Posted by: scintillatingspeck | December 18, 2012

Receive. Give. And this is NOT about the holidays.

I’m not sure why I got a bit tangled before writing tonight.  Not that facing blockages as a writer is anything new to me; there are often abundant hurdles to overcome.  The momentum I’ve been maintaining on this blog for the past two months astonishes me; I’ve never been able to write so doggedly in my entire life.  So why should it be any wonder that a hurdle would crop up, a moment of insecurity?

I already knew that I was setting out to write about giving and receiving tonight.  I think there is something about this topic that makes me feel especially vulnerable, and I will need to keep writing to find out what it is.

I had an exchange with a friend on Facebook about giving and receiving today, after I posted a link to a video of a teacher reading his resignation letter.  The teacher could no longer stomach the system he was working in.  He wants his students to be lifelong learners.  He clearly has a passion for teaching, and he walked away from it.  He was willing to forego his own financial security in order to uphold his most cherished values, and said he would rather tutor for free than continue to be complicit in the broken system that is not serving the true needs of children.  In my comment on Facebook, I wrote “Let’s all tutor each other for free!”  Then came the following exchange:

Friend: Timebanking could make that work quite well.

Me: I think timebanking is a decent intermediate step, but observing it in practice in my area, I see that people still get hung up on the transactional nature of it and making sure to quantitatively value everything. This can still lead to similar dynamics that keep people separated and suffering; people can feel like they are time-poor rather than just money-poor. The revolutionary aspect of a gift economy, I think, is that the quantitative valuation part is thrown out the window. This is really effing hard for people to wrap their minds around. It’s hard for a lot of people to give freely, but it’s 100 times harder for people to receive freely, I find. We need to learn how to receive. I think we all need to practice giving and receiving gifts of all types, and emphasizing that there is no accounting system behind it, other than the amorphous economy of love and mutual aid. I’ve been fortunate to get some practice lately.

Friend: If it is OK with you I would like to share your comments with our fledgling time banking group. I think you have a good perspective on a serious problem. I think people have a lot of trouble shedding the idea of hierarchy and class and society has invested a lot of effort in making sure people sense their proper position in the class system.

Hmm.  I must be honing in on whatever is scaring me because my heart is beating faster.  Part of me wants to go down a more intellectual path of writing about gift economies; you know, the theoretical stuff, the rational, head-oriented stuff.  Except someone keeps reminding me that theory and practice are just the same, except in practice.  So this is going to have to be about practice. Isn’t that what my writing has been about these past two months?  Patting myself on the head, saying “There, there, brain, get out of your own fucking academic, pragmatic way,” and simultaneously, throwing open the creaking doors of my heart, stuffed with milkweed fluff and birch bark, and tossing in a lit match?

So how have I been getting practice with giving and receiving lately?  And why is the thought of it making it hard for me to breathe?

Before I started writing, I was on Facebook (yes, I know, Facebook seems to be a favorite hang-out of mine, get over it, I used to be ambivalent, now I’ve embraced it, warts and all).  I gulped a bit and asked for help.  A pep talk.  And I got several.  Immediately!  How amazing is that!  The hard part is in the asking, of course.  Being on the receiving end.  Why is it so hard to receive?  We are all yawning chasms of need under the skin, it turns out.  I don’t care who you are: you’re a yawning chasm of need, don’t argue with me.  If you’re one of the rare few who has all their needs met and not even the slightest bit of emptiness or longing, well, then, how nice for you; you need to go read some other blog.

Asking for help, tonight, reminded me of asking for help, also via Facebook, a few months ago.  Then I wrote simply, “Seeking kind words.”  I sought kind words, and received them, and they changed my entire life.  How can that be?  Is it that simple?  A few words, offered with love, and BAM, my whole head explodes?  Was I on the verge of exploding anyway?  Perhaps.  But the many gifts that have been sent my way were largely unanticipated.  Gifts of profound insight.  Gifts of witness.  Gifts of unbelievable encouragement.  Gifts of pushing me to reconfigure my self-worth, my ego, my sense of place.  And they keep coming.  Gifts of attention, conversation, laughter, transcendence.  Gifts of love.  I have been practicing how to receive these gifts with gratitude and grace.  Practicing opening myself to them fully rather than sending them back unopened.  It might have been easier, in some ways, to remain numb– being receptive and open also means being vulnerable to pain, as it turns out, and I’ve had plenty of that of late, too.  But I take it as an inevitable cost and consider it well worth the price.

All of this plenitude that has been raining down on me makes it rather obvious and wonderful that I want to give.  I now know I have a lot to give.  I didn’t always believe that.  And I want this giving to be wholly unrestricted, a free-flowing fountain, an exuberant burst of hummingbirds.  My ideas are piling up.  The key, though, is encouraging those around me to receive, to let go of the baggage around giving and receiving.  If we keep practicing, though, and keep showing each other how it’s done, the more we will do it, the more it will feel as natural as breathing.  We can get beyond the tangle of cultural expectations, money, all of the forms of accounting and tallying and worrying about who owes what to whom.  We can trust in the absolute simplicity of free giving, free receiving.  This I know in my bones.  There are teachings, words, material support, food, time, and presence to be given and taken in.  There is sun, rain, dirt, and love.



  1. Oh, honey–you’re a walking gift. And I think you’re on to something big, about the gratitude/generosity cycle. It may be what we’re here for. Love you a bunch–

  2. It is in the unwavering calmness of the mind that the deepest insights exist.

    And yes, nothing is given when even the faintest trace of a return – even so much as a nod of appreciation – is expected: such a transaction is no different from a sale. On the receiving side, there is the admonition against accepting anything that entails an implicit obligation. It is better to explicitly state the obligation where such a transaction is necessary.

  3. Thanks for the reminder to watch the RI teacher video. Overlooked it the other day. – KK

  4. Dāna: Thoughts of a 21st Century Zen Buddhist

    Dana, which means “giving”, is cognate to the English “donate” and “donation”.

  5. Jen, I so look forward to seeing an email in my inbox announcing that you have posted another blog. These last two that you’ve posted, I actually saved for opening later, like a precious gift placed on my altar that sends out joy and satisfaction before the ribbon is even loosened. It doesn’t matter what you’ve chosen to write about; each time, the depth of emotion, acuity of vision and heartbeat of love envelope me and soothe me. Your practice of giving is received by me with full-blow joy!

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