On Why I Do and Do Not Charge
Would you ever consider not enlisting the services of or think the following were a fraud if they called the work they do their calling or a gift, or, say, charged for it:
- massage therapist
- nail technician
- hair stylist
- delivery service
- grocery clerk
- doughnut maker
- candlestick maker
And, if you’re rolling your eyes because you don’t think any of the above have a ‘gift’, I call bullshit. You pay more or drive farther to, say, get your hair done by the gifted girl who does your hair ‘just right’ and ‘gets’ you because you’ve met those who aren’t gifted. Same with the others. We’ve all had experiences learning the difference. Heck, you also pay the preacher and tithe at least 10%, right? However, I digress.
I got knicker-knotted last week when someone in the community essentially accosted a client of mine for choosing to work with me. And, again (because it happens at least once a year) one of the arguments/derisions was, “Why would anyone who claims to have a gift charge?” Well, now, let’s ponder that for just one hot second. Could it possibly, maybe be that we also need to live?
Before our communities ‘advanced’ into their current state, those who do the work of shaman-healer were supported by their communities (and in other places in the world, still are). People who relied on healers made sure they had homes, those homes were roofed, and the larders within stocked. The healer’s role in the community was not merely a revered, mystical role but one that nurtured a symbiotic relationship to help ensure not just health but cohesion and communication for everyone. There was a recognized symbiotic relationship. We do not live in those types of communities any more.
In fact, those in that role now are lucky to live in communities that actually believe in ‘the work’. So we pay for gas, food and other living stuff just like everyone else. And, to do that, I work. My gift is my work, more than it actually. It is who I am. It is what I was born for and survived some of the most shitty stuff humans to do others humans for. And, so I charge a fee.
Except when I don’t.
The other knotted-knicker issue arose last week when a friend said, “You just need to stop working for charity.” And, my response–after I made sure she hadn’t grown two extra heads–was, “NO.”
All work I do for military service personnel (active and veteran) is for free always. Many pay but I make it clear they do not have to. I do that because they are my tribe and I will do everything for them.
However, I have never, ever turned someone away because they cannot pay. Three-quarters of the work I do, I do without charge and do so because how the universe works through me is for everyone (just sometimes not when they think they are ready for it) no matter color, religion, faith, bank account or lack thereof.
My work isn’t just valuable. It is invaluable. Within a single breath or a series of sessions, people move from wanting to put a bullet in their head to wanting to ‘really, really live’ and know exactly what that means for them. Some forever walk and dance without pain or medication ever again. Some sing with joy at learning a new way to see themselves and the world around them. Some get to spend years longer with death-sentenced animals. Some have an awakening experience that connects them to their god in a fashion that completely changes their life-path. Some learn that they aren’t who they thought they were and then learn anew their purpose and passion. Some realize that there was never anything wrong with them in the first place.
An interesting human lot we are. Why the myth of martyrdom for those with ‘gifts’ is perpetuated is beyond me. The Starving Artist or Monkish Mystic or the Pauper-Healer. We’ve become ‘advanced’ in other ways but not in this regard. We still won’t hold them in much regard while they’re living but will saint ’em after they pop their clogs. I’m convinced that it is one of the reasons the arts struggle to survive and alternative methods of healing will never be mainstreamed.
To say to anyone ‘you never pay for that kind of work’ does a couple of things: it diminishes the gifted nature of the work as well as the other types of work and it ignores the larger picture entirely. I’ve sarcastically written before, “What am I going to do? Send a Navajo god an invoice?” Well, no. However, I’m not going to show up to a Navajo hand trembler or hatali without cash in hand. To know I have the gift to heal people with a touch and some water, I paid $300. In the old days & ways, I’d have paid with a sheep or something else suitable. If I ever need a Yébîcha, I know to expect that’ll be about $10,000–that’d be a lot of sheep.
I’ve been excoriated for ‘advertising’ my spirituality or expecting an exchange by folks who claim a particular Cree way and, by others who have adopted the same way, I’ve learned through their teachers that, in addition to asking appropriately with tobacco and a blanket at the very least, you also show up with cash. All of this is to say that, historically speaking, whether one paid for services somehow related to spirit or Spirit, is culturally based.
I have tried to find a balance of being in service to others while living somewhat comfortably. Most folks don’t know that I chose to become homeless two autumns ago so I could more easily follow my path & get to people who need me. When I travel, I often sleep in my car. That’s just the way it is has been. For a while, it was my way. I tried to crowdfund when I appropriate and I actively reached out to those who can pay while seeking to work with those marginalized populations that can’t.
I’ve set some very clear boundaries lately that have made some folks uncomfortable. When medicine men have asked that I participate in ceremonies far away, I’ve said no. When others, especially friends, have said, “Hey, could you…?”, I’ve asked them to consider some kind of exchange because I realized that some of my poverty is my own doing. I’ve chosen to work with anyone, no matter their bank account or lack thereof. I’ve chosen to remain afraid of asking for financial help. I’ve judged those whose work creates vast monetary wealth for them. I’ve judged myself as being wrong, not doing things ‘the right way’, being ‘at fault’ or otherwise ashamed of needing or asking for help. My boundaries have shifted to reflect that I must be sustained for the value and growth of the work to be sustained. I think the language created around the fees for healing is reasonable and the fees for things outside the ‘healing’ are not ‘what the market will bear’ but are fair.
And, I’ll still do free work. For military service personnel, all the time. For those upon whose front door I knock because their Great Uncle Walks on Water sent me, always.
Our current culture does not support the shaman-healer in the way former communities were structured and taught to do. Those of us of this gifted way of being either need to be supported in that ‘old way’ or in the ‘new way’. That includes recognizing our own responsibility in shaping things so that can happen.
And, for fuck’s sake, tip your waiter. Money matters and money manners.