It has been quite a while since I’ve posted here. My work was on hiatus in the fall due to an extraordinarily heavy course load, but I am back in action and so glad to be sharing the process with you.
As you may recall, I spent the summer interviewing healthcare practitioners who are using alternative economic models in their practices. It has been an incredibly inspiring and eye opening process. I’m working on setting up the last few interviews now, and am beginning the process of mining for gems in the audio recordings of completed interviews. (If only all mining were so sustainable…)
I feel, about these practitioners, like an seven-year-old meeting a firefighter for the first time: awestruck by the towering ladders, the gleaming red fire truck, and the daring fireman’s pole, that feeling of respect, excitement, visions of a future self…shortly followed by the awareness that this person is constantly preparing to risk their life to rush into burning buildings. And unlike the aforementioned child, I plan to actually be a licensed firefighter—er, gift-economy-practicing acupuncturist—within the next two years. Life! So invigorating, isn’t it?
Anyway, if there’s someone you think I absolutely must speak with about this, please help us get connected. While I’ll be winding down this project in the spring, it is clearly more than a year-long endeavor, and certainly a “more the merrier” situation.
As happens with projects, I reached a point at which I began to question my process and to wonder how it might come together. I began journaling daily, to try to get my bearings again, and ended up with a very live thing in my hands. In addition to offering me space for reflection on the nature of exchange, and on Sacred Economics (which I continue to read), I had a bit of an epiphany.
Tasha Harmon, my mentor on this leg of the journey, shared an insight. She noted that in a relationship, if one is always the giver and the recipient is never afforded opportunity to give back, it creates a certain power dynamic. This is very interesting to me, because I had been imagining the gift economy largely from the standpoint of a giver. But in a gift economy, or in any community, it is virtually impossible to give without receiving. (Thank goodness!) It has to be n flow, a cycle, a balance. Of course. Anyway, I was embarrassed to recognize how much I’d allowed myself to identify with some kind of heroic ideal. (Cringe.) Of course I want to be part of an organic, co-nourishing system and not only a handing-out one-way gift process where I offer treatments and hoard self-righteousness. It doesn’t work like that for the folks I’ve interviewed, and, thankfully, it won’t work that way for me.
With this awareness in mind, I have started keeping a daily record of gifts I’ve received and gifts I’ve given. For example: today’s log. Received: a freshly cleaned bathroom and a gorgeous dinner from my sister, trust and respect from a teacher, organic produce, self care. Gifted: a jar of water kefir to a friend, a teeny massage to a classmate, lunch to my sister, doing dishes, and time for self care. (I often take note of reciprocal experiences as both gifted and received, because it’s the truth.) Some days, I am humbled by the imbalance in the lists. I receive so very much. I’m also aware that they are not even close to comprehensive, as I appreciate, but do not tend to log, the gifts of housing, access to nourishing food, a healthy body, the luxury of being a student, safety, etc.
This recording is the aspect of the project that has been the most stirring for me of late. While I am not yet a licensed practitioner and not formally in the gift economy, I can cultivate my awareness of gift. Looking at my life through this lens changes it. It changes my attitude while doing chores; I can refocus on the benefit of the action, which makes it much easier to slow down and enjoy the process. It also helps me realize what I value most, which is usually intentional conversation, or a specific comment from a friend. This lens also gives me the feeling that I am participating in gift NOW and not somehow on hold until I have a license in hand. I have a new sense of agency about it.
Well, I’ve talked your ear off, I’m afraid. If you have any thoughts to share, please feel free to post a comment on the blog. I know that the visibility can feel like a barrier, but I’m hoping that by posting there we can grow the conversation. Consider it a gift to the community, and to me.
I look forward to hearing from you.
p.s. If you click the link in the upper left sidebar of any page at test.ecofaithrecovery.org, you can sign up to receive these Lenten reflections and subsequent blog posts directly to your email account. We welcome you to share them with others.
8 thoughts on “Mining and firefighting and heroism, oh my! (by EcoFaith Intern Turtle Farahat)”
I love the deep engagement you have been doing with this focus on the gift economy, Turtle! Thanks for letting the rest of us come along on this journey of learning with you! (It was so great to catch up with you, Tess, Nathan, Nikki, and Liz last week!)
As one grows older, you begin to think you have seen it all and heard it all, but then you are confronted with a new idea like “Gift economy” and the reciprocity of it. When my family gathers each Friday for dinner, instead of “grace”, each person identifies something they are thankful for from the week’s activities. This small effort I now realize is a recounting of gifts we have received, sometimes from nature, sometimes from strangers, and sometimes from each other like a gift exchange. The idea that understanding a chore as a gift given does indeed change the pleasure of doing it was a surprise gift to me.
While living in Minneapolis, a man who had lost his son to suicide had developed a concept known as DGDT as his way of personal recovery. He had a multiple session teaching/sharing and on completion gave us all a little dongle to hang on our key chain that was stamped with DGDT to remind us. DGDT stood for “Do Good, Don’t Tell.” It was similar to the concept of “Random Acts of Kindness.” It was an anonymous act of gift giving. Being anonymous removed the patronage, the expectation of reciprocity. It was gift giving in its purest form. In a way, that is how we treat natures gifts to us, hidden from view with no expectation on our part of reciprocity. We act as if we can take the gifts our earth provides us without understanding the need to give in return, to nurture nature as it were.
Yes, your sharing has deep implications for how we relate to each other and to our biosphere. Thank You.
Thanks, Cecil, for sharing your thoughts. I particularly resonate with what you’re saying about nurturing nature. It’s something I’ve been thinking about, but not something I’ve figured out, per se. Do you have any ideas about how we can give reciprocally, back to the Earth?
Thank you, Turtle, for your thoughtful and honest sharing. Thanks also to you, Cecil. I think a deep gift that we share with one another is presence and listening. To be truly present to another is to deeply honor who they are. Deeply listening and being present to Earth is a way to give back to Her for all the gifts that she gives to us–life, beauty, wonder, nuturing, adventure, and the list goes on and on. As you mentioned, Turtle, there are so many gifts that we receive that go unnoticed in our daily lives. Earth is constantly giving, take gravity for instance. Where would we be without gravity? Not on Earth! Deeply listening, being present to Earth is a way to give back. Opening ourselves to a deep connection with Earth changes us and changes Earth.
Hazel sent these comments, which I found extremely though provoking, and thought other folks would appreciate. (Posted with Hazel’s permission.):
I started thinking… in the activist language that i’m used to this
concept your talking about feels really similar to me to a concept we’ve
been talking about as: mutual aid vs. the service provider model. The
service provider model being what we’re used more- a non profit or an
agency providing a free or low cost clinic in which there’s the “good” and
typically more privileged person serving the less privileged in a top down
or expert sort of way that usually (or hopefully) allieviates some
suffering but doesn’t change the conditions of suffering; while a mutual
aid model (a concept popular with anarchist) is more of a circular and
revolutionary concept where everyone contributes what it is they have to
offer and mutually we all aid each other, recognizes what everyone has to
offer in a way that is not typically done in our society.
We’ve been talking a lot about creating counter institutions as an
integral part of revolutionary struggle in in the US and clinics would be
one example of that, while schools could be another. But if so- how could
“we” create a clinic that both helped sick people and also functioned as
an aspect of a revolutionary movement (positive affecting the conditions
that make struggle/resistance a necessity). How could “we” do it
differently so that it was an hands on example of mutual aid rather than a
service provider model.
Seems like really similar concepts to what you are talking about just
different language and perhaps a bit of different context or lens.
I was touched to hear from one of my long-time my mentors, who had these words of wisdom to offer:
What you say about giving and receiving is important. When we only give and don’t receive, we deny the recipient to whom we’ve given “agency.” Much of social work and addiction treatment is based on giving–ie: advice, support, direction, etc. The person who receives is viewed as someone who needs help, often not as someone who has anything to offer. Thus, many of the person’s strengths are overlooked and a chance for enhanced self-esteem because they have given is negated.
My experience at needle exchange has convinced me of this. We gave people needles, supplies, encouragement, etc. However, when exchangers volunteered to help, as a gift to us, it had an amazing impact on them. They felt they were people of worth who had something to offer. Giving back made them feel good, a part of something positive. If we refuse to receive, we take away agency and self-esteem.
Thank you, Ruth, for your insights! I have been thinking and feeling into the concept of gravity as a gift from the Earth, since reading your post. And I continue to seek time with the ground, with trees, with the elements. I appreciate the idea that this is both a receiving from the Earth, and a gift to offer the Earth.
As Lent approaches, I look forward to participating with Wilderness Way in spending 10-20 minutes outside just being and learning. The invitation is open to all! (http://soulcafe.org/group/wilderness-way-lent-2013)
Thanks, Turtle, for your great post and for sparking such great conversation. As a friend and fellow intern, you continue to inspire me with your work. I particularly resonated with Hazel’s thoughts and have slowly been learning about coming out of the charity model (often associated with social work–of which I am connected) and living into the solidarity model, where there is a real and mutual relationship. I still have so much to learn, and I am thankful for folks who have helped me begin the process in a real way.
I also loved the part of the conversation about giving back to the Earth. This Fall, I was really wrestling with the question, “how do I give back to the Earth more than I take?”. After some time, I came humbly to the simple question, “how do I give back anything to the Earth?” This led me to start regularly helping in a friend’s garden, getting my hands in the dirt, making friends with the bugs and worms, and learning more about how the Earth cycles work. I want to learn how to be in a relationship with the soil and find out how I can contribute to a healthy eco-system. I again have so much to learn, but I’m loving the process.
Thanks again, Turtle, for your post. There will be another post about my internship from me coming soon, so hope we can continue some good conversation.