For about a year and half since we moved to Tiruvannamalai, I experimented with offering my service (yoga therapy sessions primarily) on a gift economy model, wherein what we offer and receive are gifts and hence without any sort of a predetermination or limitation of how much is offered and received. This experiment had been a revelation for me in terms of my relationship with money / earning, and my expectations from whom I seek to serve. I had also felt that this model hinges on a relationship of trust.
I came to a conclusion that every engagement in the world is a transaction, and I don’t mean that in a cynical or negative way. I believed that even a mother wants something from her child; it may not necessarily be in a cut-and-dried way of “I give you this, in return you give me that” however there is an expectation of something. I may have glimpses of unconditional giving in myself and others now and then, but I question that it is an uninterrupted flow. The ‘I’ does interrupt. I felt that I could keep this (unconditional giving) as a signpost of growth, act such that at the very least my transactions are not exploitative, practice in this direction.
A recent conversation with a friend lighted up and brought in deeper meaning into this matter of transaction for me. She was speaking about how difficult it is for her to ‘take’ from others, and some of the ways in which this plays out in her life. I realised that I was looking into a mirror! While it has manifested differently in my life, I could have said those very same words and it would have been true for me. As I listened to her and said some things in response to her questions, I felt I was saying those things to myself as well.
Swami Vivekananda is a personal Hero, and I have known the following aspect of his personality and what he has said about this, for quite long. However it took this conversation with my friend to truly personalise what he had said. Paraphrasing what he had said in different contexts to different people: that he doesn’t see himself as a ‘giver’, there is a problem in seeing oneself as a giver or receiver. I have no problems receiving gifts from all you people who come to me. In giving, I may receive and in taking, I may give.”
As I said to her that somehow this is what I am reminded of, it occurred to me that I have always identified myself with ‘giver’ and ‘giving’, with the primary cultural conditioning and assumption being, ‘giving is good’ and a consequent injunction, ‘I should give’ and somehow the automatic negation of ‘taking’. All that I have perceived as ‘taking’ from others, I have been carrying on me a like a heavy sack of rocks. And every time I ‘take’ without ‘giving’ something, I have put a stamp of ‘exploiter’ on myself. And if I ‘give’ without taking anything, then I am some great saint or some such!! What a drama.
As I continued walking around the mountain with her and left my drama behind, I remembered the often-discussed idea that every engagement is an exchange of prAna, and in that current exchange of prAna that was happening between my friend and me (as much in silence as during the conversations), I did not (and I feel neither did she) perceive either of us as giver or taker. We were with each other for that period of time for a purpose, which held our complete attention, as much as each other, and the path and what it brought to us. From a point of examination, it could be said that in a gross way, we gave each other many things, and even looking at it more subtly we each took from the other a whole lot. And yet there were no expectations and agendas. There was no give and take. There actually was no transaction. There are I believe, no residues. Perhaps. It was a spontaneous, innocent connection / exchange.
While returning, a few non-transactional processes and exchanges that I have experienced came to mind. Examining them I find that a non-transactional exchange takes place as a consequence of some spontaneous, empathetic connection. I want to call it love. A deeper sense of losing / reaching across one’s usual boundaries of ‘I’? Maybe. A space where and when, notions of giver and receiver lose their meaning?
Yet, one category of people I see who are involved in this kind of a prAna exchange have their role boundaries very clear – my elders. And it struck me that this is something special about how some of my elders love, and seek to serve the people they love. They are able to hold the transactional and non-transactional together seamlessly without any apparent conflict between the two. This is what gives me the sense of wonder and joy when I watch them doing what they do.
My domestic helper transacts with me every day and yet there is an underlying sense of non-transaction about it all. She and I are much more than each of those transactions that we engage in, and yet it is not just this. There is something else, something more, that is feeding the human process here?
My great grandfather at 104 does not expect much from the world around him except the vadas that he relishes, to watch his beloved tennis, and someone to bless with a good and prosperous life through a 10 or 50 rupee note, each day. He gives and takes with childlike abandon and yet there is nothing transactional about it. Oh, he was a banker.
My mother-in-law’s purpose of living seems to be to support everyone in her immediate and extended family. She also gently and consistently demands role appropriate values and behaviours from her family. Her every exchange seems to be a transaction and yet absolutely non-transactional at the same time. Just how is this happening?
I now feel that it is a secondary matter whether I am working with a gift economy model or not. This would depend on the context and what is necessary. I stay with my questions, what makes me (us) give and what makes me (us) take, when do I (we) not feel any difference between the two, and so, to look at those times when transactions are taking place and yet the meta process is non-transactional.