In the year 2000, Daniel Suelo decided to cut ties with modern life. He left the last of his money in a phone booth, walked into the desert, and began living off the land. He is not mentally ill or drug addicted, and may even be described as a sort of philosopher genius.
For the last twelve years, Suelo has been sleeping in caves, trees, and the occasional house of a friend. He eats only what he can find, foraging for edible plants, discarded scraps and even fresh road kill on occasion. And most importantly, he has no financial ties whatsoever. “I don’t use or accept money or conscious barter—don’t take food stamps or other government dole. My philosophy,” he says, “is to use only what is freely given or discarded.”
Daniel was raised in a traditional Christian household, graduated with a master's degree from the University of Colorado, and even considered becoming a doctor for a while. In 1987, after working as a lab technician, he joined the Peace Corps and was stationed at a medical clinic in the Andes Mountains. There, he watched a village enter the modern age, and as his patients transitioned from a life of subsistence farming to our modern form of consumerism, he says, “It looked like money was impoverishing them". This was the seed of an idea that would eventually grow into an entire spiritual doctrine.
By the year 1999, Suelo had moved into a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. And from there, he traveled to India, where he encountered the Sadhus. Having renounced all of their property and possessions, these Hindu holy men live through the charity of others. Meeting them inspired Daniel to make a radical change in his own life. “I wanted to be a Sadhu,” he says, “but what good would it do me to be a Sadhu in India? A true test of faith would be to return to one of the most materialistic, money-worshipping nations on earth and be a Sadhu there. To be a vagabond in America, a bum, and make an art of it--the idea enchanted me”.
So, in the autumn of 2000, Suelo vowed to leave behind the world of money, and all of the baggage associated with it. In his own words, “our true selves posses absolutely nothing, and when we realize this, we are completely free”. To this day, he has remained liberated of any and all financial burdens, with one very notable exception.
A year into his quest, the IRS sent a tax return to a commune where he was staying, and instead of throwing it away, he leased a Mercedes Benz and drove across the country, offering rides to bums and vagrants. Still, that one excursion aside, Suelo has taken very little from society, and gives back bountifully. Whenever he’s out foraging, he leaves a note for anyone who may happen upon his cave, inviting them to share any of the nuts, berries, books or treasures he has stashed within. He also volunteers at a women’s shelter and runs a free website from a public library.
As he says on his website, “lungs that possess air cannot breath”, and so he continually gives, and then gives even more. Reading his words, and knowing that he exists somewhere has inspired me, and it brings sincere joy into my heart. I hope that you'll feel the same and that we can all find a healthier balance in our own lives.
If you’d like to read some of his words, Daniel Suelo’s website can be found here: http://sites.google.com/site/livingwithoutmoney/.