About a month ago, I went grocery shopping with my friend Pancho and he did something that has forever changed me.

First, meet Pancho. Pancho is a dropout. Many years ago, while studying astrophysics as a graduate at Berkeley, Pancho quit. But he didn’t just quit school, he quit the system. He quit capitalism. He quit money. Because he grew up in the part of the planet we call Mexico, he also quit his legal American status. I used the word “quit” for poetry, but as Pancho says it, he “stopped cooperating with institutional violence.”

For nearly a decade now, Pancho Ramos Stierle has been living in a different system. Some call it “Giftivsm” but if you don’t want to look that up, call it “Kindness.”

Pancho gives and gives whatever he has. He grows organic food in neighborhoods without it. He organizes restorative justice circles, meditation circles, and other projects to serve his fellow humans, plants, and animals. He gives his body to nonviolently to protest injustices though he’s constantly at risk of deportation. Once was arrested for “disturbing the peace” while meditating in protest of the murder of Oscar Grant. If it hadn’t been for thousands of phone calls to politicians and volunteered legal council, Pancho, who does all this for people in our country, probably would have been made to leave it.

Those are the grand gestures, but most meaningful to me, I think, is how Pancho offers a depth of love, presence, and spaciousness of time to anyone and everyone. For example, when we went grocery shopping, Pancho gave a HUGE hug to a large, unshowered, seemingly incoherent homeless man. He also gave the man a chocolate bar we had just purchased for someone else (or so we thought.) Pancho told the man to “Make a wonderful day, Brother.” And the man responded with coherent and joyful gratitude..

All I could think while I watched that situation unfold was, one, “I would never think to do that.” And two, “Even if I did, I wouldn’t, because the man looks so dirty.” So obviously that’s not what I learned from Pancho that changed my life. All I learned from that is that I still have a ways to go…

Here’s the actual story:

While we were in the store, I offered to buy Pancho’s groceries. This is how Pancho’s life works. People like me who are still in the system, meet Pancho, feel inspired by his way of life, and want to financially support it.

Pancho said “No.”
I said “Please?”
With a giant grin, He said “No, sister.”
Then he pulled out a wad of cash from his pocket and said something like, “I’ve had this money since yesterday! It’s burning a hole in my pocket, I have to get rid of it! I have to keep it moving.”

So money is meant to move. Of course it is. I’ve read that before from people like Lynne Twist, Charles Eisenstein, Nipun Mehta, and others who talk about money as energy. And if money is energy, I know from dancing that energy wants to move.

But I’d never seen it so…realized until that day in the grocery store. Pancho’s way of living certainly has nothing in common with the way I run my bank account(s!) I don’t know for sure, but Pancho probably hits $0 frequently, intentionally. And if it’s not obvious, he’s one of the happiest people I know.

Standing there, in the checkout line, Pancho came up with an idea: “How about this, sister! You can secretly buy the groceries of the woman in line behind us!” We whispered our plan to the cashier who moved relatively quickly through her confusion to estimate the cost of the woman’s basket.
“$40?” she said.

I gave her the $40, and Pancho and I quickly ran out of the store, laughing, before we could be “caught.” Giving without expectation of ANYTHING, especially a “Thank You,” is at least half the fun.

Since that day. I’ve begun rearranging my relationship with money. It started with an internal experience, but is beginning to move outward. It may be the reason I stopped *thinking* about my idea for the Baltimore-Goes-To-Hamilton project, and finally put it into action. I realize I may end up paying for the entire thing myself, and that’s ok, because I can, but this IS going to happen.

However, I’m sure there are others of you, like Pancho, like newly-me, “who are in a prosperous enough position” to “wanna move our money around.” (to quote two different Hamilton songs).

So I’m letting you know more about this project. I will probably end up paying for a lot of it myself no matter what, because I can. (Which actually, is something that’s hard for me to admit. But that’s another story.)

I’m inviting you to join me, if you want to, because maybe with our forces combined we can realize a dream bigger than the original.

There is no pressure here, only an invitation, just in case you have the sense, like Pancho that day, that a little extra cash-energy might be burning a hole in your pocket too.

Below is perhaps my most well known Dharma Comic. It’s been reused and redrawn all over the world, so you may recognize it. It’s actually a picture of Pancho. I drew it the day we gathered to protest his arrest. So if you didn’t know Pancho before, now you do. I hope you benefit as much from knowing him as I have.

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