Living in the Gift


Why does the sun shine? A random result of coalescing gases igniting nuclear fusion? Or is it in order to give its light and warmth to Life? Why does the rain fall? Is it the senseless product of blind chemical processes of evaporation and condensation? Or is it to water life? Why do you seek to pour forth your song? Is it to show off your genetic fitness to attract a mate, or is it to contribute to a more beautiful world? We may fear those first answers but it is the second that carries the ring of truth.

Every culture, as far as I know, has something that I call a Story of the World. That story is a weave of myths, meanings, narratives, words, symbols, rituals, and agreements that together define the world. That story tells us who we are, how to be a man or a woman, what is important and valuable, what is real, what is sacred, what humanity’s role and purpose is on earth.

The world’s dominant culture, the one called modern, has a story of the world too. I call it the story of separation. I won’t go too deep into it now, because I bet you already know intuitively what I’m talking about. It is the story that holds us as separate individuals and holds humanity separate from nature.

In the Story of Separation, giving does not come naturally. In fact, that story says our default nature is selfishness, down to the genetic level. If I’m separate from you, then more for me is less for you.

In the Story of Separation, trust does not come naturally either. The world is our adversary, full of other competing separate individuals, human and otherwise, whom we must overcome to have a good life –weeds, germs, the Russians, whatever. Beyond that, the forces of nature are adversaries too, because they are utterly random, and the whole universe tends toward entropy. There is no intelligence or purpose outside of ourselves. Therefore, to establish a comfortable human habitation in the world, we must dominate and control these forces, insulate ourselves from them, and harness them to our purposes. That’s what the Story of Separation says.

Where in that story is there room for gratitude? Where is there room for gift? In the Story of Separation you basically have to rise above human nature, rise above the way of the world, to be selfless, generous, or altruistic. Becoming a good person, then, involves a sort of conquest, a conquest of self. It is the same domination of nature, this time turned inward.

Now I have to say, this story is quickly becoming obsolete. Even its scientific dimension in genetics, physics, and biology are crumbling. In complexity theory, we understand that order can emerge spontaneously out of chaos, without an external organizing force. In ecology, we understand that the wellbeing of one is inseparable from the wellbeing of all. So let me talk about gift, generosity, and gratitude from the perspective of another story, a new and ancient story I like to call Interbeing.

In the story of Interbeing, life is a gift. The world and everything in it is a gift. We did not earn our lives. We did not earn the sun; it is not thanks to our hard efforts that it shines. We did not earn the ability of plants to grow. We did not earn water. We did not earn our conception nor our breath. Our hearts beat and our livers metabolize all on their own. Life is a gift.

What about all those things that did come to you through hard effort? You worked hard for your money perhaps, for your status, for your healthy body. OK, but from where comes your capacity to work hard? From where comes your creativity, your strength, and your intelligence? Did you earn these too?

When we apprehend these basic truths, gratitude comes naturally. Gratitude is the knowledge of having received and the consequent desire to give in turn. It is primal. All beings including human beings have an unquenchable desire to pour forth their gifts. That is why if you are in a situation where your gifts are not valued, not received, or not useful, you will want to leave that situation, that job or relationship. No matter how much you are being paid, no matter how scared you are to leave the relationship, you’re going to want to bust out and develop and express your capacity to give to the world in service of something you care about.

All beings are thus. That is why we should be living in a world of incredible abundance. The fact that modern society has constructed conditions of such pervasive scarcity is an impressive achievement! So much talent, such a rich world. How is it that so many live in insecurity, anxiety, and deprivation? Not even the wealthy are exempt from the fear of it.

Nature is fundamentally abundant, even profligate. I am writing this at my brother’s farm. The birds sing all day, pouring forth their song as a gift to the world. Yeah I know about attracting a mate and marking territory, but come on, do they have to sing that much to do that? It is as if they are bursting with the desire to give their song, just like you are. You were born for it, whatever your song is, you were born for it. Do the wild black raspberries here have to taste that good to attract animals to eat them and poop out their seeds? And don’t you have that urge too, to do it better than necessary for the grade, for the boss, for the market? Don’t you have to yearn to make art of your work? Don’t you have the urge within you to create something beautiful, to expand your capacities to their full potential and express them in service to something magnificent?

You are not alone. Imagine what the world would be if each person were liberated in this desire. Imagine what the world could be if we could sweep away the conditions that conspire to stunt and suppress our gifts. These conditions are political, they are economic, they are ideological, they are relational, they are psychological and they are spiritual. For civilization to transition into an age of the gift requires transformation on every level.

I’ve written extensively about the transition on an economic level, but what about the personal, relational, and spiritual? We need to deprogram from the habits of separation and scarcity to reclaim the primal state of gift. I don’t think that this happens through personal efforts, motivated by the desire to be a better person. It is rather something that happens to us. It happens, in other words, as a gift.

The transmission vector of that gift is community. Generosity, you may have noticed, is infectious. When you witness generosity, you receive the message, “It is safe to give. It is OK. I’ll be OK.” Sharing stories and practices of gratitude, of generosity – and of the challenges and setbacks in stepping more deeply into gift – we generate a normalizing field that counteracts social programming toward competition, selfishness, and scarcity.

My small contribution to that “normalizing field of gift” is an online course called Living in the Gift, a kind of complement to the nerdier system-level thinking I indulged in my book (Sacred Economics). While it touches on a few big-picture issues, mostly it is an immersion into the habits of gift, the perceptions of gift, the awareness of abundance, and the experience of gratitude. In doing so, we step outside the New Age abundance-thinking bubble to address the contradictions of our time: between money and love, service and security, community and independence, wealth and inequality.

In case you are wondering, we offer the course itself on a gift model. Any payment is purely voluntary. Nothing is withheld behind a paywall, and there is no “upselling” to paid programs. One of the habits of Separation, nearly universal in this culture, is to always be on guard against someone seeking to make money from you, to take, to extract. Economics even teaches us that basically, everyone is trying to get the best deal and maximize their rational self-interest. That’s the water in which we swim. So, as much as I dare I like to mess with that expectation of extraction.

This small article draws from some of the introductory course material. I hope most of what I’ve written here seems obvious. My purpose here is to pluck an ancient chord of recognition. It is to invoke a memory, to activate a piece of knowledge long suppressed in the dominant culture but still alive somewhere in all of us. It is simply that life is a gift, that the world is a gift, that the cosmos operates on the principles of gift. Please bathe in your intuitive resonance with this truth. Beneath the cynicism we know: it is all a gift. Gratitude is our native state. Generosity is its maturation. Thank you for keeping the thread of this knowledge alive.

Comments

  1. Dear Charles, I’m fascinated by your wisdom and will begin to study it. I am a songwriter and am asking your permission to create a tune for “Gratitude is our native state. Generosity is its maturation. ”
    Of course I will credit you. .Thanks so much. Kate Munger

  2. Charles, can the related Living in the Gift be structured to be offered to an group, here in Door County Wisconsin? What would be the process and related costs, and technical capacities to arrange a course for a group; e.g., we have a group of folks who have been studying the roots of “income inequality” (I prefer to think of this as a misnomer; and rather prefer “barriers to sustainable prosperity”) that could transition from lectures from Economics professors and folks like Chuck Collins who came to Door County, our locale, in Wisconsin to speak about his books: Is Income Inequality reversible and Born on Third Base …. himself having inherited an elite 1% fortune. Seems like your course would provide a cultural pathway to changing the world….it’s impossible, let’s do it.
    Thank you for all your fine work in creating this course and your books.
    Please advise.

    Wayne Kudick, P.O. Box, 695, Fish Creek, WI, 54212 wjkucick@dcharter.net.

  3. Powerful paradigm disruption taking place here, Charles. I am blessed to have you as a catalyst in my maturation and evolution Thank you.

  4. Much gratitude Charles! I haven’t read your books yet, but recently found your podcast and love it. Your message offers some sorely needed new stories which at minimum start a productive conversation. I’m a 45 year old husband and father of 4 working at a job which barely pays our bills and leaves me feeling empty. I’m very excited to take the course and will share it with others. 🙏🏻

  5. Yes, it’s contagious so let’s spread the word about this course and the joys of living in the gift. I also recommend the book Pronoia, the antidote to paranoia, by Rob Brezsny. Let’s get out of that Old Story and into the New Story asap.

  6. Community is a “transmission vector” OF the gift is a cool phrasing. The prior “perssonal” experience of gift (grace) is Life’e primary responsiblity while It imagines Itself to be a separate person. The conundrum of course is detangling from feeling like the (special) person who has to do this and how to figure it out. Community just to congregate is codependence of separate persons. As a vector of those who don’t NEED community, it is the joy of giving/sharing that freedom. Since we have everything (because we Are it), the only avenue open is to give It. And the discovery of breaking down the walls of being It versus giving It. I’ll bet Charles’ new course will be splendid for that! (I’ve partaken of his food “yoga” course and it is splendid)

  7. Thank you for open-heartedly sharing your gift with us. I have read your works and watched your videos for a few years now, and I must say they have provided me with a touch-stone I can
    use when the chaos of our current societal shift become too scary. I believe that participating in this course will change me, and I look forward to that change.

    Namaskar my Friend and Thank You

  8. Very good. And yes, so obvious, especially when it’s pointed out as eloquently as you have here, that life and the world are gifts and our fundamental response should be gratitude. And yet so forgotten in the modern age.
    You say:
    ” I don’t think that this happens through personal efforts, motivated by the desire to be a better person.”
    I believe another way to view this is to understand that being a better human being means being a better *fellow* human being. In other words, self-improvement and spiritual growth are deeply connected to and dependent upon how we regard and interact with those around us. Once this is understood, then personal efforts to be a better person are fully aligned with the interbeing Story of the World.

  9. According to the Buddha, we create our world by our actions. Living in a world of scarcity and living in a world of abundance comes from our actions. When we give, we create a world of enough. When we are stingy, we create a world of lack. To some extent, whether one or the other is “innate” or the “native state”, whether we fell from its grace, etc. is not significant. What is significant is that we create our world NOW with our actions in the present moment out of the potentials from the past. Both the potential for a world of abundance and a world of scarcity are present due to past karma/actions– present karma is what chooses which to pay attention to and develop.

    Perceiving things as gifts and feeling gratitude and giving doesn’t necessarily require that they are “innate states” to motivate us to perceive and act this way. Simply that giving feels good should be motivation enough. Of course, one might not be used to thinking and acting this way, so one might not know for themselves that it feels good. But then it only takes the willingness to experiment to see if a different way of thinking and acting might create a better world around you.

  10. Absolutely! You are an edge leader into creating the new paradigm opening doors and windows for us all to find more of our senses.
    And you are a blessing to myself and my community. I would like to sign up for this but it was not taking new registrations . Does this mean it is full?

    Thank you!

    • Hi, Cindy

      Yes, we are absolutely taking registrations now and ongoing!

      I’m not sure why you experienced this, but it may have been because so many people are registering right now…. In any case, come on over to the course page to check it out. You’ll need to log into the site and, once you have, you’ll be able to register for Living in the Gift.

      It’s here: https://charleseisenstein.org/gift

      If you require additional assistance, contact me directly through the “contact us” form: https://charleseisenstein.org/contact-and-gift/

      Regards,
      Laurie

  11. My heart warms with your words. Thank you Charles.
    Gift of life; what a wonderful naming for a context of gratitude and reciprocity.
    I live in London and hope we can join your course from here.

  12. I tried to sign ip for the course by logging in there was all information about the course but no specific way to register. it has already started. is it still possible to sign up?

    • Renata, at the very bottom of the page, if you scroll down, there is a white box that says “To register for this Learning Journey, please Login or Create an Account and then return.” The Login and Create Account areas are hot-links that will take you where you need to go.

  13. “I’ve written extensively about the transition on an economic level, but what about the personal, relational, and spiritual? ” As Charles points out, the former and the latter are intimately interconnected and interdependent. Man/woman does not live by bread alone, but without bread, she/he cannot live at all. In this regard, I find a deepening resonance between Charles’ explorations of a gift economy and nature-friendly forms of money, and some of the more adventurous interpretations of the increasingly popular Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The focus and language of the following article may seem far removed from Charles’ thought, but see if you also sense an incipient synchronicity here…if only in the gist or between the lines.

    https://arcade.stanford.edu/content/unheard-center-critique-after-modern-monetary-theory

  14. Surely, I love your knowledge. I have come across your three books, sacred economics, the ascent, and a better world is better and I want to tell you that sacred economics has been the best book in this year in all books I have read. The reason is because it has completely changed me, changed my life, gave me a new perspective to true living. It is the backbone of my idea of swapafrica (https://www.swapafrica.net) and I would love to see all communities in my country, Uganda embrace abundance as you clearly show where it is. I quote your books a lot; you are whole answer I have now in defense of new modes of economic and community organizations that give more to people and community. I really love you. And I thank God I came across your book when I was browsing a swap site called simbi and someone had shared a link to your books. God is good that he showed me a way of gift, generosity, and gratitude to life through you Charles. God bless you

  15. Wow, so eloquent and beautiful. I was struck that my Sensei for many years called this civilization the “way of separation.” It is a very clear teaching, thank you. I struggled long with money, the meaning of which I struggled with for a long time as well. I recently woke to the realization that I have been trying to make the transition the world is needing. I do not wish to participate in any system as violent as this for one second, as I committed long ago to doing all I can to move this civilization into that which is created as humanity unfolds its full vibrational potential. So now I “build a new society within the shell of the old”, and I DO spend a lot more time in conversation with trees – Interbeing. From here, money is trivial personally. I only want to receive money if people are inspired to give it, out of an abundance they have – again which is part of the waking up to the majesty of Creation and our delightful place in it, if we remain humble, giving and Earth-honoring. And it is all about the Gift. It is a theme which runs through all my work and interests – Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC and Social Change, wherein contributing to one another is acknowledged as our deepest most fulfilling need. Empathy and Presence. Chi. Humanure projects. Mycellium and Fungi – regenerating Life webs. Hemp. Thank you for such lucidity and inspiration.

  16. Give and it shall be given unto you

    The generous soul shall be blessed

    He who gives to the poor lends to the LORD and he shall repay

    Fear not little flock for your Father in heaven is pleased to give you the kingdom

    Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights

    Thank you for reminding me of the truth I know.

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