Time isn’t money

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Man … sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.

— Dalai Lama

Nestled neatly in humanity’s journey of separation, embodying all that came before it and adding its own tart, intangible flavour, is money. Building on the illusion of linear time and the development of language, measurement and quantification – reducing unique, irreplaceable creatures and plants to just another word, just another number, and eroding “place-distinctiveness to [the homogeneity of] a global suburbia”(11) – money sits high enough up the chain to blind us to all that came before it. Nowhere is this more clear than in the relationship it forces us to have with time.

Money is little more than the consciousness of credit and debt made exact. If you owe money you’re partially stuck in the past, like it or not, and if you’ve stored some in a bank or under the mattress then you’re at least subconsciously thinking ahead into the future. If you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you’re not, then give every penny you have away right now and start to live day by day. Undoubtedly this is due to a need for security: we have been taught that to save is to provide a guarantee, a safety net for our future. What does this do to our sense of trust though?

Anthropological studies have shown time and time again that many tribal people, regardless of how much food they gather or successfully hunt, will never store food. Daniel Everett, a renowned linguist who has spent years amongst the Pirahã – a Brazilian tribe who have no concept of numerical systems, let alone money – writes in Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes(12) that when asked why they didn’t store any food, the Pirahã replied “I store meat in the belly of my brother”. Implicit in this is a deep trust in Nature to provide, and an acknowledgement in the interdependency of the community. The very odd day they go hungry, but mostly they feast. They never worry. From Everett’s accounts they are a much happier and more content people for it too, and understandably so: like an unconcerned child, wouldn’t you be happier assuming that tomorrow you will be provided for?

Contrast that with how we live in civilisation today, always worried about things from the past and planning ahead for the future, never being in the moment. How much of life do we miss out on because our minds are time travelling?

The concept of money plays a grossly underestimated role in our historically unrivalled inability to live in the present moment. It is not just anthropological studies which show a link between the use of money and a decreased sense of living for the day – my own limited experience taught me exactly the same. Counter-intuitively, and to my own surprise, I slowly began to worry less – not more – about everything after three to four months of living without money. Admittedly, in those first few months I worried much more, due in a large part to the fact that money had for so long provided me with a sense of security, and I was concerned that if I was hungry or got into a bit of bother I had zero to fall back on.

As the wheel of time slowly turned I found myself voluntarily surrendering to life and started living for the moment, something I had never done in the days when I was much more conscious of concepts such as credit and debt. Every day seemed to provide for me, and with that repeated experience you slowly stop worrying about the next day. Somewhere in your psyche you realise that it’ll all be fine, and that the worst that can happen to you is that you return to the whole, which is my understanding of what your true self is anyway. Orwell once said that “happiness only exists in acceptance”, and that has been my experience in life, and the experience of people like the Pirahã. Accept what life brings to you every day, regret nothing and don’t worry about the future. And have fun – none of it is that serious.