It’s August 2022, and I just transferred $11,600 from my savings account to my checking account. $10,200 of that was gifted to me in the last month. In a few days, my lenders will be cashing those checks and my student debt will go from $18K-ish to $6.6K.
I’m sighing a lot lately, and taking deep breaths. Even as I write this, I notice that I’m breathing deeply and intentionally. Would you take a deep breath with me?
While my debt is not yet gone as of August, it has been reduced to a number that feels manageable, one that I can pay off over the next 10 months! This is unimaginable. A miracle. I can barely believe that it is happening.
Another deep breath.
I am digesting the whirlwind I have been in for the last two years as I have been working with my student debt as a spiritual practice. If we want to go there, this is a story informed by decades of my life and my money stories. Whirlwind, dance, process, journey. You can call it what you want.
The only way I can describe it is sacred play.
I played with a sweet three-and-a half-year-old friend recently at a beautiful lake. I watched as my sweet friend would throw a rock and then raise her eyebrows in delight and then let a contagious giggle of joy burst forth. We observed the ripples as the rocks splashed into the waters. We even threw rocks at the same time and made “twin splashes” with them. She shivered everytime the cool water splashed her back. I say I played because I really was present to all the things she wanted me to do; I was open to all of the activities. We were fully enraptured by each other. It is such an intimate thing to play, really play with another. We threw rocks, stomped wildly on the abandoned lifeguard stand, dug waterways in the sand, and practiced blowing bubbles in the water. I’m learning how to play in so many places, re-learning how.
As I set out to write this, I did not have a spirit of play in me. Instead, I am metabolizing all the shifts that are happening in me. Shifts that can be illustrated by moving from $71,000 of student debt that I started with in May 2021 to $6,600 as of August 2022.
Say what? How did that happen?
First, I’ll tell you a few of the money stories I grew up with that I still work with today.
- Money is work. You work hard for money, and then if you work hard enough and are careful about spending it, you can enjoy it as you go.
- Having debt is a personal mess. If you made it, you clean it up.
- I would not be in debt if I had worked hard enough and had been careful spending what I earned.
- I must save money and have a lot of it in reserves because one never knows when one might need it.
Maybe you know these stories? I could write volumes about each of them. I was raised with a lot of carefulness around money. We did not have a lot of extra from the way my parents talked and lived. “That is expensive!” “Let’s order water” when eating out, etc. I’m grateful for the way they fastidiously lived within their means. It taught me a lot about responsibility and money management. In fact, I am one of the most resourceful people I know, much of which I owe to my parents. And the shadow side of this for me has been that “money is hard,” “there is rarely enough,” and in my core, I believe “I am on my own when it comes to my financial choices.” “No one is going to bail me out if I get in a tough spot.”
Or so I thought.
Since May 2021, I have received $30,300 in loan forgiveness through my private lenders–all friends and my parents. Stay tuned to read the story of how I invited 11 people to invest in my law school degree. Additionally, in July and August 2022, four friends have gifted me another $10,200 to pay off my student loans. Finally, I worked to pay off $23,900 getting me down to $6600. Though even some of that money I contributed was money that flowed in the form of gifts, from both friends or via the pandemic unemployment assistance program.
Let me be clear: I know that no one who offered me debt forgiveness or financial gifts this last year experienced these gestures as “bailing me out.”
I received support from my mentor to write a letter asking for debt forgiveness. I received support from a friend who asked me, “Why wouldn’t you invite us to support you in becoming debt-free?”
I asked and I received. I stood in my need. I listened to my inner groanings that demanded I ask for help vulnerably and boldly.
My debt was not a mess for anyone to come clean up.
The money that flowed to me was not work.
In fact, the last gift of $2,200 came from someone who I didn’t even ask for money. She heard about my goal and was so excited to be a part of that with me that she gave without asking.
As I relearn to play like my sweet little friend at the lake, I am also learning to play with money. I’m learning that money sometimes requires hard work and other times it does not. Sometimes money is easy. (Maybe a new conclusion I am forming is that there is no correlation between hard work and money.) I am learning that debt can feel really overwhelming, and it also can be an invitation to intimacy and connection with others. I am learning that my needs are not scary to everyone, even if they sometimes are scary to me. I am learning that it is okay to transfer the $11,600 to my checking account, leaving me with $5,306 in my savings account, because if I need help, I know I can ask for it.
What about the real world?
Okay so you are with me in my personal parable… and money in the real world isn’t a game. It is scarce. There are billions of people on this planet that need more than they currently have. As I mentioned earlier, student debt is at a record high right now: 43.5 million students have $1.757 trillion worth of federal loans. And there are millions of people that have way more than they need. Either side of that inequality is fraught with anxiety, stress, and constructive tension. We live in a world that is completely out of whack when it comes to resources. You see it, I see it. It does not take much effort to notice. (Read David Graeber’s Debt, A 10,000 Year History if you’d like to nerd out about how we got here).
Knowing all that I know about my own finances, the history of the world and the history of how such exorbitant amounts of money have accumulated in the United States, I still say money is play. Money has to be play. Playing with money–both our beliefs about money and our actual money–will get us beyond this devastating inequality, beyond these unbearable levels of trauma, stress, anxiety, and depression that wreak havoc on hearts and habitats everywhere in. It is the only thing that can.
Why do I know that to be true?
To be in a state of play, a state where play is possible, a person has to be outside of their trauma responses, their conditioning, and their reactivity. I am not in a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn state when I am playing. I am present, open, available to what is right in front of me, available to inspiration, available to reality. I am safe. When I earn and use money from that place, it can move in me and through me with so much ease, fun, and delight. There is true freedom in that place, for me and for all.
My friends played with me when they lent me money for law school. It was an intimate and sweet game. We kept playing as I asked to renegotiate my debt. The intimacy grew. I keep playing when I pay it forward to support other needs in my diverse community. They know the game continues in me and beyond. When money is flowing, it is joyful play. When it is not flowing, we must practice joyful play to un-dam the flow.
Turning back to you
Where do you sense an invitation to play with your money? Have you played with debt forgiveness before? What did it do to you to intimately meet someone’s need in this way? What impact did it have on the one whose debt was forgiving? I invite you to share your thoughts and comment below!