For the last five years Nicolas Parrain has been living without money. This choice led him from a life of bartending and chemistry research to laboring on farms, planting seeds, building infrastructures, and promoting the benefits of compost piles. Sensa Nostra speaks to him from his current location on a cow farm in the French countryside about the impacts of a money culture, and how to thrive both with and without desire.
Love is the biggest impact directly coming from not using money. Without money you can touch everyone directly as family, as a life partner. I don’t have any more the relation of customer-seller, with all the coldness that brings. I am not saying that you are not seeking love in life because you use money. But you can’t just be selling something, that won’t have an impact.
I knew I didn’t want to be a consumer anymore, and I did not want to participate in the capitalist economy. I sometimes explain capitalism with this example: ” We all play a soccer game, and at the end we have a glass of water, enough for one sip per person. So we all drink one sip of it. Now, capitalism says that tomorrow you should take more than yesterday. So the following day, minimum one of us, one of the game partners, won’t have anything to drink.”
Pretty simple, but this explanation worked well enough for me.
A gift economy is the economy that everyone is using when they give a present without expecting anything back, or receive a gift with love. It took me some time to come to that understanding. But during the Occupy Movement, coming out of Wall Street, I met people from Oakland, CA, and we talked about the possibility of living only like that, on the terms of a gift economy. During Occupy we would provide anyone food, a place to sleep, and community. So it was a good occasion to start.
I am sometimes asked if I still practice exchange or trade. I do exchange smiles and parts of life with everyone. Of course, when two people receive gifts from each other, this could be perceived as a trade or an exchange. Perception is reality, don’t you think? At the same time, this idea is very different than the gift economy, where we really do give what we have to people who need it, without thinking of the return.
Without money, there is an absolute impossibility of getting anything material that is not given to you, so I have had to learn how to not want and be fully content. The biggest challenge is that many nations have financial requirements. Sometimes, it becomes an obligation to use money: if you want to travel, you will need visas and passports, which have a cost. When I wanted to get a passport, they asked me my cell phone number. I told them I didn’t have one, but the computer system would not accept this. Some bars or restaurants do not accept the fact that going out with people is mostly a social act, and they refuse you if you don’t consume. In most cases, good communication can pull you out of those difficult situations, and the benefits of not using money are so strong that they make those difficulties negligible.
When you don’t use money you have a different kind of freedom. You are never obligated to anything—except maybe to yourself. Another really big impact is that you receive only what the universe wants you to, and you become really aware of your desires.
A gift can be many things. One time I was gifted a trip to Peru. Another time, while hitchhiking, I was gifted some crack from a truck driver. Many times I was not gifted anything at all, which means I did not eat for some days. While this was challenging, his is what really taught me that eating is a pleasure, not necessary in the way we might believe. Without money everything becomes a meditation.
When you don’t use money you can’t say, “Tomorrow I want to go here.” Okay, maybe you can say it, but you cannot always make it happen. Without money, you cannot just buy a bus ticket. This means sometimes you end up waiting by the side of the road for quite a long time. While it can be frustrating, these are the moments that allow me to connect the most with people—just having this time and no real destination.
I don’t say how I live when I first meet people, only if they really want to sell something. But then comes curiosity, even empathy. Most of the time when I meet people, we have long discussions on life. I try to minimize my words and often answer with questions. If not, it would became really tiring listening to myself, and would be a monologue instead of a dialogue.
I travel often. Sometimes I stop in a place when I see a possibility for me to share and work with someone. After living together, these people became family. Living in a community taught me about unconditional love. It taught me that nature is what I need to feel alive. Sharing is loving, and everyone is crazy. Accept who they are and you will love them. With what I do, offering my body’s energy, I don’t need money… doing is giving, so I don’t ask myself what can I give, but what can I do?
Physical work is often perceived to have bad connotations or associated with pain. I consider work to be acting, doing, and creating. It is my cooking process, and the feeling of accomplishment when I finish a task is like eating dinner.
The last time I asked to be paid was from University of Davis, California, as a chemistry researcher. I did studies, and worked to pay for them and for my life. I lived years in different cities with a partner. I was never really afraid of money; I was rather confident with it, knowing the cost of life.
Chemistry is, for me, more a way of seeing the universe than a profession. Chemistry is everywhere and we all are constantly doing it. Now I am more into the philosophy of chemistry. For example, what is the implication of modifying molecular structures? What is the need of this knowledge? We are already forcing molecules to interact with each other, with most of the time poor yields and lots of waste, without understanding them. Almost appears as slavery. Maybe magic is the full communion… Maybe dreams.
Value is the agreement of people on the importance of something that can be compared to an already valued material on a sentimental and sensible scale. Our goal in valuing things is probably to bring some more comfort in our lives by making trade easier.
Some people take ‘making money’ as their primary goal in life, and forget to celebrate every day. Some people obtain a lot of money to give an impression of power, and I suppose that this power is quite addictive. Would I blame them? I am addicted to the power of my liberty, and to the pleasurable life.
I think we all are here to enjoy. Choose your addiction carefully, and don’t forget money is just an energy like any other. At the end, your personal self will not matter; only the happiness of all of us matters. I am working on seeing as a gift everything that comes to me, and seeing what I give as something invaluable. Because love is not something you can put a value on.
We are at a time where we all need proofs. But we are all unique. No one can deny the influence of what they encounter. I believe in life, I deeply trust it.
Parents are the guideline of our life. If mine were different, then I would be also. My family wanted to first understand the choice I made to not use money, and then waited to see my actions. Now they respect me. They are understanding people, without taboos, and I deeply respect them for that. They totally support my lifestyle and encourage me in my process. In the past, they helped me, but they do not support me financially anymore. I never had problems making money and still would be good at it.
Union is my greatest pleasure: union with who I am, with someone else, and with the universe. The union of all humankind is a beautiful dream. I take great pleasure from rediscovering the infinite possibilities of life and feeling accomplished when I close my eyes at night.
I don’t really miss anything, because everything in my presence today is a gift of the universe. I keep loving all that has created me, but I work on detaching myself from the past or the future.
People often ask me what I see for my future. I can tell that, right now, the future is worrying a lot of people. It is expected from everyone that we should know what our future will hold. We are at a time of plan-ification, where all you do is planning for tomorrow, forgetting to appreciate the present moment. I find it quite sad. The future is to me unstable, I have no idea of what it will be except that it will be great.
The question I often ask instead of, “What are your plans?” is, “What is your dream?” I believe that keeping a dream in mind and walking towards it to finally reach it is the best I can do. My present, growing dream, would be to create a community somewhere where people can leave simply: all generations mixed together, with the goal of cultivating diversity.
Money appears in some hearts as a fear. I keep on rocking without it mostly for that reason. Don’t be scared of anything, look how great everything is…
It’s all about developing connection.