In 2000, Daniel Suelo decided to give up all of his possessions and move into a cave in the Utah wilderness. He simply walked into a phone booth, pulled out 30 bucks, and left it (and his life) behind. Twelve years later, he still doesn’t have a driver’s license, bank account, modern home, or take any financial support from friends or federal welfare. He lives in the canyon lands outside of Moab, Utah, and to survive he harvests wild foods, eats roadkill, and dumpster dives.
What makes him different from any other homeless person? Well, according to Daniel his way of life is a conscious choice, a form of spiritual activism.
Here’s a statement from his blog (yes, he blogs):
“My philosophy is to use only what is freely given or discarded, what is already present, and already running (whether or not I existed). I don’t see money as evil or good: how can illusion be evil or good? Attachment to illusion makes you illusion, makes you not real. Attachment to illusion is called idolatry, called addiction. I simply got tired of acknowledging as real this most common world-wide belief called money! I simply got tired of being unreal.”
Call me naive, but I find stories like Daniel’s absolutely fascinating. Several months ago I moved to Venice, California… a city that is home to many who are homeless by choice, or at least that’s the story they tell me. Venice is a place where the boundaries that usually separate the castes of society — the rich from the poor, the artists from executives — aren’t so clearcut. I talk to a lot of homeless people. John and Nancy use their food stamps at the Whole Foods by my house. A group of sometimes rowdy teenagers sleep just a few paces from the door to my yoga studio. They’re my neighbors, after all.
Yes, I’m one of those people. A girl who stops on the Boardwalk to chat it up with the “struggling artists” on my morning walk. I love to hear people’s stories. I feel drawn to the people society has cast off as crazy, lazy, or simply just mentally ill. Perhaps they are all of those things… perhaps they’re not. It doesn’t matter to me. Everyone has a story to tell.
This is Daniel’s story:
I don’t agree with Daniel’s philosophy. I don’t think the best method to solve our economic, social, and political crises is to withdraw from “the system” (whatever that means) altogether. I think there are innumerable actions we can take from within our current paradigm, starting and perhaps most importantly with how we spend our money. That said, I think Daniel’s story — and those I hear from the artists I meet on the boardwalk — present an interesting question:
Is homelessness ever a choice? And by choice, I mean a conscious decision made by a person not struggling with mental illness or a lack of resources? Is homelessness a problem to be solved? Or a circumstance to be better understood?
What do you think?