Posts filed under The Gift World

Sacred Economics with Charles Eisenstein - a short film by Ian MacKenzie

What if we lived in a world based on the free giving of gifts, rather than on scarcity and competition? What if our money wasn't based on debt and usury but rather on natural increase and abundance?  Charles Eisenstein helps us imagine that world in his book Sacred Economics, which you can read in its entirety here.  Filmmaker Ian MacKenzie aids that process of imagining with this beautiful short film. Dig it!



The poetics of occupation: pressing reasons we need to "occupy" our own cities

The Poetics of Occupation

I've been thrilled and privileged to participate in the Occupy movement via Occupy Pittsburgh. While sitting out in the cold and rain, I got to having some deep thoughts about the poetics of the occupation and I figured I'd share them here with you.



The term "occupy" has obvious military connotations.  The poetic use of the term as a metaphor to describe a peaceful protest demands some reflection.


Currently, the U.S. military is just winding down a massive, costly and controversial occupation of Iraq. This occupation of Iraq is the  prominent cultural back drop in the minds of most Americans when we hear the term "occupy." "Occupy" in this sense suggests going on to foreign soil where we're not particularly wanted or welcome and ensuring that our interests are protected there.


Thus, the notion that we would need to Occupy Wall Street, for example, frames "Wall Street" as a kind of hostile foreign nation, a place where we need to send "troops" (of peaceful protesters) in order to control the situation there and to protect our interests.


But Wall Street IS American soil, right? Why should we feel we need to "occupy" it?


How Wall Street Made Itself a Foreign Land: Usury

The answer to this, I believe, lies in the spiritual dimension of our financial institutions and failing economy. The spiritual malaise of Wall Street, the banking industry, and the corporations has created a sense of alienation and violation so potent that those institutions can no longer be perceived by Americans as even belonging to their country. There's a sense of these institutions and corporations as alien and hostile.  This sense is not imaginary or paranoid.  It's completely correct, and it has its root in the alienating and hostile actions of those institutions towards the American people.


In order to make my point clear, I need to explain a few rather arcane (but fascinating!) points which I first learned from Lewis Hyde's brilliant book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.


To begin, the banking industry's practice of usury is a practice that was recognized in spiritual traditions throughout the ancient world as an act which promoted division, suspicion, and alienation within a community. I think we need to reconsider ancient and indigenous attitudes towards usury in order to understand the extent to the unity and spiritual virtue of the United States has been violated by Wall Street.


Today, "usury" means "lending at unbearably high interest." In the ancient world, usury just meant charging any interest at all on a loan.


Lending at interest itself is now widely accepted and taken for granted as perfectly acceptable and normal.  Loan-sharking, or lending at really high and outrageous interest, is the only stuff that raises eyebrows now.  Loan-sharking on the part of the banks is a large part of what created the sub-prime mortgage crisis.


We can keep in mind that the banks have practiced the intense form of usury-as-loan-sharking and that this practice has led to the current widespread poverty and outrage, but in order to understand the severity of loan-sharking, I want to start by discussing the problematic spiritual dimensions of usury, period.


In order to understand why usury (which is now so widely accepted) would be seen as a spiritual problem, we first need to understand a little bit about the way gifts work.


The Increase of the Gift

An interest-free loan is a form of a gift. For example: if I give you an interest-free loan of $1000 dollars, and you are able to use that loan to invest in a business which then makes you money. A year later, you return to me $1000, but you've still been able to create an "increase" out of the loan that I gave you, an increase that you wouldn't have been able to enjoy if I hadn't loaned you the $1000 to begin with.  So the increase that you make on account of me loaning you $1000 is a kind of gift from me to you.  Theoretically, if I had held on to my $1000 and not given it to you, I could have used the $1000 to invest and thereby enjoyed the increase myself.


Gifts are really cool because they create relationships of community and connection.  There's something magical and in harmony with the natural growth and decay of nature in the increase that properly treated gifts can create.


In indigenous cultures which maintained gift economies, it was always considered imperative that the increase generated by a gift  be passed on or used up, and never hoarded or used as capital itself. This passing-on or "paying it forward" was thought to be necessary in order to keep the "spirit of the gift" moving. So, for example, if you were able to make $2000 out of the $1000 interest-free loan I had given you, it would be good form for you to spend that $2000 on necessities for you and your family or to throw a big party and share the wealth. It would be very bad form for you to keep that $2000 to invest as capital or to hoard in savings.


The idea behind this is that gifts in a community should be kept in circulation and not used to unduly benefit or to create an unfair advantage for any one individual. When gifts are hoarded or used to create only private benefit, the spirit of the gift dies and the nihilism of separation, meaninglessness and isolation arises. This nihilism of separation creates a general atmosphere of cruelty. It's the atmosphere we're living in now.  It's the atmosphere that the Occupy movement has arisen to protest.


The Spirit of the Gift

We can think of the "spirit of the gift" as a sense of gratitude that puts human beings in an attitude of reverence and love for each other, nature, and divinity.  When gifts are kept moving and circulating, no one person has giant storehouses of money or goods to use as "security." The "security" and "prosperity" of an individual is instead intimately tied to the security and prosperity of the community, and thus to relationships of good will, love, and interdependency. Furthermore, a person who is living in the spirit of the gift, rather than seeking to extract and hoard the riches of the earth in warehouses instead respectfully fosters and tends for the earth so as to continue to enjoy the bounty of her gifts in a sustainable fashion.


Living in the spirit of the gift is an act of faith.  It involves a surrender of control.  This surrender entails two spiritual attitudes that are largely unknown to our control-obsessed modern world: 1) A general trust that the community / nature / divinity will continue to provide and 2) A graceful willingness to accept death and suffering in the event that the community / nature / divinity does not provide.


The act of living in the spirit of the gift is something which my favorite poet and all-around-awesome dude, Jesus, pointed to many times, perhaps most memorably in his Sermon on the Mount, when he suggested that everyone live "like the lilies of the field."  The lilies of the field, J.C. pointed out, don't do any work or save for rainy days, and yet they're gorgeous and happy. The lilies live in the spirit of the gift, accepting the nourishment of the sun and earth and giving forth radiant beauty.  Then they gracefully die when it gets cold and they don't whine about it. They don't control or hoard anything.


The Nihilism of Usury and the Control Freaks of Wall Street

Usury, in essence, is an expression of fear and clinging to material existence.  It's a refusal to surrender control. Usury hears about the notion of living like the lilies of the field and says "screw that!"


Usury seeks to maintain control over the increase generated by a gift.  It thus kills the spirit of the gift and creates disconnection.


When I give you that $1000 interest-free loan, I'm letting go of my say over that money. I'm letting you "use" it.  In turn, in our little gift society, I trust that you will put your "use" of the gift (the increase you accrue from investing it) to benefit all of us.  But I'm trusting. I've surrendered control of the "use" of the gift.  Through my trust, I'm making space for the spirit of the gift to live and breathe.


When I give you a $1000 dollar loan with 20% interest, I'm not letting go of my say over that money. I'm not trusting that you will use the increase of the gift to ultimately benefit our community and thus me. I'm demanding that you put the increase that you generate through your "use" of the gift back in my pocket. Thus I am controlling the "use-stuff" or "use-ury" or of the gift. In my control, I don't trust you and I certainly don't love you.


Usury = commerce between foreigners

Lewis Hyde explains:

 To ask for interest on loaned wealth is to reckon, articulate, and charge its increase.  The idea of usury therefore appears when spiritual, moral, and economic life begins to be separated from one another, probably at the time when foreign trade, exchange with strangers, begins. As we saw in an earlier chapter, wherever property circulates as a gift, the increase that accompanies that circulation is simultaneously material, social, and spiritual; where wealth moves as a gift, any increase in material wealth is automatically accompanied by the increased conviviality of the group and the strengthening of the hau, the spirit of the gift.  But when foreign trade begins, the tendency is to differentiate the material increase from the social and spiritual increase, and a commercial language appears to articulate the difference.  When exchange no longer connects one person to another, when the spirit of the gift is absent, then increase does not appear between gift partners, usury appears between debtors and creditors. (144-145 The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World)


The key point that Hyde makes here is that usury begins when foreign trade begins.  It's an economic relationship forged between groups of people who have no necessary bonds to each other communally or spiritually and who do not trust each other.  It's a relationship of outsider to outsider.


Think about this: usury now colors every exchange in our financial institutions.  The banks lend to us, the people, at interest-- and in the case of the sub-prime mortgage crisis at insanely high, loan-sharking interest.  They might call themselves things like "Bank of America" but to them, we, their debtors, are obviously foreigners.


The Occupy Movement as a Gift Society

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the movement against the banks, against our financial institutions and corrupt government and corporations calls itself an "Occupation" and takes the form of physical encampments.


We are occupying Wall Street and occupying symbolic squares and parks in our hometowns because the banks have made themselves foreigners to us through their usury.  We have no fellow-feeling and good-will for them because we have no trace of a gift relationship with them. They've destroyed the spirit of the gift through their rapacious lust to control and their absolute unwillingness to trust.


They've treated us, the people, their fellow citizens, like strangers.


To speak in biblical terms, our financial institutions have committed grave sins and the consequences of those sins are alienation and disunity.


It is absolutely no accident that the Occupy encampments in NYC and throughout the world are operating as communal gift economies with free healthcare (in the form of medic tents), free education (in the form of teach-ins, speakers, and lending libraries), free food, free shelter (in the form of donated tents, clothing, sleeping bags, etc.), and free entertainment (as people share their musical and artistic skills).


The Occupy encampments are modeling the living power of the spirit of the gift which the banks, corporations, and corrupt government of the United States had sought to destroy through usury, among other means.


Debts create suspicion, scarcity, distrust and death.  Gifts create love, abundance, trust and life.


Why doesn't Occupy need to articulate demands?

In the Occupy movement, the spirit of the gift is rising up and roaring through the hearts and minds of people throughout the world. This is what makes it enormously powerful and wonderful.


This is why it doesn't need to "articulate demands." The demand of the movement is implicit in its very existence.  The medium is the message.  Gifts, not debts. Consensus, not tyranny. Community, not commodity. The time has come. The spirit will prevail.


Check out this tour of the gift community at the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment, given by yours truly:






A Simple Practice of Nonresistance

I really love this quote from Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth:

Nonresistance is the key to the greatest power in the universe. Through it, consciousness (spirit) is freed from its imprisonment in form. (p. 208)

I think it's fair to say that nonresistance is the same thing as non-attachment, since resistance and attachment are two sides of the same toe-stubbing human habit of demanding that things be a certain way and demanding that they not be a few other ways.

DSC_0009_edited-1 Creative Commons License photo credit: mel_rowling

I'm in resistance most all of the time about something: I resist my new haircut--it's too short! I resist the weather-- it's too cold! I resist being me -- I'm ordinary and not abiding in cosmic bliss! I resist habitually, every day, almost all the time unless I make a conscious effort to let go.

Tolle goes on to say:

Resistance makes the world and the things of the world appear more real, more solid, and more lasting than they are, including your own form identity, the ego.

Sheesh.  What is this guy, enlightened? He knows everything about me. When I get really quiet and attentive, I notice that basically my whole experience of being "me" is constituted by my resistance to stuff I don't want and my demand for stuff I do.

I notice that I'm especially uptight this morning.  Positive changes are happening in my life, and change of any kind is scary to the part of me that wants to be always in control.

It occurs to me that nonresistance is a key part of entering the gift world. I mean, you know: behold the lilies of the field! or the blossoms of the cherry bough! They do not toil, and neither do they spin. And yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these. A really cool dude said that one time.

In other words, the experience of myself and my life as part of an unlimited gracious abundance only arrives when I'm not busy trying to manipulate and control the world, i.e., not toiling or spinning.

So here's my meditation today:

1. Close eyes.

2. Think of various situations in my life and to each of them say, "No resistance, no argument, I allow you to be exactly as you are."

3. Savor the feeling of nonresistance, the spacious sense of acceptance.

4. Repeat.




Posted on April 15, 2011 and filed under The Gift World.

Admit You Want the Gift World

The first step to entering the gift world is to admit that you want it.  "What do you mean? A world in which everything is a gift? Of course I want it!" you might think.

Yes! But do you fully, deeply, wildly want it-- without hesitation or equivocation?  Isn't there a voice that argues that you shouldn't want it? Does it argue that you should want more practical, more attainable things-- like a respectable job, a nice car, some better clothes, a vacation?  Does it suggest that your desire for the gift world is foolish, childish, pointless?

That voice is incorrect.  It's made out of the conditioned messages of the mad world and it is not telling the truth-- you can know because what it says is not kind to your deepest self, the part of you that is a gift-- your soul-- also known as your genius.  It's not foolish, impractical, or pointless to long for the gift world.  It is pure, wise, and powerful to want it and to want it without hesitation or equivocation.

Such a wanting is actually sacred because it is in accord with the nature of who we are. We are gifts. Each one of us was lavishly bestowed upon the earth.  We learned as children not to want what we truly want because such a wanting went against the very structure of the society in which we were born-- the culture of separation and competition, of belief in scarcity.

Our experiences-- our defeats, the insults we received, the treatment we were subject too-- all argued very loudly to us that the world we longed for was not possible, could not exist, and we didn't deserve it anyway.  We were taught to channel our desire for the gift world towards objects of desire that the mad world deemed acceptable: namely, individual signs of success, security, and power.

The matter was probably not helped much by the fact that our parents had lived through the beautiful opening and excitement of the 1960s, only to see it fizzle down into the Reagan and Bush Eras.

Our parents didn't want us to be plowed down by the merciless system-- they wanted us to succeed in it.  They made sure we went to good schools, got good grades.  In their own disappointment and lack of faith they encouraged us to play it safe and mind the rules.

Playing safe, of course, has turned out to be not safe at all.   We're in debt. Jobs are being outsourced.  The jobs which still exist and which pay well demand us to focus our energy and attention on things extrinsic to the concerns of our own souls and communities.  The system sucks. The mad world is broken, and playing by its rules to win its paltry consolation prizes for the life we could be living won't satisfy our souls, won't give expression to our genius.

If you're an awakening genius, the more you try to play the mad world's game, the more you'll find yourself feeling depressed, blocked, alienated.  You'll struggle with addiction and chronic illness.  Parts of your heart will be closed down and sealed off.  You'll be very far from bliss and contentment.

Fully admitting  that what we want is the gift world and that  what we won't be satisfied with anything less is enormously frightening.  It's frightening because to acknowledge the truth that what the world of competition and separation offers us is lousy and to simultaneously richly embrace our real desire instead makes it much less easy to lie to ourselves and those around us that the mad world is okay, is good enough, should be participated in.

It's frightening to wholly own our real desire because we rightly sense that owning such a thing undermines our ability to be successful in the mad world-- and our sense is absolutely right.  Admitting and embracing our real desire does undermine our false participation in a world that demeans and instrumentalizes us.  The more fully we allow ourselves to know the truth about what we really want the more impossible it will be to keep up the charade of chasing  money, prestige, security.

We may be afraid to admit that what we want is the gift world because such an admission opens us up to be mocked as flakey and new age.

Also, we don't want to appear foolish and pathetic if the gift world never shows up for us. We don't want to be sitting, left behind in the dust after all the others have trampled over us to conventional glory. It's much safer to pretend that we're okay with the mad world of separation and competition-- even to pretend that we want to succeed in it.  We imagine that to try to succeed in the mad world and to fail is embarrassing-- but not nearly as embarrassing as longing for and believing that the gift world can come and then being disappointed when it doesn't.  This imagination is false because it belies the fact that when we desire a true solution and actively seek it out, that true solution comes. The gift world is a true solution to the wound in our hearts that comes from trying to keep ourselves separate and safe.

We might say things to ourselves like, "Yeah, it would be great if the gift world showed up in my experience-- but I can make do with the way things are."

Or we may say "I'm committed to succeeding in my career-- but I'm open to the gift world showing up."

We hedge our bets. We equivocate, in our words and in our action.  So our world doesn't change much.

I invite you to stop saying, "I don't mind" or "It's okay" in relation to the mad world.  Those words may sound like acceptance-- but they're actually rationalization and denial.  True acceptance is the acceptance that a greater solution is both desired and possible.

Let me put it this way-- if you're shooting heroin everyday and saying, "It's okay, I don't mind, I'm okay with being a junkie," you're not actually accepting the reality of your situation.  True acceptance that one is an addict entails both admitting that the addicted life is miserable and insane and also cultivating the hope that a non-addicted way of life is possible.

So I invite you to do the scariest thing-- admit that life in the mad world we've been conditioned to perceive is miserable and insane, that it's completely inadequate to your deep longing and your wild genius.  Admit that you are not content with a world of separation and competition.  Admit that nothing you gain in the mad world can truly satisfy you.

Make it a simple choice. Decide which is more true:

1) I'm okay with the status quo

2) I really, really want to live in the gift world.

If the answer is 2), embrace it. Don't be ashamed. Let yourself fully feel that desire-- its scope, its power.  Don't minimize it. Let it be huge. Let it be holy.  Let it light you up.  Let it eclipse your substitute desires for power, security, and prestige.  Let it lift you up out of your kitsch.




Image Credit: Photo, "Presents!" by queercatkitten, borrowed from Flickr under Creative Commons licensing.

Posted on April 4, 2011 and filed under The Gift World.

The Gift World vs. the Mad World

Dear Reader, As I began discussing in my last post, the gift world is a subjective experience of life in which your genius is fully supported and welcomed in its expression, and in which your needs and authentic preferences are joyously met by a provident universe.

I might elaborate on that by saying it's also a condition in which you don't need to control or manipulate anything, nor are you subject to any control or manipulation.  It's a state wherein you offer yourself fully as a gift and experience yourself likewise fully supplied with everything-- also as a gift.  The gifts which supply you come to you through a variety of people and circumstances, but they simply come.  There's no struggling and striving involved, no need to force yourself to do work you don't want to do, no sense of barrier or disconnection between you and other people.  In other words, the gift world is a lot different than the mad world we currently live in.

What's the mad world? It's the state in which we apparently need to strive and do drudge work in order to support ourselves, or, conversely, we need to manipulate, lie to, and exploit others in order to spare ourselves from drudgery (i.e., do business).  It's a world in which we must exert control and force over ourselves (how else do you get yourself to go to work in an ugly office other than through forcing?), where we feel painfully alone and disconnected from our own vital souls and from the other people that surround us.  It's something wrought upon us from the time we're very young and made to go to school in a thoroughly corrupt and increasingly pointless educational system. I think Gary Jules' cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" in Donnie Darko sums it up pretty well. But then again, the original Tears for Fears version is way easier to dance to:


The mad world is a condition in which we're desperately trying to control ourselves, other people, and all the factors which surround us out of an intense survival anxiety.  Charles Eisenstein sums it up very well, blow by blow, in his book The Ascent of Humanity (which is available online in its entirety-- as a gift, because Mr. Eisenstein knows what's up). The mad world is a world in which technology and science, surveillance and laws, discipline and punishment are used to maximum effect in order to produce a very tenuous and unsustainable version of security in which we're not only not actually safe, but we're also now bored and depressed.

In the gift world, since you have no need to control, there's no fear.  As the teacher Adyashanti has observed, fear is just a by-product of frustrated control. In the gift world, you do things, but nothing you do is "work" in the sense that we've come to think of it, because your security and your identity don't come from what you accumulate as a result of your effort.  Instead, you give your efforts freely, accruing no obvious security or bolstering to your seperate ego-self.  As you give in this manner, your wants and needs are subsequently mysteriously met in delightful and miraculous ways by the universe.

This miraculous movement happens because, as Lewis Hyde observed in his seminal work The Gift, when gifts received are consumed or passed on, the spiritual power at work in the gift grows-- more is drawn forth, more gifts flow to you. When gifts received are hoarded, stored up, or used only to accrue individual gain, the spiritual power at work in the gift departs-- it dries up, and no more gifts come to you. The gift spirit as it moves creates connection and joy, satisfaction and fulfillment among a circle of givers and receivers.  The gift as it is hoarded creates disconnection and ennui, alienation and discontent.

Our genius (talent, intelligence, creativity, soul-- whatever you want to call it) is clearly a gift given to us by the source.  We didn't manufacture our genius deliberately, of our own clever device.  We didn't make it out of duct-tape and cardboard. It came to us freely, from outside our own will and effort. When we use our gift of genius only promote ourselves, only to make ourselves as individual egos more secure and safe in a seemingly threatening universe-- we then betray the spirit of the gift. We become hoarders. The genius then stops giving us ideas and inspirations and means to carry those out because we've proven ourselves ungrateful.  When we wrongly use gifts graciously bestowed upon us as possessions to which we are entitled,  the spirit of the gift dies.

It was a revelation to me when I learned from Lewis Hyde about the need of the gift to move.  While it made deep sense to me on one level, on another it contradicted the perverse notions of gift reception that I'd learned in childhood: gifts are given to me on my birthday and at Christmas and they are MINE all MINE.  I was taught that to give away a gift that I received as a birthday or a Christmas present was rude. Not only this, but I was prevented from actually formally reciprocating the gifts given to me. When I was invited as a guest to the birthday parties of other children,  the birthday gifts bestowed on my friends by "me"  were toys bought by my mother. I was not allowed to give the pine cones and twigs, the flowers and quartz pebbles I really wanted to give.  The toys my mother presented did not come from me-- they had nothing to do with me. I was deluged with gifts and yet kept out of the circle of giving-- and perhaps unsurprisingly, the gifts I was given in this fashion meant nothing to me on a deep level. They represented nothing to me but a hoard of "my" toys.  The ethos of giving and receiving taught to me thus denied the  actual spirit of the gift.

As I practice the path of virtualizing a great universe and surrendering into my innocence, I can more and more clearly perceive that what I'm virtualizing is the gift world-- and as the gift world is more and more  coming to be my reality,I'm growing increasingly excited.  In the coming days, I'll be sharing more regarding what it takes to move from the mad world to the gift world.


Love, Carolyn

Image Attribution: Photo "Presents under the tree" by VancityAllie, borrowed from Flickr under Creative Commons licensing.