In 2013 I was invited to Giftival, a gathering of 40 people from around the world engaging in gift culture or gift economy or giftivism as it is often called. This was in Istanbul and my LO was not yet 2 years old.
I had only recently heard of gift culture at the Learning Societies UnConference at United Mahindra World College in Pune and something about it just took hold of me. I cannot say what or why, but it was some kind of tug. I didn’t however feel worthy of being in the company of people who had been practicing gift culture as a way of life for years. It didn’t seem fair to others. What could I have to contribute I thought, besides sharing and facilitating world folk dances which are such a beautiful energy sharing experience. Yet I trusted there was something in this call that was beyond me and made the trip.
Giftival opened with a story told by the deeply talented Judith Liberman, with the accompaniment of the most magical sounding musical instrument I’ve heard.
The story of two identical tables laden with food of the most delightful and desirable kind. Around it were hungry people. However they all had no elbows, and at the end of their stick like arms were spoons. In one place there was anger and frustration and resentment, because they could not eat. By the other table, there was joy and delight. The reason was simple, the people on the happy table were feeding each other.
The impact of this story on me will last a lifetime. It would not have been the same had there been an announcement of what gift culture is and what important work we have gathered to do etc etc etc… This story and meeting Judith also started me on my journey as a storyteller. It was so seamless actually, just like meeting my husband. No fuss, just a smooth flow of feeling at home.
There were lots of books and discussions and experiments and experiences of people and i just soaked them in, thinking, absorbing, processing. We discussed gift as both being able to give and being able to receive and many of us realized while we are comfortable with giving, we aren’t comfortable with receiving. We discussed the creation of money, the purpose, our relationship with it, whether it was something the world could do away with. There was an american anthropologist who had been studying gift culture in ancient cultures. She spoke of motherhood as a gift, in fact parent-hood as a gift and how patriarchy had robbed men of their instinct to nurture, focussing only as providing as their gift. There were 2 of us who were mums with our babies around.
As someone who had lost all contact with my pre-motherhood world, no moonlight group meditations, no salsa dancing with kids not welcome in most social settings, this was really a gift. The other lady was from Tamera in Portugal, where they were a conscious community working with healing water and other amazing inner growth stuff. We were both nursing mothers and nursed our babies on demand through the 6 hour a day unconference. It felt so good to just be accepted for whatever your role is in that moment.
There was Munir Fasheh from Palestine who spoke of the word gift in Arabic and its many meanings and contexts. There was Shammi Nanda who spoke of Non-Violent Communication and gift from that perspective. There were people building eco-friendly homes and offering to be paid in gift and living like that. It was really tough, but they had the courage to do this. There was Manish Jain from Swaraj University, where you could study even if you couldn’t give fees. There was Charles Eisenstein who wrote Sacred Economics. There was Aysegul who had set up Zumbara, a time bank. These were amazing people and many times in the day I wondered why I was there, but I was also very grateful I was there.
One day we had people from the local community come visit and interact. It was rather crowded and Sivaanaa was a bit overwhelmed I took her into a little room where she napped and when she woke, we joined the discussions. She climbed a chair and leaned back. I had the inclination that she might fall, but I wanted her to learn to take risks and find a space of trust in herself, so I watched carefully but didn’t give her any warnings. Suddenly the chair toppled over and she fell down. She hurt her head and began to cry. I walked to her and carried her in my arms, hugged her tight and just held her. It seems this sparked a big discussion in Turkish. I couldn’t understand what was being said, but I knew it was about us. I took Sivaanaa to the other room and hugged and chanted her to serenity. Later I found out the discussion was about how a Turkish mum (and their culture is so similar to ours) would have panicked and said said a lot of words. They were suddenly discussing motherhood as a gift it seems. They were amazed at what they saw. For me it was obvious. The child is hurt. Its ok to cry. I just need to witness her emotion and let her know I’m there for her. Really simple acknowledgement.
I hadn’t seen motherhood as a gift, till now, but I realized in the end, so much of who we are is because of how we were raised. It shapes our relationship with ourself and others and so how we raise our kids is really a big gift to them, to ourselves and the world. As Swami Vishnu, the founder of the Sivananda tradition says, all we need for peace in the world is to find peace within ourselves.
At the end, I just felt gift was not something to strive towards. It was to be who you are. Some flowers are fragrant, some are beautiful, some are creepers, theres a gift in their existence because they are who they are….true to what they are.
I moved on to London and later to Mumbai. Giftival had been beautiful but it wasn’t life altering like yoga or vipassana. There was still that feeling that it was a preparation for something. I let it be.
Back in India, many months later, after having time to ponder this gift stuff, I decided to offer a yoga class in the spirit of gift. This was at a beautiful studio of a beautiful fellow yogi Sheetal and his wife Khushi, who had converted their home into an Urban Ashram, a space that was always hosting wonderful facilitators and learning experiences. So I offered a 2 hour workshop on Surya Namaskaar, covering the alignment, the breathing, the philosophical aspect and the surya mantras. At the end there was a box where people could put their gift offerings.
When I sat to meditate before facilitating the yoga class, as I always do, so I can empty myself and be a channel for the higher energies, I found myself wondering about money.How much would we charge for this workshop were it a paid one, given my experience etc etc. I wondered how much people would contribute and how that total would feel to me. I thought of my friends at giftival who travelled and created eco-friendly homes for people, thats hard manual work and not knowing what they would receive as remuneration (and this was out of choice.) I realized somewhere I was pegging my self worth to money. I decided I didn’t want to contaminate my giving experience. I would not keep the money. Futhermore, I didn’t want to know how much money there was in the box at the end of the class. I just wanted to give and thats what i would do.
The class was full of gurus grace. I must write another post on the beauty of the Sivananda practice and how it changed me from sceptic left brained to flowing in grace. I gave the money to my friends to use for any cause and it felt amazing. This class was offered in gift, not as social work, not as charity…..and there is much to ponder in these words and acts.
There is something sacred about gift and the journey had only just begun.