together offering an approach to solving the seemingly unsolvable inviting the listener to a new level of consciousness wherein things don’t seem so bad.
I felt good as soon as I arrived. The room was filling up and Charles was already there. In his tee-shirt and not-so-pressed khakis, he was leaning back in a chair at the front of the room, calm and monk-like, taking it all in. Gilles Herrada was the host for the evening and gave a fantastic introduction, which included a pronunciation of “Charles Eisenstein” in an elegant, liquid-French accent that made Charles smile from ear-to-ear. (My wife and I tried to imitate it the whole way home with little success….Shawls…Shaaawls Eye-shin-shteen. What fun! My Midwestern accent feels so inferior.)
The entire evening lasted just short of 2 1/2 hours and it was equal parts Charles speaking to the room and a Q & A.
Charles is on a book tour for Sacred Economics, but the talk, I think, encompassed all of his work and was not specific to the new book. If there is an over-arching context to his theme, it is this: we modern humans are living in a transitional time and, if there is a main theme, perhaps it is interdependence, inclusiveness and community.
I AM CURRENTLY Time magazine’s Person of the Year. I am a Protestor (aka an Occupier) I helped organize the NY event and spent the previous years prior to September 17th involved in many activities with similar sensibilities.
Only a few people know this and most that do could care less. Not many of my friends have asked me about my experience, which is fine and pretty much the way things roll here in Larchmont, NY. There are a lot of big celebrities and very accomplished people here. Plus, this is a land of finance people. Tim Geithner, to name but one.
But some have asked what Occupy is all about. Usually not in a nice way. The most common questions I get are: Why no demands? What do they want? This thing you call a movement is a leaderless mess that’s never going to matter. What’s the point? Why Wall Street, why not Washington?
I’ve answered in various ways but never concisely or in a cogent manner. But this past week I stumbled across a talk that I think can answer the questions in a way that folks around the here might understand a little better. It’s given by the wonderful philosopher and economist Charles Eisenstein speaking to a group in Vancouver. A mutual friend posted it on Facebook. Listen to the entire talk “Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition” if you like.
Charles is talking about a financial model that is not based on debt and hoarding, but a new model based (in part) on gift. A model that does not reward collecting assets, but rather giving away assets. He outlines a sustainable system based on balance, rather than the existing unsustainable system based on growth. In the last three minutes of this talk there is a wonderful and enlightening story. I’ll paraphrase…
Let’s say there is a company and they own an island covered in old growth forest. The company has a decision to make, they could log the island sustainably and make $1mm per year, or clear cut it, destroy the forest and make $100mm this year. Well, for a competent company that’s not much of a decision at all. Any rational CEO would clear cut the forest, invest the $100mm, even at 3% interest that is $3mm per year, rather than just the $1mm per year. Easy decision.
Ok. Say there is an awakened CEO and she decides to be sustainable and take the $1mm per year. Fine. But now a corporate raider comes. He marshals investors by showing the company is completely mismanaged and undervalued–the stock price does not represent the real value the company is sitting on. They buy out the company, cut down the forest and get rich. The only way the CEO can stop the take-over is to raise the stock price, and the only way to raise the stock price is to cut down the forest. That’s market discipline for you. It’s harsh.
Now let’s suppose you are CEO and absolute dictator of Earth. One day some ETs show up from another planet and say they’d like to buy Earth. “We’re going to make it worth your while. We have run the numbers and gross world profit this year is about $60 trillion dollars. How would you like $10 quadrillion dollars right now? It’s a good deal. The interest on that alone is way more than $60 trillion, you’re gonna be rich! We’re going to buy the planet from you, we’re going to pollute the atmosphere, were going to poison the oceans and level mountains. We are going to completely destroy the planet because we need the materials to build an amusement park on the other side of the galaxy.”
Would anyone say yes to this deal? No. That would be crazy.
Yet we are saying yes to this deal every day. With our current financial and corporate system we are slowly, and with intention and resolve, destroying the planet. This system of debt-based money will forever commodify and destroy the life systems we depend upon. We are watching it play out in real time. Almost imperceptibly, but ceaselessly and with quiet force and determination. …one oil leak, one felled tree, one chemical filled well, one new Big Pharm drug, one car, one cellphone at a time.
My wife and I were talking about this story the other night. And she said that when this unsustainable system comes to an end, some finance guy will just say, “Yes. You know what? You were right. It was a bad idea. I thought it would work, but I guess it didn’t.” Because that’s the way things go in the corporate world. Ride an idea to the end while it’s working and leave harmful consequences for some other, hopefully external, entity to handle down the line. Privatize the gain and socialize the loss. The most obvious and glaring example of this to me is Alan Greenspan saying he was wrong about all that low interest and deregulation. Years of economic policy that led so many to suffer (and a very few to prosper) and all he has to say is something akin to, “My bad. That’s on me.” No repercussion for Alan, hardly anyone even reported on it.
That’s what Occupy Wall Street is about. It’s about recognizing that our most powerful leaders are in the finance industry and most act in unskilled ways. They are disconnected to the heart and to ageless human wisdoms. There’s an absence of understanding and compassion that is endemic, and even celebrated in this culture. It’s a world that desires all of the bounty and frivolity of great privilege, without any of the weight and responsibility of great leadership. It’s sociopathic.
Many are waking up though–they no longer buy into this financial model with its complex jargon and math designed to obfuscate simple greed. They have looked deeply and understand a debt-based system–that will forever take assets from the periphery and bring them to the center–will fail and nobody will outmaneuver the karma. They see the human species needs to change this system of money or perish. So how can one change a system that is so entrenched?
Here’s how: Start asking those around you, “How can we do this?” Ask questions and listen deeply to answers. Organize around truths that are universal and benefit balance and harmony. Give credibility to change. And most importantly, within the halls of your company or on the sidewalks of our neighborhood, be courageous. Be willing to take real risks and change your relationship to your world. People are finding like-minded people and occupying the commons. We are supporting each other. It’s fun!
To occupy we just make the decision to begin walking a new path and work on building sustainable models to replace the out-dated infinite growth models. We just begin, that’s all. One breath. One little decision. And then give yourself a good pat on the back.
People say that I’m a dreamer. These changes can’t happen. But I say advocates of the current economic system are the true dreamers. I’m practical. I’m a realist. I’m not dreaming, I’m wide awake!
This transformation is happening whether we like it or not. We can be ahead of it and in control of it, or it can control us. And while I appreciate Time magazine’s recognition, they don’t quite get that we are not protesters, we are participants.
Occupy Love. There are so many ways to look at these words, a command, an invitation, a declaration, a new-age proclamation, a powerless platitude, a volition or a guiding mission statement….on and on…
In one obvious interpretation, and one I’ve heard mentioned more than once, it’s dualistic. If one occupies love then one must have a relationship to love identifying it as separate from them. By definition, one can’t occupy something unless it is another. Unless it’s a distinct and individual object. In an occupation of love one must objectify love in order to possess it.
But this global arising is broad, and a deeper meaning calls…
A gentle invitation is heard in the words Occupy Love. It is an invitation to come home to something that already exists within and without. Something that becomes available and knowable through skillful means; through deep looking and quiet contemplation we touch the universal love which is in and of all things. Indeed the very essence of all that can be known and unknown in the phenomenological and noumenal universe. In stopping, calming, accepting, in “being” more that “doing”, the heart begins to open. One touches the ultimate. One may find the love they set out to occupy was already right where they were. Always and eternally present occupying them. There was never two, just one.
Occupy love implies a journey. Not so much a traditional love story of seeking and finding, but a different kind of journey. One of coming into balance. Awakening to the truth that all one needs is available in the present. This awakening is happening all over the world, separately to individual people, and yet together. Individually and collectively.
Occupy Love is not a story of conquest and victory, but a story of attaining wisdom–of our collective humanity transforming from childhood to wise elder. When I touch this great love I see there is nowhere to go. There’s nothing to win. To live in equanimity one does not go out and achieve or win it. One breathes in awareness.
I used to think that enlightenment was something that happened to someone. The ancient mythology of the troubled man going up the mountain and coming back down with deep wisdom, grey hair, big grey eyebrows and wild eyes. A bright beam of light had parted the heavens, shone upon him and now he was God-like and lived in truth, kindness and wisdom. Something external became internal, and now he was enlightened. But now I see this word enlightenment not speaking so much to rays of light, but weight. Not darkness to light, but heaviness to light.
For example, I carry the weight of misunderstanding, ignorance, resentment, fear, anger, injustice and so on. These psychological states are a burden and I suffer under the tremendous weight of them. But when I become enlightened, there is a letting go. I put down these things. They still exist, there are still real energies that exist, I just come to understand they are not me and I no longer own them or occupy them. When this happens there is great space. It takes tremendous courage to live with this space. It’s scary.
However, in being okay with the apprehension, excitement and anxiety that initially come with this space, the heart of love becomes known – there within all along. One finds that love was always occupying them.
In occupying and being occupied by love, or becoming awakened to loving power, one can see all the material and spiritual world are infused with loving kindness, goodness and joy. One can deeply know the universality and harmony of all that is.
With this understanding one feels safe, confident, solid, fresh and reflects all that is wonderful and good in our nature.