Gift : The Beginning of a Deep Journey

Gift : The Beginning of a Deep Journey

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.
Heritage Swap

Heritage Swap

I woke up this morning, feeling very blessed and grateful….last evening was truly magical, more than I could ever have imagined it to be. Such power in intention and non expectation. I walked into the living room, and looked upon the beautiful gift circle that was handmade by my dear neighbour Nitya and embellished with little dots and squiggles by 5 enthusiastic kids ranging from age 2 to 12.  I couldn’t help but smile.
A beautiful gathering of like hearted people we had.  Each story was so powerful.
A mother who had miscarriages offered the jeans her precious little daughter wore the first time she said ta-ta (bye bye).
A new mother shared a stuffed rabbit that had been gifted to her on impulse by a lttile boy she met while working in London. The boy had said to her ” Take this rabbit and when you have a little boy you must give it to him.”  She shared that she had no intention of even having a child at the time she received the gift. Now she has a little son and he had really played with it a lot and she had washed it and even blow dried it to bring it to heritage swap.
A friend brought her wedding jewellery to let go of the attachment. It was picked up by a 7 year old who promptly wore it and beamed smiles all around the room.
A guy brought a keychain he had got for his no ex-girlfriend on a trip abroad. When they broke up, she returned it. It hung in his cupboard till it came to the swap, a reminder each morning of a love lost. It was hard to let go, but when it was done, it was so transforming.
Another beautiful soul brought a set of hand painted coasters with the seasons(ritu) in the Indian tradition. They had been given to her by her mothers friend and  her mentor, who had passed on last year. This was what she was holding on  to. She said they were hand painted and so beautiful that she never had the heart to put a wet glass on them and so she was holding the memory of the hand painted coasters and passing them on to someone who would really use them.
A 12 year old brought a truck eraser that her favourite teacher had given her when she moved from Delhi to Mumbai. She shared that she had been struggling to find a gift for the swap. Since her teacher has given her 3 erasers, she held on to 2 and put this one into the heritage swap circle. Her sister put in her favourite bedtime book that her mother had read her every night when she was 2.
The stories are so many, this post could go on forever.
What was poignant and unexpected for me is that more than the swap, it was the intention of finding something truly meaningful to share and the letting-go that all of us experienced. Truly its easier to let go of money than something with heart-value. It also came home to me, that when you struggle to let go of money, its usually because of being in a space of  fear of scarcity. When you struggle to let go of something with heart value, its because of the abundance of trust and love that you want to hold on to forever.
This was also my experiment with having kids in the same space as adults. I have always been a social person, curious about things and wanting to share and experience. After becoming a mother, I felt sort of ostracised. No one wants people with kids at their events except other mums ofcourse.  This did not feel cool.
I struggled many a time with the thought of putting Sivaanaa in daycare so I could go for something, but I didn’t. My mentor on the parenting journey, Yasmin understood my lament and she said to me, that children weren’t meant to not be part of society. In the good old days, mothers would take their kids to work on the fields, slinging them and singing to them while they worked. This stayed with me, and as I resumed working, I picked projects that had to do with children Sivaanaa’s age. I sling-ed her and took her to work with me. When it was meetings with adults, she served chai from her toy set that she carried with her. People sensed that we were comfortable being the mother-baby package and were very accommodating of us.
In 2013, we took Sivaanaa to a gathering on gift culture in Istanbul. That was the first time, she was accepted and cherished in a purely adult setting. There was one other baby, an 18 month old from Tamera, an intentional community in Portugal. This was a dream space. Babies played and quietly so in the space that was held for them by the group. Babies nursed and slept while we brainstormed and heart-warmed on how we could shift gradually from a culture of money to a culture of gift. I sat there wondering how I could facilitate gift culture in my own small way while still keeping house and beng present for baby. At the end of the 3 day all day long gathering, I was of the feeling that being a mother and trying to be a conscious one (though I know theres miles to go) is the gift for me.
And yes the idea of heritage swap, was gifted to me by my little one. I have many friends who have older kids and share the toys, clothes and books their children have outgrown with so much love. Often there is a story of how much their child loved a particular book or the memory of something to do with the object. My little one always asks me who gave her something and what its story is. That has taught me that when there is love and a story attached to an object, it flips from a perception of hand-me-down to heritage. Infact the other day, S was wearing a new dress gifted to her when she was one and that just fits her. I metioned who had given it to her and she asked  ” Mumma when D’s mum was little was this her dress”. I just smiled at the joy this little kid experiences in these things. Its priceless!
Its amazing what this was like for the kids. I was both excited and nervous about having them. I packed away all the breakable stuff. I shut the toyroom— I didn’t want kids fighting over a toy/s while we were sharing stories. I bought 1 kg of shelled green peas for them to clean  while we were sharing. (the kids were mostly 3-7 years old and they are in the age of industry and doing….no chance they were gng to sit through a whole hour of sharing) And then I surrenedered to the universe. They shelled green peas and listened, some  coming into the circle when their mum shared about their toys that they were swapping. Everyone understood that the attractive things being placed into the circle could not be touched until everyone was done sharing.
The peas were shelled faster than you can imagine and we did have to invite them into the playroom eventually….but it was ok…quite manageable.
They enjoyed swapping stuff…. it was a treat for them to pick what they wanted.
To me the integration of motherhood and life was completed. Mothers, kids, men, college students were all complete in the circle of life.

The funny thing is, S picked up a pair of pretty pink sneakers that squeak at the swap last night. They just about fit her. After a while, she asked to take them off. I said ” These seem a little tight for you…… ” She knew what was coming, so she promptly said ” no, I want to take them out so the squakey battery doesn’t die”….. ha ha. I take off the shoes and she goes off to play. In less than a minute she is back. She says ” Mumma, when I become 7 years na, these shoes wont fit me na….then can I swap them again!”
I’m still laughing….