There was a time in my life when I chided those who gave money to the homeless, saying it was just going to feed their addictions and not their bellies. I did what the majority do, I walked by my brothers and sisters in need of help and pretended they weren’t there. But age and life experiences change you in ways you never expect. This is the story of why I chose to give over $150,000 worth of my business assets to a women’s shelter on Skid Row. One of the largest homeless communities in the United States, Skid Row is home to many broken dreams. This story is about how I learned from the natural world that the flow of generosity is limitless, and that as part of nature our humanity is gifted with limitless possibilities of giving as well.
In 2006 I awoke from a dream that said I needed to move to California and do a television show on wild foods. I was a single mom living in northern MN at the time, working 50 hours a week on my job and going to school for my Master’s degree at night. The dream was so powerful I couldn’t ignore it, and the way the wind spoke to me as I prayed affirmed the change I knew I needed to make. But how many people move to LA with a dream? I packed my son and our stuff into a truck and went for it anyways.
Within 2 weeks I had a job working for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. I also began teaching wild food workshops on the weekend and making YouTube videos of my beloved wild foods. But no tv show. I awoke from yet another powerful dream guiding me to create a clothing company made from wild nettles. Becoming deeply involved in finding ways in which we could deprogram from the toxic fashion industry while stylishly clothing ourselves in eco-friendly options, we began production on a line of clothing that was truly cutting edge. Savage Designs was born. And then, everything happened at once. I got the call from a tv producer and within 2 weeks had signed a contract to host a television series on wild foods, and 2 weeks after that I was living in an RV and on tour for a year of filming.
I had left Savage Designs in the hands of 2 employees. Working 18-hour days on the road didn’t allow for much oversight of the day-to-day operations. They spent all the money I had set aside from my father’s early death in a motorcycle crash, and then some. It was a disaster in flagrant unmanaged spending, but I ended up with a huge amount of inventory that was my nest egg. I figured high-quality fashionable garments, unlike anything on the US-market, would be easy to sell. Expo’s proved unsubstantial, Herbal Conferences left me negotiating individual deals for deep discounts and then watching customers go to the next booth and spend hundreds of dollars, none of the reps sold anything, hundreds of boutiques across the United States contacted and no one bought wholesale, exhausting every personal contact to try and sell the inventory for 4 years, and finally the tipping point of a distribution house who made thousands of dollars of shipping mistakes. I just couldn’t float the costs of the business. It was stuck in the mud. A giant sucking sound was warning me of my upcoming suffocation and I knew I had to break free.
Many Native American cultures have practiced the potlatch ceremony through the generations. The idea is that the redistribution of wealth raises status, or that life’s achievements are based not on how much you have but rather how much you give. I felt inspired to find people who would truly transmute my broken dream into an inspiration for their own life and looked to a place I had never dared to travel. I spent a year and a half living in Los Angeles and never adventured to Skid Row, as I was simply too afraid. I went there last month and found a beautiful community of people. There were people who told me mind-blowing stories of their broken dreams and I realized how fragile our security is and how easy it would be to fall through the cracks. I watched the gentrified neighborhoods that abut block after block of poverty walk by in suits and coffee’s in their hands, treating these people as non-humans. I learned that 7 out of 10 Americans are on prescription medications. Would they turn to alcohol and street drugs to self-medicate their pains if they lost their prescription medications? I spoke with people who were familiar with the different shelters and which ones offered the best and most reliable services, searched for a non-profit who offered transparency in their financials, and found the Downtown Women’s Shelter. The shelter was recognized by the community living there and their professional peers for outstanding work. I was ready to make the largest gift I had ever given…from the depths of my heart.
It didn’t happen with the ceremony of the potlatch that I craved, but I spent a few days with the women sharing stories and imparting the power and love that went into those clothes. I visualize them wearing Savage Designs’ Dreamweaver Pants and transmuting their broken dreams and my broken dreams into new dreams because dreaming is such an important and powerful act in life. The natural world has been my most powerful teacher in life and I don’t think I have ever become programmed to believe that there isn’t an abundance and limitlessness to our existence. Brain science says the act of selfless giving activates the mesolimbic reward system, making me a happier person, and I know it to be true. This was very painful for me, as I gave up my best money-making potential for my family at a time when I am pregnant and my family is expanding, yet it was incredibly freeing. I’ve had enough experiences in life without money or in situations where the only thing left is faith that the universe will provide, to know that we will be ok. I can feel proud of the accomplishments of my past, incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have a dream and see it manifest, but I can no longer identify with who I was when I started my company 7 years ago. I am someone different, living a new life in a new time, and adapting to the changes life has forced me to make.
Faith that things will work out doesn’t give anyone the right to not get smarter in their decision-making. There are some very real large-scale issues humanity is facing, and although justice is an essential piece of the equation, I hear more people complaining and blaming instead of taking personal responsibility for their actions. We need to come together as a human family and to trust in the limitlessness of our love and the abundance provided by our own energy and that of the earth. One cannot give to the point of putting themselves at risk of falling through the cracks, but separating from our wants will reveal a new path that must be walked in order to survive on this rapidly changing planet. I encourage you to become an active participant in the gift-giving culture. The circle of life continues for me. I am growing a baby and can’t help but keep dreaming. I envision the island of Maui transitioning to practices of mobile cellulose fiber production of our invasives of Eucalyptus and African Tulip into beautiful fabrics. I’ve begun going to thrift stores to upcycle white garments and dye them with natural dye plants found in abundance on the island and to then infuse them with aromatics that I distill from plants found in abundance. I’m working on a wild foods book for the islands, as none exist, and to continually cultivate food and healthy community and respect for the earth and all its living and nonliving beings. Thank you for listening and I encourage you to give it all away…all the non-essentials that is, and the worn out attitudes and all the things that don’t provide beauty in your life. Bless up.