About 5 years ago, when I decided to give up on teaching math, I took a vow of poverty. Not formally, just as a resolve. That seems weird now, as my next tax return will declare me one of the better earning people in The Netherlands.
I don’t really remember what I meant by that vow any more. Perhaps I meant that money would be less important than studying religion and spirituality and thinking about life. Perhaps it meant that I would not let my lack of funds bother me.
Now that worldly success has definitely come – though the internet is the kind of place where one can never be sure it stays – I find myself remembering the determination I had as a 19 year old NOT to go into ‘religious studies’. I wanted to do something practical. I wanted to live in the world, contribute something useful. Having a scientist as a father had it’s roundabout effect, I suppose, even though at 19 I could not really imagine a life in which I was NOT a scientist. Weird what a 19 year old can imagine about her life. Looking back it’s also clear I was more definite about what I did NOT want, than about what I did want to be or do.
Looking back on the long roundabout road I took to where I am today, 19 years later, I see that I was very determined to take care of myself. It took a lot of failed experiments for me to cut the cord of expecting myself to take some job and to choose instead the insecurity of running my own business.
On my father’s 67th birthday yesterday I toasted ‘being richer than most’ to my family. My spiritually inclined artist younger brother frowned at me. What are we celebrating? Just that you’re making lots of money? Yes. Just that I’m making more money than I need.
He lives in a squatted school – legally squatted, which is possible in The Netherlands. He is nearly finished studying Mime and will start a life with his wife this summer based on the ‘most stay nearly destitute’ economics of being an artist.
He’s my financial conscience, I guess. He lives what part of me expected to end up as when I decided to take that vow of poverty. He’s also 7 years younger than I am. That’s the part that’s always hard to remember about younger siblings.
However, I honestly rejoice in having enough money to contemplate buying a house. Part of me is capable of relaxing a bit more, knowing that I make enough not merely to make ends meet – I always made ends meet somehow – but to buy a dress on a whim as well.
In an old Tricycle Magazine from 2004 I read an article by Noelle Oxenhandler, a babyboomer about how there are two kinds of baby boomers: the kind that stuck to their principles without worrying about money and the kind that ended up rich and successful, re-discovering spirituality in their 60s.
In a way I am both. I started studying religion and spirituality at 19 and never stopped. But I also started meditating (on a cushion) somewhat seriously only when I made enough money to not have to worry about it any more.