In an indigenous way, it’s sort of a form of sickness to stockpile resources or wealth while your tribe member or relative is starving. I’ve always sort of felt that, even before I could articulate it, and felt aversion to people charging what seems like insane amounts of money for this kind of work, that creates a barrier to accessing it for people like myself. The issue isn’t really the amount of money per se, it’s the idea of profiting off others with the kind of large disparity that capitalism can create, and stockpiling instead of sharing. I think this is part of what makes us uneasy when we encounter it, but it’s also a facet of a very Christian/Western/capitalist world that splits money/worldly things and spiritual things into diametrically opposed categories that don’t exist in a tribal way.
In TRiBE and the Balanzu Way, we talk about the concept of “aya’a”, (pronounced eye-YAH-ah) which is a form of interdependence or right relationship that we try to foster. In a capitalist world, it’s a zero-sum game where we’re all out for ourselves, fighting each other for resources, and benefiting while others are losing.
I don’t think we need to do that anymore. I want you to be well in your life, and to have what you need. I want that, too. I think we can both have that and figure out how to change our definition of wellness to a collective one in which we’re trying to take care of each other, not in a codependent way, where we’re sacrificing our own needs, but in a way that allows us all to survive or thrive collectively better than if we’re all trying to go it alone.
I’m committed to trying to live in that indigenous way of being, to figuring things out in relationship, which I’ve realized means I need to let myself be part of the equation, too, something that I didn’t do for a long time. I came from a family where it was a mark of pride never to ask for help; this was so ingrained in me that it never occurred to me to ask my parents for money even when I was struggling to buy food in my early twenties. During that time, twenty years ago, I learned about food banks, and learned to ask about sliding scales and work-trade options and was diligent about putting in hours and tracking them. Because it was so hard for me to ask for help, and I had so much pride about it, I found it sort of humiliating to be questioned about it, or to have to jump through hoops, and would just avoid places where I had to do that. I literally had to be starving to grudgingly accept assistance.
Consequently, in the early days of doing this work, when people used to ask me for a sliding scale, I gladly offered it to them, no questions asked. I assumed that everyone was like me, and I never wanted to make someone uncomfortable. I especially liked being able to offer my scale to ‘my people’—queer and trans folks, people of color, folks from marginalized backgrounds who statistically make less money. The wake up call for me was with a particular client who was ‘one of my people’. After a long time of working together, completely on my sliding scale, in the course of her session where we were discussing job possibilities, I learned that she made a lot more money than I did, and that she had two out-of-state vacations planned. And not trips to see family on the cheap, actual vacations where she could afford the ability to take time off, to buy plane tickets, as well as additionally paying to stay in nice places. This was a shock to me, and lead to me feeling like my generous nature was being taken advantage of. I felt like I had essentially helped pay for her to take a vacation that I couldn’t afford myself.
Sadly, this experience was not the last time I encountered this.
In the course of the decade plus that I’ve been working with clients, I’ve realized that people aren’t intentionally trying to swindle me, but that challenges with money stem from a variety of places. First, there are people who just don’t value money spent on themselves or their own healing. They might have the money available, but have inner blocks about putting it towards healing work, or have just arbitrarily decided that it ‘shouldn’t’ be worth that much. Then there are people who have impulsive spending habits, who might have the money available to pay my full rate, but who don’t have a budget or track their spending, and live in a constant state of fear and scarcity because of that, believing they can’t afford it when they actually can. Then there are folks, like the several clients I’ve had who told me they were unemployed and couldn’t afford it, who I later discovered had large trust funds or savings they were living off of ($50,000+), but out of a combination of the aforementioned issues and their own anxiety, wanted a sliding scale. Last, there are folks who have partners or parents who are well-off, or might be able to financially support them to pay for sessions or class fees, but out of shame, guilt, or our wounded healer syndrome that makes it hard for us to ask for something, or believe we’re worthy of receiving it—people don’t even ask for their help.
In all of these situations, I realized that the person who was trying to access my scale wasn’t actually unable to pay the regular rate for my services. They just had dysfunctional relationships with money or receiving that I was enabling, out of my own projected assumptions, and discomfort of asking questions about their finances. I don’t think any of them thought about the fact that when I offer someone a scale, I’m essentially taking money out of my own pocket to gift to them, because I could put another client or student in their spot instead, who could pay me the full rate. That’s less food on my table, and less money for my rent, with the reminder that I am also a marginalized person, doing my best to juggle my finances and take care of my kid. I’m not over here getting rich off of all of you and buying a Benz. I’m just trying to not be someone who’d need to access my own scale, lol.
Sometimes people see my session fees and assume I’m raking in the cash, and wonder why either class fees or session fees have to be so high. Part of why that’s so is that I deal with a debilitating chronic pain disorder that makes me unable to function for a quarter or a third of my life. This isn’t something that I generally love to talk about, but there’s about a week to ten days of every month that I’m in severe pain and can’t work. When I talk about severe pain, I mean I had surgery last year to try to correct it, and recovering from surgery where I had a major organ removed felt about the same as what I go through every month. I’m pretty stoic by nature, and I’ve dealt with it my whole life, so that was eye-opening for me to finally have something to compare my pain to, and validating of how much it impacts my life.
Because my pain is semi-predictable, I have to build my life, my work schedule, and my rhythms around it. Because it’s semi-unpredictable, I often have to cancel sessions or class I was expecting to earn money from. Consequently, I have to earn enough in the part of the time I’m well to be able to support myself and my child as a single parent, and have some buffer for unpredictable drops in income. I have also generally lived most of my adult life with less than $1000 in savings. I was able to do that because I move so closely with spirit, and Spirit and my spirits guides have always taken care of me and made sure I had exactly what I needed to survive, right at the moment I needed it.
But I have come to realize that surviving is not thriving. I’m in my forties now, and I’m ready for things to be a little easier. I have a six-year old child, now, too, who needs clothes and childcare while I’m with you, and eats as much as a full grown adult! I’d like to travel, and save money towards collectively buying land or a home instead of staying trapped in the rent cycle. Those feel like really important goals for me and the work I’m here to do. They also feel like reasonable requests after putting in twenty years surviving close to the bone, so I could be of service to the world and do work I love that helps others, in the most affordable way I could offer.
So, I’d appreciate it if you would consider me and my needs in your thinking about your own finances and needs, too, as it relates to asking me for help. I’ve realized it’s important for me to practice being more transparent and vulnerable about my finances, so I can model that, and it just becomes something we can talk about as part of the work we’re doing.
That’s why I wrote this whole piece, and decided to share things about my own relationship to money, and what I’ve experienced with people, so we can think about each other and see how we can best find the place to support each other, reaching for the collective wellness of all.
Sliding Scale Decision Tree
Maybe just reading all that I wrote will help you identify whether to ask for sliding scale. If any of those dysfunctional relationship with money scenarios I’ve just described apply to you, please pay the full rate, or do some work around really examining your access to resources. On the other hand, if you are one of the people who my scale is intended for, which is generally someone living paycheck to paycheck, working full time or as much as they’re able, struggling to meet their basic needs, without savings, without a safety net—then I 100% am here to support you, and I’m glad to do it. Please ask for help and don’t feel bad about it, my scale is there for you.
If you need some help to break it down, please use the decision tree below to see if you might qualify, and please answer these questions honestly within your own integrity.
- Do you have a parent, partner, friend, etc. that you could possibly ask to support you, or could borrow money from, even if it might feel uncomfortable to do so? Have you directly asked at least two people?
Yes—>No luck. Continue No—> Please do that first before asking me for a scale. It’s really there to offer assistance to folks who don’t have a support network. Isn’t it funny how we’ll ask a perfect stranger to give us money or support us before we ask those closest to us? [If you answered ‘no’ because, for instance, you’re estranged from your abusive parents and don’t have access to support, etc, please continue.]
- Are you able to save money right now, even if it’s not much?
- Do you have more than $1,000 in savings?
Yes—>Consider paying full rate, unless unemployed, then go to next question. No—>Skip the next question, then continue
- Are you unemployed or part time but have more than $4,000 in savings?
- Yes—>Please pay full rate, or consider asking for a partial rate if you make it through the rest of the tree. No—>continue
- Do you make $15/hr or gross $30,000 a year or less?
Yes—>Skip next question, then continue No—>Consider paying full rate, unless you have extenuating circumstances, then go to next question.
- Do you make under $60,000, but have a child or parent you’re supporting, are still struggling to meet your family’s basic needs of food and shelter, and don’t have savings or a safety net?
Yes—>continue No—>Please pay the full rate.
- Are you planning a trip or vacation or have you taken one in the last year? Or could you travel if you wanted to?
Yes—>Please pay full rate. No—>continue
- Do you have enough money to eat out occasionally, grab a coffee when you want to, or buy clothes, etc.?
Yes—>Please consider paying the full rate. No—>continue
- Do you have a budget where you track your spending? Do you know how much you spend on any given thing in your life, and have you tried to rearrange said budget to make space for our work, without luck?
Yes—> Continue No—>I encourage you to search the internet for a budget template. I wasn’t raised to know how to budget, or manage my money, either; this was something I had to learn as an adult. Before asking me for a sliding scale, please create a budget for yourself, and see if there is anything you could change in that budget to have the money to see me.
If you have made it all the way through this decision tree, please ask for my sliding scale, I’m glad to help support you. If you got turned away in the tree, but feel like you have extenuating circumstances, please talk to me. This is a set of guidelines, not a rigid rule. Maybe you make above the level of poverty, but you have huge medical debt you have to pay, or a parent you’re supporting. I never want to turn away someone because of money, but I also have to manage my own expenses. Talk to me.
Also, if you made it through the tree, and even my lowest sliding scale is still too much for you, I can additionally offer you a deeply discounted rate if you’re willing to be part of helping me teach a new generation of healers. I offer individual sessions with an apprentice shadowing me for $105, or a virtual clinic with short sessions, community-acupuncture style, for $25-45 for 20-30 minutes. If you can’t afford even my lowest rate, these options could provide relief, while also letting me pay my rent, and helping my students learn. This is the way we find aya’a that is of benefit to all.