Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sacred Economics 101

by Chris Lindstrom, reposted from

It might be said that the proverbial emergence of humanity, in the form of Adam and Eve within the Garden of Eden, was, in fact, the emergence of the self-aware human being. By ‘self-aware’, I do not mean in the sense where someone is feeling insecure or out of touch, but someone who is connected to the source of one’s own being, both within one’s own consciousness and also permeating throughout all of nature, the cosmos, the totality of physical and non-physical existence. This primordial enlightening occurred thousands of years ago. The cultures, knowledges and ways of life assumed by these ancestors has been past down to the remnant of indigenous cultures and tribes scattered across the earth. But in modern ‘civilized’ times, these people are dismissed as primitive charlatans; naive savages, who, unable to come to terms with the perilous forces they were confronted by in the wilderness, projected imaginary visions of supernatural beings into the world. Because they did not have the faculties of reason to understand the world around them, or to accept what they didn’t know, these supernatural beings were the result of make-believe stories and myths to satisfy their desire for meaning. However, there is much evidence that there is another side to it. These peoples were, in fact, communing with the deepest depths of their own consciousness — a consciousness that was intimately one with the rest of Creation. They were adept at willingly entering states of consciousness that gave them access to another reality, an alternate reality, yet one that was inseparable from the one of waking consciousness. The Aborigines call this state ‘Dream Time’, because it was literally connecting with the same lucid state that we often encounter in our dreams, where we are connected with a myriad of characters and visions. For these ancient people, it was Sacred knowledge. It gave them, not just faith, but an experiential connection with what may be called the spiritual forces animating the physical cosmos. With this direct experience of a transcendental force, behind the veil of space and time, comes a profound respect for nature and the awesome and mysterious powers, rhythms, and patterns that sculpt its perpetual transformation.

In the world of modern cities, a whole other side of our consciousness reigns supreme. The shamanic and revelatory consciousness has warped into a new perverse form — the religion of Economics. Yet, conventional economics has a fundamental error: it has narrowed our relationship to nature from one being based on a primary respect and recognition to the integration and interdependence of living systems, to a sense that we are somehow disconnected from this rudimentary fountain of life, and that it exists solely to fulfill our unquenchable thirst for material pleasure and our personal pursuits for power and prestige. So, the modern economic system is designed to do just that. It is the proverbial ‘Ring of Power,’ placing God-like abilities to dominate nature and other human beings into the hands of a relatively small group of unspeakably immature and irresponsible individuals. It is unapologetically biased towards the dominance of private finance over all aspects of the economy, the rest of humanity, and of nature in general.

If economics is the religion, then money is the god. After all, what is money but an unholy faith? It puts trust in a system that fundamentally erodes the livelihood of those who are not strong or clever enough to compete, erodes the very ecological system that we depend on for our ultimate survival? Nearly all religions and spiritual traditions bear warnings to humanity. The greater we exercise our powers of creation upon the earth, we must, at the very least, assume a much greater respect and reverence for the cosmic and unknown forces at work. Buried in scriptures and mythologies is an awareness of humanity’s fated, perilous clash with the God of nature — a recognition that should we open up the Pandora’s box of money, capital and economic growth upon the world, we would be fatally undoing the natural balance of things. Yet, whether you believe in religious prophesies or not, our times are wrought with looming catastrophes of apocalyptic proportions: global warming, mass species extinction and species loss, peak oil, global warfare, financial meltdowns. What’s more, they all appear to be moving toward a common, imminent convergence point.

In the face of these disturbing truths, our only hope is to radically transform the systems that are largely responsible for this destruction. Even more importantly, we must transform the elements in ourselves that bind us to the unholy will of global corporatism, militarism and private finance. This economic transformation can be synthesized by creating a new economic practice: the practice of sacred economics.

This new discipline is the inclusion of knowledge and respect of the sacredness of all living beings, of all life, directly into our economic institutions. The means for measuring and valuing wealth must also be designed to account for the health of the environment that we live in, as well as the collective wealth and vitality of communities. Of course, it is essentially impossible to quantify all of these values in numerical terms. Nor is it essentially necessary to account for their transfer. Nature provided for all life forms without the written means of accounting for the exchange of energy. People can live with this in mind. Those who have discovered the art of ‘paying it forward’ have shown that magical transformations can occur in a person, when they awaken to the power and possibility of giving (see groups like

Here are a few principles of sacred economics. It is a concept and practice I am still evolving, and I would love your feedback on it.

Giving and Receiving

Life is a constant act of giving and receiving. In order for life to thrive, energy must circulate. It is a general principle that in any system the energy that goes out of that system must be replenished. This is true for our breath when we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and it is true when we consume food and drink and expel human waste. This ecological reciprocity is key to life. In nature, every bit of waste becomes the food of another organism. In our rape and pillage economy, we have overloaded the environment with wastes that it cannot use, so they become toxic and destructive. And so it must be with money, if indeed, money remains a part of human society. Money must be made to account in some way or another for the generosity of the sun, the air, the waters. It must be real reflection of nature, and it must be sure that all things that we extract from nature go back in a way that nature can assimilate in a life-sustaining way.


Chief Seattle said in a famous speech, “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?” This principle is shared amongst all indigenous peoples and is central to an economics of the sacred. Putting land, or the rights to land, in the marketplace creates a cultural disconnection from nature, because people become preoccupied with an artificiallyprescribed monetary value, rather than understanding that land’s real value cannot be measured, only experienced by relating to it with gratitude and reverence. ‘Property-fication’ also forces us to relate to land in terms of ‘plots’ and artificially created borders, thereby negating the natural seamless-ness and interconnectedness of ecology.


Information is only scarce, when people make it scarce. If I have knowledge, sharing it does not deprive me of it; it only makes everyone better off. Unfortunately, the modern education system operates on the opposite principle: putting a price on knowledge, so only a few can access it, thereby keeping it scarce. Part of Sacred Economics will be dismantling this scarcity of learning in our lives. It will mean breaking out of the monopoly of schooling, and instead exploring and creating a myriad of learning spaces to connect to the passions, dreams, needs, questions, of each person and community.


Sacred Economics cannot have interest as the principle means by which money is created. Very few people know this, but the fact is, all money is created as interest-bearing debt. This creates a fundamental burden on society to work under stress, to keep ahead of the compounding of compound interest. If you think about it, the mathematics of interest dictate that those who have more money earn greater profits on their money than those with less. This very simple yet profound reality is at the core of our social woes. Nearly all religions have in them some prohibition against usury. Islamic countries, in fact, have instituted this prohibition into their laws. Yet, these warnings have been completely ignored in western society. The recent financial bubble bursts are simply what is destined to happen when we base our system on usury. The bubbles of debt, financial speculation, and real estate grow so big that they overwhelm the physical economy, essentially eating away at it, just like cancer depletes the life force of the body until it collapses completely.


The modern economy is very good at making people feel separate and alone. By creating an intrinsic wealth gap into the system, it tends to build resentment and depression into the minds of those who have less, and it creates a fear of that resentment in the minds of those with excess wealth. It also compels people to exploit the land, so as to get ahead in the market. The result is social and ecological alienation and degradation. This way of being is illusory and pathological. Einstein once said,

“A human being is a part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. And yet we experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical illusion of our consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature.”

I believe that this task is the only thing that will allow human beings to continue living on this earth. To be here, to be alive, is a blessing that needs to be appreciated through the way we interact with one another, by bringing forth generosity and love, consciously, into all dimensions of life. Dismantling the systems of domination that perpetuate the illusion of separation, most notably, the neo-liberal system of economics, but also religion and politics, is the most important step in the liberation of humanity.

However, this cannot be done by any activities that oppose the system. We must do it through dis-engaging from it. We can do this gradually by creating new systems, new social organisms, that, like the emergence of a butterfly out of a caterpillar, will feed off of the energy, resources and knowledge generated by the old system. Once this process begins, it will be unstoppable. I believe that it has, indeed, already begun.

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