The Gift Economy

Over the years of working exclusively on a gift economy, a lot of questions have come our way. Folks aren’t quite sure of what it means or just what’s expected of them in terms of “completing the circle” after taking our courses.

Part of this stems from the need for clarity, wanting to know just what we’re getting into. But another part comes from the dominant culture that seeks to commoditize everything, to put a $$ value on anything it can get its hands on.

Here at the Living Awareness Institute, we believe there’s no way to put a price tag on that which is meaningful.

We also believe that everyone has something they can give that’s meaningful, regardless of monetary wealth.

In many cultures, those who offered their spiritual talents, teaching, or healing did so without placing a price on their offerings. Their community would make sure they were taken care of, and those who were coming to them for guidance or healing would bring them an offering – one they knew would be valued. No “exchange rate” was needed or desired. In fact, in most of these situations, to suggest one would have been highly offensive – even if you were visiting from another culture.

At the Living Awareness Institute, the gifts our facilitators and team members offer through our workshops aren’t meant to be seen as commodities. In fact, if you take our workshops, you’ll probably agree there’s no way to really quantify their value. At the same time, we recognize that energy given out must in some way be replenished, hence the notion of completing the circle.

Completing the circle means that after you’ve received the gifts we have to offer, you take the time to see how you can, in turn, contribute to keeping the energy flowing. We start the circle by offering our gifts; you complete the circle by offering what feels to you to be the right thing to give back.

Finding the right thing isn’t always easy, as most of us are so used to being told what something’s worth we’re not used to finding that value ourselves. We also don’t often take the time to deeply check in around these things. Yet that’s just what we at the Living Awareness Institute are asking you to do – to look deeply within yourselves and see what our offerings mean to you, to get to know us (if only a little bit), and see what would be the best thing to help us continue this work in the work in the world.

The guides and teachers mentioned earlier were known to their communities, and so were their needs. These days most of us don’t live in community. We also don’t tend to know those we learn from – what they need or what would keep them sustained. Yet to sustain any type of meaningful work in the world, some kind of energy exchange is needed so that the giver can keep on giving through the long term.

So how to find the right thing (or amount if you’re offering money)? The first thing to do is to check in deeply with yourself or your spiritual guidance.

Oftentimes money is the right thing – especially if you’re one of the few people in a course that has plenty of it to give. Money is honestly a quite helpful tool for keeping these courses going.

Musical instruments make great gifts.
Musical instruments make great gifts.

At the same time, you might be one of our participants who is richer in other offerings. Maybe you love to fix bikes. Maybe you’re a bodyworker. Maybe for you offering labor is the right to do. Or maybe you have a bit of land you’d like to contribute as a conference center. Anything’s possible!

Whatever you choose, the best of these gifts are the ones where lots of thought and “blessing” have been put into it.

Gift basket
Some of the contents of a gift basket offered after the last Being Human workshop.

An example:

One person who attended the last Being Human workshop lives quite far from the world of commodities. She travels with next to no money, including no a phone or computer. She chose to give a “blessing” basket that was truly filled with care and thoughtfulness. Each thing in the basket was rich with intention – a jar of spring water, blackberry jam and tomato sauce made by her, a journal made by her from paper bags, a small zine on how the workshop was for her (also made by hand from paper bags), a CD with her original music on it. You get the idea. Each offering had a tag stating the intention behind it. In the world of capitalism, this might be seen as a paltry gift. For me, it was priceless! (As I hope our workshops are for you.)

A 6-course meal with wine pairings
A six-course meal for three with wine pairings was one of my favorite gifts ever…

Another example:

One truly priceless gift came out of our Maui workshops. One attendee there had next to no money, but was a lover of wine and good food. He lived in a tiny garage space with just one hot plate, but offered a 6-course dinner for three with wine pairings. What an incredible evening! For each course, he’d open the wine and then prepare the meal as the wine flavors befitted – straight off his hot plate. All the while he’d listen to our talk and change the background music to suit or offer a tidbit here or there that matched the conversation. His skill was incredible – both as a cook and as a host. The evening culminated with a fantastic dessert flambé made right in front of us on the floor. Truly a gift to be remembered!

Of course, not all non-money gifts need to be so complex. We just ask that you really put thought and intention behind how you complete the circle. After all, we put a lot of thought and intention behind what we’re offering you.

Note, we’re not talking about “trades” here, and we certainly aren’t inviting our participants to take this as an opportunity to offer back less than the courses are worth. We also hold that completing the circle is up to you – it’s not for us to track you down and “require payment.” If you choose to let it slide or forget about it or offer far less than what was offered to you, that’s your prerogative. Still, if you’d like to work with us in future, truly completing the circle will go a long way towards helping this work go further in the world.



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