Since we announced our new Soul Tribe subscription service yesterday, we’ve received some feedback via email and on Facebook asking the question, “How is it ethical to charge money for Soul Tribe? Isn’t it everyone’s birthright to be part of a Soul Tribe? How dare you exploit people’s loneliness and commoditize community? Doesn’t community require diversity, and doesn’t charging money limit diversity?” One woman said, “If you want to build a community where I share my expertise, then you need to square why your contributions are remunerated and mine are not.” These are completely valid questions—many of them without clear answers—and I want to honor them by responding to you all. Because I HEAR YOU, and I care. And trust me, this is something my team has been pondering for four years, so this is not something we have been cavalier about.
Not to deflect very potent questions, but let’s pull away from this particular Soul Tribe example and take an eagle’s eye view for a moment. Many things in our culture should be free and are not. I should not be paying $1500/month for health insurance that wouldn’t even cover a surgery consult when I was attacked by a pit bull. Health care should be a right, not a privilege enjoyed by the rich. As a doctor who was working inside the sick health care system, I should not have had to see 40 patients a day, giving me only 7 ½ minutes with a patient. I should not have had to pay $120,000 to cover my “malpractice tail” in order to escape the sick system. I should not have had to charge people $400/hour outside the system in order to be able to cover my overhead enough to prioritize time with my patients, so I could spend an hour with someone who was sick. Every sick human deserves to have their needs for love, time, attention, and healing met without concerns about money.
Health care should be free. So should friendship, mentoring, love, and guidance. Friendship and mentoring should be a gift of reciprocal care, a sacred contract between two healthy people who love and nurture and care for each other as equals and mutually benefit from the giving and receiving. Yet people are so lonely and so disconnected from intimate contact with those who carry wisdom that they pay to see therapists and hire “life coaches” to give them what people in your Soul Tribe would give you at no cost. We have commoditized friendship and mentoring and we now pay for what elders and oracles and medicine women would have given us at no cost in a healthier society.
Our society is so sick that corruption around money has infiltrated almost everything—including, you could argue, this Soul Tribe experiment and my Visionary Mentoring Program. I will not dispute this. Trust me. Our economic system pains me in the deepest recesses of my indigenous heart. I would do anything to snap my fingers and restore us to the kind of gift economy the indigenous peoples of the world have used for millennia. If someone figures out how we can extricate ourselves from the money system altogether, I will be the first to come on board.
Yet here we are in a culture that has not embraced gift economy, and the one person I know who is trying to actually live that way can only offer his work to the world by gift economy because his wife made smart investments once upon a time and pays the bills for the family. People’s traumas and conditioning around money run deep, and we don’t yet know how to peel away from our diseased economic system.
So how do we reconcile the purity of our desire for ethical living with a corrupt system we all participate in? The integrity breach we all feed into every day eats at us all, even if we’re not aware that it does. That collective grief we all feel, especially if we’re open and sensitive, pains us, even if we’re not aware that it does.
I have become deeply aware of all these integrity breaches implicit in living in Western culture since my mother died. My grief in the wake of the loss of my mother has been a wondrous portal into the grief of us all. When you’re grieving, a door opens, and it feels terrifying to walk willingly through that door. But if you can muster up the moxie to avoid resisting this door, a portal opens as you enter. On the other side of the door lives our One Suffering—grief as a transpersonal event, grief and loss and pain as an integral part of being human. It takes you out of “my suffering” and transports you into “our suffering.” I am feeling the pain of all the indigenous peoples of the world who have been traumatized by colonization. I am feeling the agony of every #MeToo woman who thought that being a groping toy for men was just something she had to suck up in order to survive in a sick culture. I am feeling the Syrian refugees as they flee every comfort they once knew. I am feeling the horror of how capitalism and materialism and greed has consumed people, how we try to fill the hole left by the elimination for Soul Tribe with more, more, MORE, even if it means our brothers and sisters are starving and without shelter. I am feeling the agony of how the story of separation brutalizes us all—the story that says “I am separate from you, I am separate from nature, I am separate from Source. Therefore, I better just maximize self-interest and ignore the feeling I have that I should be ethical in how I live.” I am feeling the agony of the Perpetrators—the greedy corporate giants, the abusive rapists, the self-serving materialists—because that which we might prefer to judge, I am that too. I am feeling all this sorrow not as an empathic response. I feel it as my own. It belongs to us all.
There is a comfort in this, a Oneness—and with it, a deep opening to the One Heart. When you enter the pain directly, rather than sidestepping it, numbing it, denying it, or dressing it up with spiritual bypassing or positive psychology, you realize that what you most feared—that door you walked through into the Mystery of the unknown—leads you straight to Love Itself. It’s almost laughable, how afraid we are of love. Yet it’s no wonder. The unconditional love that arises from the Ground of Being will annihilate you. The separate self shatters, resisting and grieving its own loss. But if you expand your consciousness enough to hold the wild edge of your grief and resistance, Love rushes in. And then . . . oh holy wonder.
I am also discovering that grief demands Soul Tribe. So here we are, with a catch-22. I am blessed that I have a Soul Tribe of my own. One of my clients once told me I am an amazing person magnet, and she’s right. I am an amazing person magnet, and I thank God for my tribe every single hour of every single day. It is the richest blessing of my life, and I could not have survived the past two years without them. (You know who you are. I love you!) Many in my tribe live together, and others live with us in our hearts but not in our home. Some are friends. Some are blood family. Some are even clients or former clients. My Soul Tribe nourishes me, and I nourish them.
But what about all the people who don’t have even one person they feel safe to express their souls with? How do they dare to feel and alchemize the personal and collective grief that accompanies the pain and the ecstasies of being human? As Francis Weller teaches, grief requires both containment and letting go. No individual can both contain grief and let go into the vast portal of sorrow, but in a ritual circle of people who are all grieving for their individual sorrows and our collective sorrow, the circle can contain so everyone can let go.
This is part of what keeps railroading me into taking a leadership role around the inquiry surrounding Soul Tribe. The whole notion of spiritual community has been largely co-opted and corrupted by patriarchal forces in organized religions and has not been replaced with healthy alternatives. Those who have tried to gather outside organized religion have often been sucked into corrupt cultish dynamics, and abuses of power have destroyed lives in the name of such cults. This doesn’t help us.
But we NEED each other. So how do those in need of a Soul Tribe find those who are longing to express their gifts? And what do we do about the crap economic thing? How do we find one another in order to grieve together? How do we find like-minded spiritual beings with whom we can dance, sing, engage in ritual, pray, meditate, and celebrate life’s ecstasies together? The answer is “We don’t know.”
“We don’t know” could be the motto of our Soul Tribe experiment. It might fall flat on its well-intentioned face, or it might spark a global movement. We are open and curious in the face of this humble inquiry. After much heart-storming, we were intuitively guided to start this experiment as a virtual paid subscription service so that people who are interested in asking these questions and participating in this experiment can find one another and figure out what’s next.
How is it ethical to charge money for that which is our birthright? Maybe it’s not. As I said, this is an experiment, and we’re going on pure intuition and spiritual guidance here, not logic. Part of why we feel guided to charge for those who wish to participate is because I tried gathering virtual communities twice before—and I didn’t charge anything—and those communities failed. People did not take participation in these virtual communities seriously and were not committed. Plus, those communities cost me time and money, and I wound up in debt, which I realized (after years in therapy) was part of my ego’s hook into the Savior Complex. (“I’ll fix everybody’s loneliness and sacrifice my own well-being for the good of the tribe.”) Because I’m onto myself for all the ways my Savior Complex shows up, I’m going to make sure that, as a member of the Soul Tribe myself, my needs and overhead are getting met too. Mostly though, the money is meant to ask people to put “skin in the game.”
For better or for worse, as part of our messed up relationship with money, people take investments of money seriously and are motivated not to waste their money. When people fork down dough, they tend to show up and participate. When you give people something for free, they don’t think twice about saying they’ll participate and then never showing up. Part of why clients experience such deep transformation as part of my Visionary Mentoring Program is because it costs $15,000. They put serious skin in the game, and they start making massive, courageous changes in their lives before we even do our first all-day one-on-one session together. When I used to offer mentoring at no cost, I wound up broke and people didn’t have the same results. (I don’t mean to sound defensive—because I don’t feel that way—but just in case any of you are making up a story as you read this about me as someone who is raking in the money and keeping it greedily to myself, I am now six figures in debt after a year that required me to cancel almost all of my work while I kept paying my employees, keep paying alimony, and manage the overhead of my business and the living expenses that piled up. I just inherited money from my mother, and I will be using that money to keep the mission that is my business afloat. The truth is that what I charge my clients only pays a fraction of what it costs to do my work in the world. I have turned down many offers to be rich—starring in a prime-time network television show, for example—because my soul said no. But I do still live inside our economic system, and I don’t like it any more than most of you do.)
Coming into right relationship with the exchange of gifts, services, and money is filled with paradoxes, especially in the realm of spirituality. We need not commoditize love. Yet love invites us into what the Q’eros call “ayni,” which is loosely defined as a sort of spiritual reciprocity. Money can corrupt. Yet money can also signify an exchange of energy and a demonstration of commitment. Divine Abundance knows no limits when we remove all blocks to the flow of a Divine energy. When one’s relationship to money is clear, money is just an energy form—love in the form of currency. I do believe it’s possible—but challenging—to find flow and ethics in such exchange.
That was a LOOOONG way of saying that I have taken all these lessons around Divine Abundance and scarcity and a corrupt economic system and our relationship to money, and I am trying to apply it to this Soul Tribe experiment. This Soul Tribe is so important to us that we are asking people who want to be included to commit. If there’s a way people can put skin in the game without money, I am totally open to suggestions and willing to evolve the program as people in the tribe offer feedback.
I am not in any way trying to suggest that people must pay money to participate in a Soul Tribe. If you have access to an existing Soul Tribe, or you have the means and gifts to attract and create your own Soul Tribe outside the money system, by all means—please do so! And please tell me what you learn—what works, what doesn’t. I will happily broadcast what others have learned on my blog, and perhaps my Soul Tribe experiment will become irrelevant at that point.
I also hear those who are saying that any paid relationship is not equal and is necessarily hierarchical—and I challenge this—but I do so from a place of not knowing. Yes, it’s true that in our sick culture, many people see those who pay them as lower on the totem pole. The doctor may “look down” on the patient. The therapist may see the client as inherently weaker or less than equal or mentally dysfunctional. The disciple may see the guru as some sort of projected perfection, while the disciple is still learning to move beyond the ego.
But what if there’s another way? What if we are all equal? What if some are in leadership positions but without hierarchy? What if some people are the queen bees of the hive, but the queen bees are not special or more valuable than the worker bees or the drones, if everyone in the hive has equal value and contributes collectively to the health of the hive?
How do we do this? How do we break down these elements of our sick culture while we’re still living within it and to some degree, at its mercy? We don’t know. We are in “the space between stories” in this inquiry and it will necessarily be messy. So please bear with me in the messy.
With all that, if you feel like you are meant to be part of this Soul Tribe experiment, and you can afford it, and you wish to financially contribute to keeping my writing business alive, and it feels aligned with your integrity to pay to participate, we sincerely welcome you into the Mystery of this inquiry.
For those who choose not to participate, I have already written more than half a book’s worth of content about Soul Tribes. I’m sure this experiment will teach me more. So maybe one day, whatever wisdom emerges from this experiment will be available in a book. I’m sure I’ll also be blogging about it, and my blogs, as well as my Daily Flames, TEDx talks, meditation CDs, and many ebooks available as “opt-ins” on different websites, are always free.
Please feel free to share your constructive feedback about this inquiry here in the comments. (And please DON’T hit reply to this email and comment back to Pearl. I don’t read those emails, but I do read every comment on the blog.)
I love you and am so grateful you are already part of this blog community.
Much love to you all,
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