Monday, April 14, 2014

Operating in the Spirit of Gift

Of late, I have been receiving a few emails and questions in person regarding my relationship to money - whether I'm against it or for it. Also, the age old question of sustainability, and if giving without strings attached makes sense in today's world.

I thought it might be helpful to put up some of my conversations (particularly the emails) online. Here are excerpts from a recent one I've been engaging in.

Question from a dear friend - 'D': 
"I am at a juncture where I am barely making my expenses with the money I make from my healing sessions. Last month has been the best because at the beginning itself I decided to work on flexible payment system. Sometimes people quoted very low for what they felt they could pay for healing sessions, and these were not people who couldn't pay. I was not sure what to do. Though I love receiving as per each person's willingness and ability, in these cases, I felt I was being cheated. Since you have far more experience in the service space, can you let me know how to approach this situation?  What would be a broader perspective that I can apply?
Thanks for taking the time out to read and respond :)"

Excerpts from my Response: 
"It's really lovely to see your email. Lately I have been thinking about my relationship with money in deeper ways. The first 29 years of my life were spent chasing it, the next three rejecting it. I feel like the last six months have seen me attempting to embrace it without thinking of it as good or bad and more as a flow.

The article that you read is the result of a bunch of experiments to help me understand my relationship with money. For starters, me and a few other people have begun to classify capital in different ways - not only tangible forms like money and material wealth, but also subtler forms like social capital.

I think the point you raised is extremely critical and is something a lot of us are struggling with currently. In fact, I'm getting more and more convinced that our collective liberation might actually lie in understanding and transforming these mundane, material questions :)

I have been thinking a great deal on this topic, and I'd love to share a few blogs that I'll be posting in the coming weeks. For now though, a couple points come to mind - I've listed them below:

- Questioning why we're looking to operate in the spirit of Gift culture. For me, I look at the Gift offering as a means to unlock a very different kind of capital between giver and receiver. Through my experience at Seva Cafe and Moved By Love, I've seen that offering something in this spirit works a great deal when we seek to create Transformation in nature (beyond just impact). Someone once asked me what the difference was between Seva Cafe and a regular restaurant - at the end of the day, there was an income and an expenditure that balanced each other out. Food was given, money was received. Of course, in our minds there is a difference, but it's important to articulate it. I believe that this spirit of offering is very geared towards unlocking subtler forms of capital within us and externally. Seva Cafe is oriented in solving the problem of empathy in the world, not so much the problem of hunger. I think it is critical to use this form of giving in a judicious manner - there might be some situations when transactional giving is more appropriate. 

- If we do chose to operate in the spirit of Gift, then I believe our work is rooted entirely in creating the right conditions for the gift to manifest. The actual transfer of money is simply the tip of the iceberg. I remember in the Mumbai Seva Cafe, two 25 year olds came up to me after lunch. One was a banker, and another a consultant and they were both intrigued when they saw the email invitation for Seva Cafe. They had never heard about anything like this, and given the context that they were operating out of, they thought it was a bit fishy. They came almost to 'prove' that something like this couldn't work, but the moment they entered, they saw a volunteer greet them with a hug, another decorating the space with a rangoli, a little girl offered them an inspiring quotation on a bookmark. They were even more moved when they saw that the waiter was someone just like them who could otherwise have been at the movies, but chose to serve them that day. In all of this, they suddenly had this realization that 'trusting one-another' was the most natural state of being, and when the bill came, were more than happy to offer out of this spirit. 

This is no groundbreaking story, but it made me step back and think of what our true work really is. Perhaps, it was to simply create the right environment in which the spirit of gift becomes effortless. 

Once I began working with this condition, I've been super careful to not operate in Gift when there is a sense of 'effort' from either side - giver and receiver. 

[...] Over 2014, I hope to experiment a great deal in this regard - trying to understand subtler forms of capital in my life, using currencies rooted in abundance and even breathing more loving into money. In fact, I've even re-named my folder of bills and accounts on my PC to 'Joy' :) 

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