Daniel James Shellabarger, now known as Suelo, has been living without money since 2000. He was born in Denver and lives part-time in a cave near Moab, Utah. He proves that it’s not only possible to live without money, but in his opinion, doing so is the zenith of human achievement. While closing to the world may appear to be opening to hardship, Suelo is clearly a joyous individual who lives each day in the present moment, filled with gratitude and without expectation. Here are some excerpts from his website Living Without Money:
Why do you live without money?
This is the only way I know to live with a clear conscience. The reasons are many.
Actually, you and I and everybody lived moneyless, without consciousness of credit and debt, when we were born. Our true selves already live moneyless. The rest is bogus illusion. All creatures, all the universe, outside the walls of commercial civilization live moneyless. That’s why nature, outside civilization’s constricts, is perfectly balanced.
Mixed with my kid instincts, I grew up in an evangelical Christian home. I took my religion seriously, but I started wondering why professed Christians rarely follow the teachings of Jesus—namely the Sermon on the Mount, giving up possessions, freely giving and freely taking, expecting nothing in return, forgiving all debts, owing nobody a thing, living beyond payback of either evil-for-evil or good-for-good, living and walking without guilt, without grudge, without judgment, living by grace.
As I grew older, opening up my mind, I started learning that these principles of Christianity are the principles of every religion—Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Mormonism, Shamanism, Paganism, etc. No religion has a monopoly on truth. The core principles of the world’s religions are the very principles of Nature.
I had lived in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, and decided I was sick of the rat race. So I gave up my job and moved to Moab, Utah. I eventually realized the only way to overcome depression was to simplify my thoughts, let them go. This is Buddhism 101, the inevitable result of anybody wanting to heal. And then I realized my stuff was also my thoughts.
As I let go of useless thoughts, I let go of useless possessions. And as I let go of useless possessions, I found that I needed less and less. It was not an effort, but more like a tree dropping its leaves or seeds. And with my possessions—possessions of thoughts and stuff and people—flew away my depression.
Every time I made a resume for a job, signed my name to a document, opened a bank account, or even bought a banana at the supermarket, I felt a tinge of dishonesty, like I was not letting my yes be yes and my no be no.
It’s just plain fun… seriously
I became fascinated with Hindu Sadhus, who wander in India without money and possessions. I wanted to become one. A couple years after my Alaska odyssey, I went to India with a close friend, Michael. Actually, since we’d gotten killer-deal tickets to Thailand, we went to Thailand first. There I ran into a Buddhist monk named Sumetho and was whisked away to a Buddhist monastery in northern Thailand, outside Chiang Mai. It was a life-changing experience. Then I hooked up with Michael again and we hopped over to India.
After wandering in India for a couple months, I ended up at McLeod Ganj, near Dharamsala, where Tibetan refugees are. The Dalai Lama happened to be there, and I got to hear his talks for a week. One day he turned to us westerners. He said he thought it was admirable that people come from all lands to explore Tibetan Buddhism, but he emphasized that truth is found in every religion, and perhaps only a few could find fulfillment in another faith. He recommended that everybody go back to where they were planted, rather than trying to find greener grass on the other side of the fence. This cinched it for me. What good would it do for 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, to return to the authentically profound principles of spirituality hidden beneath our own religion of hypocrisy, and be a sadhu there. This idea exhilarated me. I can be a sadhu in America, I thought. To be a vagabond, a bum, and make an art of it—this idea enchanted me. The idea of it was just plain fun. So months later, over nine years ago, that’s what I did.
Do you think money is evil?
No. Money is illusion. Illusion is neither good nor evil. Attachment to illusion is evil. Few will even question what money really is, because it is so pervasive, like air. Yet, unlike air, money does not exist outside the mind—unless we go into deeper Buddhist philosophy, which points out that all things arise from mind.
What if we saw gold for what it is? Gold is pretty, but virtually useless, but somebody decided it had inflated worth, and everybody decided to believe this decision. Natives in North America thought Europeans were utterly insane because of their lust for such a useless yellow substance.
Imagine if we spent as much of our wealth and energy on living beings as we do on guarding and revering gold bars at Fort Knox, gold bars which do nothing, gold bars which don’t hear, don’t see, don’t smell, don’t taste and don’t speak, and which provide neither food nor clothing nor shelter nor warmth to a single living being! Our real selves live without money, always have, and always will.
What do you do for food?
It’s best if you don’t think about where or how your food will come. It can be totally different for different people. The secret is in not knowing where or how your food will come, and never putting your trust in a single source, which could fail tomorrow. It is simply about having faith, and letting what you need come automatically.
I freely take what is freely given, with no obligation on either side. I forage for wild, feral, and domestic edibles. I also freely rely on human generosity. I live on waste: dumpster diving, trash can fishing, table-surfing, and sometimes asking people and food-service institutions for extras and throw-aways. I don’t ask people to give me what they don’t intend to throw out. I also eat road-kill, if it is fresh, of course. I’ve eaten squirrel, raccoon, rabbit, and deer, so far. I’ve also hunted and eaten ants, grubs, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, lizards, snakes, fish, pigeons and ducks.
Wild and orchard fruits and plants
When I’m living near Moab in the Utah desert, I eat lots of wild plants. Plants of the mustard family are almost always edible and found year-round, not only in Moab, but around the U.S. Watercress is a mustard and plentiful in Utah streams. Then there is globe mallow, with edible leaves even in winter. It is related to an edible mallow that grows in towns all over the U.S. Many parts of cattail are edible, though only in warmer seasons. Evergreen needles of all kinds are high in vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals and make delicious tea, which I’m constantly drinking. Even high in the mountains you don’t have to worry about vitamin deficiencies if you think to drink delicious pine and cedar teas. I often eat prickly pear cactus pads, raw, through the winter, and prickly pear fruits in the summer. Juniper berries are good for flavouring when green, roasting for a coffee substitute, and are good eating straight when ripe. Wild onions are a winter and early spring treat.
In town I gather fruits and nuts from orchards and wild trees: mulberry, apple, peach, apricot, plum, almond, walnuts, cherry, grape and rose-hip. Miniature crab apples are delicious in the winter after they have frozen and dried a bit. Honey locus beans can be a main staple sustaining you all year long—the beans can be eaten raw when green, and when dry must be cooked for a couple hours, like pintos. They are a bit slimy, but high in protein.
Road-kill and other animal protein
I’ve eaten squirrel, raccoon, rabbit, and deer, so far, and hunted and eaten ants, grubs, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, lizards, snakes, fish, pigeon and ducks. I can’t in good conscience kill animals to eat them if I don’t need to, when there is so much meat thrown away in dumpsters. It is the ultimate in waste and disrespect when animals live their lives confined in cages, only to be killed and thrown into dumpsters by the tons every day. It is criminal not only for the animals’ sake, but also because millions of humans on earth are starving.
What do you do for shelter?
In the desert
My primary home is a cave in the desert canyon near Moab, Utah. The latest cave I’ve been staying in is about 5’ wide by 5’ tall inside and 15’ deep. It has a tear-drop shaped opening, part of a crevice in a cliff wall. I cover it with plastic in the winter and it stays fairly warm even without fire. I built a little wood heating and cooking stove out of a large tin, with connected cans as a flue, which takes the smoke out a small hole above the entrance. Just a couple small sticks will cook a meal and make the cave warm. The cave is very hard to find and doesn’t even look like a cave even when you’re close by. The entrance is south-facing, high on a ledge, meaning it gets sun most days in the winter. I can sunbathe naked up there in the dead of winter while the temperatures are frigid in the canyon below as well as in town!
I also usually have a camp or two around town or on the outskirts of town, a place to crash when I’m feeling lazy or can’t make it up the canyon at night. In these camps I shelter myself with tarps or abandoned tents that I find.
On the Road
When I’m on the road I camp in random places, including in groves of trees, prairies, farm fields, sheds and abandoned houses. In cities I’ve slept in open spaces, parks, on roofs and abandoned buildings. I usually carry a tarp and sleeping bag with me when travelling, but I’ve ventured out without tarps or sleeping bags or blankets and have always found everything I needed, like large pieces of plastic or tarps from construction dumpsters. Several times I have travelled with a hammock. I can hang a hammock between trees where the ground is not level or wet and I often hang hammocks high in trees in parks. Strangers have also offered me a place in their homes. Whether I’ve gone out with a lot or nothing, I’ve never found myself without shelter and bedding.
What do you do if someone buys you things or gives you money?
People buying me things
I prefer that people give me what is already at hand in the present moment. Sometimes I let people buy me things. They dearly want to give and just their freely giving is a release from the system of credit and debt. The spirit of generosity supersedes all. But I’m liking it less and less to have things bought for me as it causes too much confusion. If something is not available in the present moment, then I surely don’t need it or want it.
People giving me money
I often try to tell people that I don’t take or use money before they try to give me anything. If they then try to give me money, I refuse it and tell them again, “I am not joking, I really don’t take or use money” and I thank them for their intention. If they don’t know I live moneyless and they give me money, I often take it and then leave it some random place, at least within 24 hours. This way I am accepting people’s generosity but not their money, and everybody is happy, including a third-party stranger who finds that random money. Once in a while I pass it on to somebody I encounter who might need it. Give to everyone who asks.
What do you do if you find money?
I usually leave it right there. It’s an exercise to see everything as it is, not filtered through the mind of belief. If my eye lusts after a dollar bill on the ground, then my mind is still not the infant’s mind. The infant mind sees everything as it is. The infant mind is the Zen mind. One time I found a $20 bill and decided to play with it in this way—I cut it up and made a collage out of it. Bills are works of art—but only a rare few see them as such.
What if I want to be free of money? Where do I begin?
Giving up money is like giving up drugs—it can hurt you if you go cold turkey, and it might get you even more discouraged and disillusioned than before. It’s not like everything magically becomes easy and blissful. It can be a magical transformation, however, if you first have a spiritual base, if you first have even a desire for a spiritual base.
Money is an addiction, and giving up addictions isn’t the complete answer. Often one who tries to give up an addiction usually replaces it with other addictions. You might give up alcohol and then turn to eating massive amounts of sugar or becoming a control freak. Why? Because the problem isn’t the addictive substance, the problem is your emptiness inside. If you have no emptiness inside, you aren’t going to want more stuff. You will be content exactly with what you have, here and now.
The world thinks I’m totally wacko living like I do. They don’t see the pearl. Love is the pearl of great price. Find love and the rest will fall into place.