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Most of us, even if we enjoy large parts of our lives, see the world around us and see that there is much that causes pain, both to others and ourselves. There are warped political and financial structures, a plethora of individual pains and dysfunctions, family and relationship issues, addictions, and on and on.  Sometimes the thought of how much it would take to fix even half of these issues seems like too much, and we to just accept the world as it is, do some small personal improvements, and live with the pain.

However there is a path that leads to a different and better world. It requires a holistic approach, addressing both the individual and the community, both the deeply internal and the physical and practical. But it does not require us to fix 1000’s of issues. By addressing a few root ideas and structures that ripple out into all of our lives, it creates a real path for different experience, and a different vibrant community, now. And although we need to make changes on multiple levels, this path does not need the government or even the greater financial system to change at all. We can do this change with what is in front of us right now.

In this series I will lay out my ideas for one of the paths we can take. And in this article I will begin by addressing the problems, what are we really facing?

THE PROBLEM(S)

As I mentioned above, many of us see and are touched by the problems in living in world and culture we live in. Some may seem totally lost in these problems. Many of us have recognized these issues and have been working to our lives, and in some cases the structures around us, but with very mixed results, and maybe in a way that we feel like a bee-bee fighting the ocean.

I know that most of us have read laundry lists of all the reasons the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. And if you’re like me, you’re pretty tired of it. All that seems to lead to is a state of overwhelm and depression, and rarely any useful action. What has been useful to me is to look at the patterns underneath all the individual and community wide problems. I have a noticed that a few structures and ideas are at the bottom of most of the problems we face. If we change those, positive results will naturally ripple into our lives and our community. Often these roots are things that are so much a part of our consciousness, of the world around us, that we never even see them, much less question them, they are simply the way life is. Here are some of the key roots that I see:

I see people around me, and sometimes myself, experiencing a sense of lack, sometimes it is a lack of connection, a lack of meaning, or even just a core sense that something is missing. And then acting to try to alleviate this pain in ways that just cause more pain and disconnection. Maybe by trying to soothe the pain without addressing the root causes (cocaine, alcohol, anti anxiety and depressions drugs, addictive overeating, overwork, etc.) . And maybe by trying to replace our needs with symbols or poor replacements, chocolate for love, money for a feeling of accomplishment, porn for intimacy, etc.

I think the root of the unaddressed need is a belief and an experience of separation. We feel separate from our each other, from the earth and nature around us, from our own minds and especially our bodies, and from the very flow of life itself.

This creates a hunger within us that almost all of us avoid, in may different ways, We we may want to become complete, by owning enough pieces of a world we feel disconnected from. We may want to control others to make sure they won’t go away, We may join an extreme cause, because it gives us a sense of being something larger. This starts with a belief that we are ares separate beings, that are often in competition with each other, with nature, maybe even with life itself.  And that belief is reinforced by so many life experiences.

One way I see this played out in our psyches is judgment. We all carry this experience that something isn’t right, and in a culture of separation, we want to find out whose fault this is. Some of us torture ourselves with hateful self judgements. Other spend much of our life energy judging each others. Most of us do both. And what this does is make our sense of separation even more painful.

And this belief in separation is invisible to most of us, we don’t even realize there is an alternative. Many non-Western cultures do not see the self, as ending at the edge of the skin. They perceived us a part. as one with nature, they were individuals, but also they WERE the tribe, they were the land they lived on, They were a part of great spirit.

This belief, and the experience of it really fills that hole. In part 2 we will talk about this more.

This culture of separation has spawned the culture of finance and interest. We have been told that our economic system will meet human needs through following self-interest, and yet it is not just OK, not bad, but a spectacular failure.  We have time of recession where there are people who have great skills and extra goods, and people who need those very things, but we can not make the exchange because we do not have money to give us permission to make the exchange. We have an efficient system of production that should provide us all the opportunity of working 20 hours a week, and yet it seems that we have work harder than ever before. It regularly seems that things that are destructive and life sucking pay the most.

Without going to all the economic details, ( I recommend Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics for those who are interested) Money has become anything but a neutral means of exchange, because of interest, which literally means we keep needing more and more; because of money not decaying like most parts of the physical world, but gaining interest, which encourages hoarding; and because the true costs of things, like destruction to the environment, are not included in monetary costs, the current monetary system encourages us to the worst angels of our nature, to manipulate, to compromise our deepest ideals, and to be practical rather than follow our dreams. In another system, following our dreams WOULD be practical.

The third core idea/system I will mention is a the economic separation of individuals/nuclear families. We believe and we act as though we are supposed to be individual, and meet all our needs alone or with our little unit. This is wildly inefficient. Four families on one block have a parent staying home with one or two children, each struggling with the loss of income, overwhelmed by the lack of adult contact,  when they could be sharing this task.

Each house needs 2-3 cars, TV’s, tools, lawn mowers, etc. etc. when these things could be shared.

Instead we do it all ourselves or feel we have to pay others for the smallest things. No wonder it hard to find money/work balance in our lives, it is hard to be an individual, and maybe even harder to be a family with children. And yet people just suffer with this. Some just fall a part, others just rationalize their sacrifices as part of being an adult.

If we learned how to connect and share, we could cut the amount of physical objects we need by 2/3, and the amount of work and services we need by 1/2 without giving up one shred of prosperity.

And these are the roots. If we learn to remember, and feel our connection with the earth, our bodies, nature, and life; if we create structures so we can give and receive from one another without money, if we begin living as real communities, instead of separate economic entities. We will truly live in a new world

So I continue to think how to create a sharing economy that would really change the paradigm of our culture, that would really change people’s life experiences. One thing I see is that the fear of not having one’s basic needs met is a HUGE sapper of joy and peace, a cause of anxiety, a feeling that encourages people to take less chances and be more willing to compromise their soul and their passions for a “good job” and monetary security.

The fact that sometimes people’s basic needs aren’t met is a large problem, but the fear that I would guess 80% of the people in our society carry is gargantuan.

What happens if we could address that fear, and specifically address it within a larger sharing, cooperative economy? This would change people’s lives.

So here is one way to do it. Take a sharing community, like Kindista.org and Gift Circles in Eugene, or like time banks in other cities. Being active in this group would automatically make you a member of the local USS (ultimate social security) group. Members of USS would be able to receive funds to help them make it through hard times. and in return they would find ways to contribute to (work for) their community. (Note resources could be shared such as housing, but given the state of our economy, right now, this is a level best addressed by money.)

You would have to apply to receive USS money – and you would receive it if you addressed these guidelines -

1. You must have been an active part of the network for at least 6 months.

2. You would need to receiving any state aid that you are eligible for (Note: I work helping people fined resources, and this step with a knowledgeable resource person to help would mean some would not need money from the community, and others would need less than they thought)

3. You would need to have a plan for how you would use your time to benefit the community, You would have to offer skills you had and meet needs that others wanted met.

4. USS aid would be limited to 25% of the time you are been a member of this network. So if you were a member for 2 years, you could get up to 6 months of aid. If you were almost finished with your allotted time  and had no prospects, a circle would be called for people to support you and help you find a place of economic balance. If this was an exceptional situation, some individuals may be willing to support you beyond the 6 month limit.

What this system would do is mean that no one in the group goes hungry or without a place to live because their community will help catch them. It would create a sense of safety, and deep connection and gratitude for one;s community. People would be freed to be their best selves and the energy freed from worry would help them give to their community more powerfully.

So what would this cost, and how would be the fund be raised?

Lets say we have 100 people involved. There would be no claims for the first 6 months. After than say 5% of the people are using these funds at any one time, maybe 8% during times of extreme financial scarcity on the larger society. (I think these numbers might be high. I think the simple fact that people had this safety net available might motivate them to need it and use it less)

So say we are talking 5% (5 people out of our group of 100, and on the average, each person needs $300 a month. That means we will payout $15oo a month, and we would probably need to reward those who coordinate this program (although their might be some alternatives to money. But for now let’s say we pay this person $500 to manage this program part time each month. For $2,000 a month, 100 people will have their fear of losing basic resources deeply reduced, and their sense of connection to their community deeply enhanced.

We could raise the funds for this, by suggesting to a few large donors that this is a great way to change the world, and encouraging community members who are doing well in terms of money, to donate monthly. $24,000a year  is not a large amount to provide financial security for 100 people.

I would love to hear your feedback on this idea, and any ways to make it better, We can make something like this happen

So in my last post (…More Beautiful World) I talked about the next step into a sharing economy that would really meet our needs. Here I want to get practical. The sharing economy I’m talking about  would not be confined to money, there are many ways of giving and receiving resources and getting our needs met, and confining ourselves to monetary exchanges is highly limiting. However, given the world we live in, ignoring money will not work either. I know a number of people who live lightly and have found ways to trade and reduce needs, to where most of their needs are around housing and utilities. So to meet the needs for basic resources and economic security of these folks (and others) we will have to find a way to get money to those who need it and don’t have it.

One of my assumptions is that every person in our economy will contribute in some way. If someone is getting no money from a “job” in the world, my assumption is that they have time and they will be willing to give their time and skill to meeting the needs of other community members. So the question before us is, for people who either because they can’t find paying work that fits for them, or because what they do is tremendously meaningful, and they can not find a way to get paid for that, or maybe especially as we develop our economy, they prefer to work within the community,; How do we get those folks the money or major resources they need to live?

One way would be for some community members who own housing to donate free or very low cost housing. But even in these cases, and in the many other cases where money is needed for basic needs, there is the question of how do we get people to give their money to others, and how does that distribution happen?

I want to propose a couple of models, and to hear your ideas, too.

1. Compassionate Sliding Scale

In this model people would share some of their skills and goods with no desire for return financial or otherwise, and they would have other skills that they would ask market price for (possibly the skills they considered “work” skills), and those who could and felt good about it, would pay fully (or more), but those who did not, would pay only what they felt able to pay. Barter would also be an option if that felt good for both parties. In some exchanges, a service would be exchanged for money just as in the regular economy, but the spirit would be different. I would give you my skill because I care about your well being, and you are a part of my community. And you would give me money because you appreciated me and wanted to contribute to my well being, not because you”owed” it to me. In this model, if you are person who can usually afford to pay, you would have security of knowing if you lost your job or your fortunes changed in other ways, that you would not lose any of your services within the community, You would still get your produce delivered, and your car fixed. You would still be able to see your counselor. This is real social security.

One of the advantages to this model, is that people with modest financial needs would probably have these met as they shared their services, even if these are services that would not be economically feasible to offer as part of the regular economy.

1A.Tipping

An alternate form of this model is the tipping model where services would be free, but if you had economic resources you would be encouraged to express your appreciation for gifts you received through money as well as other ways. This avoids the issue of what something “costs” but would probably result in less money being passed to those who need it.

2. The Security Pot

Another system would be to fundraise from members within the community who have financial resources and have a pot of money that be drawn upon to meet people’s needs. We would have to talk about what the standards would be for this, how much could be given, how often, etc.
I would tend to have some standards like, the individuals must be using all the government aid that is available to them (some support in applying for that might reduce needs), and that if anyone received financial aid from the community, it would be expected that they would find someway to offer a significant amount of services, to create balance.

3. Open Request

People who had financial needs would be encouraged to ask for those needs to be met, just like all other needs, and people in the community would respond as they felt moved. This system in the simplest, but also I am guessing would provide the least actual economic security.

I would love to hear your feedback on these models and others you can come up with.  Both just your general opinion of the models, and how these models would work for you, with the economic conditions in your life.

As I continue to help create the sharing economy, I am aware how many pieces are not in place. At one of my workplaces we face a potential layoff, and I watched one of my co-workers from fear. What kind of world is this, if people are doing a great thing in the world, enjoy doing it, but have to stop because “there is not enough money?” I heard several others talk about the constant fear of not having money and not having a home affected them. This reminds me that although I have enjoyed the kind of gifts I have given and received, and watched others give and receive through Eugene Gift Circles, we are not yet where I want us to be.

I vision a community where no one who is willing to give and their skills will ever have to fear homelessness or lack the basics of life.

I vision a world where we can both give and receive out skills whether or not we have the “money” to give us permission to do so.

I vision a world where through sharing our tools and goods and common tasks like childcare, that we have less, pay for less, and experience more prosperity.

I vision a world where the economic “we” of our community is just as important as the I of us an individuals, where we can work for the common good without holding back, cause we know we will have what we need.

I vision a world where there are enough meaningful life giving jobs for everyone who wants one.

I vision a world where hoarding of money or resources becomes very uncool, and unnecessary.

I vision a world where nobody who is not absolutely in love with their job has to work more than 30 hours, and that most people have enough time.

______________________

I realize that one error I have made up to this point, is in thinking we just need to ignore money as much as possible. Money is still a part of our world with all its imperfections, and at this point we heed to learn to distribute money to where it is needed.

Other attitudes that will help us build this beautiful world are:

Learning the skills of being with one another, that will allow us to really lean on one another.

Developing the skills of working through conflict positively

Focusing on our real and most important needs and wants, rather than the objects we use to try to fill or avoid our feelings and needs.

Learning to ask and to share our material goods, rather than throwing out or needlessly buyin.

_______________________

This visions would be wonderfully supported, by having more cheap small housing units Where there is individual space and shared space with others.

__________________________

What would it take for you to join the sharing economy? What would it take for you to share your resources significantly enough that we all had enough money and basic necessities? What is the next step to profound sharing, almost an economic”tribe”

 

Please write me and let me know your thoughts. We can create this together!

Often we as individuals just see separate isolated  problems or lack in our lives, which we either accept, or somehow try and fix. But as I look around, I see patterns. Patterns in the overwhelm, the financial anxiety that is somewhere from annoying to debilitating, the lack of time that steals the joy from our lives. The martyr-like asceticism that comes from feeling that we must choose between meeting our physical needs and living a sustainable life.

And underlying all these problems I see one clear and simple (though not necessarily easy) solution. We need to live in tribes. We need to live in groups of mutual care, protection, and support that touch our physical, our emotional, and our financial lives.

Why? A big piece of the answer is effectiveness and efficiency in the best sense of those words. We use the time and energy in our lives to attempt to meet our physical and emotional needs and desires. And when we live our lives as individuals or isolated nuclear family units, we end up duplicating the efforts of all the units around us, and the time and resources required to do it all ourselves, leaves us overwhelmed, stressed, feeling like we are always just hanging on by our teeth. Families and single parents have to provide childcare at all times or work to pay for it, when if we banded with the 5 other families within 2 blocks of us,, if would be an easy proposition. And if we accessed the elderly singles in our area who are experiencing loneliness and a lack of meaning, we could be meeting all our needs.

We work to each purchase our own cars, our own full set of tools and entertainment devices, or infrequently used appliances. If they were shared they would significantly reduce our financial burden, and our need to work full time.

We all feel like we need to protect against job loss or financial catastrophe, or else be anxious about it all the time. If we banded together to care for each other when things get tight, we could be safer for a fraction of the cost and worry.

And as we lived our lives together in significant ways, we would no longer have to choose between the time to work, to take care of our personal business, and the time to connect with others. They would all be the same thing. We would soothe the ache within us that comes from feeling that we are doing it all ourselves.

At a time when relationships are less stable, if we lived in tribe, we would maintain our sense of belonging and safety, even when we separate from a romantic partner. The end of an intimate relationship would no longer be so devastating.

So what does the solution,  what does living in tribe look like? There are two levels, which might or might not go together. We can form organizations of financial support where each person within the tribe knew that if they put forth an effort to contribute to the well being of the tribe, they would always have their basic physical needs met, even at times when they could not get “a job”. The people in these organizations would treat each other as extended family, and do their best to make the lives of others in the tribe the best they could be.  Because they knew their needs would be met, they could give without protecting themselves financially, because they were no longer two paychecks from homelessness. They would be more able to relax and enjoy each other.

The other level is housing. Many of us pay for large amounts of space, so we have what we need for privacy, for safety, for activities, for storage. This creates a large financial need that often causes us to work more than we want, or to compromise ourselves in what we do for work more than we would like. If we lived in small individual spaces, surrounded by shared spaces both indoor and outdoor, with shared tools, storage, children’s play area, etc. We could  have our privacy and connection needs met better than they are now with substantially less cost.

Put these two levels of tribe together in our lives and we have created a life that works, where we have our needs met, where we have time, where we have connection, where have meaning or the possibility or creating meaning for ourselves.

In chapter two, I will talk about the skills we need to create tribe, and the obstacles in our way.

 

Changing the Paradigm

I, like many of the people I know, was excited after the recent election. Unlike 2010, it felt like the good folks won again. But as I now watch the political landscape, it seems like there is a threat that things will go back to how they have been, a pendulum swinging between a somewhat progressive group of Democrats and Obama, and a ridiculously close minded, fear based group of tea party Republicans. There is something about a situation where there are two perceived major poles. Power tends to swing between them.

I dream of something better, of a world where the world looks like a polarity between two groups of people who actually both have useful ideas. And where fear based selfish people and ideas are religated to the fringes where they belong. So how do we get there from here?

We need not to argue with conservatives, that isn’t even the right conversation. We need to publicly dismiss their ideas as deeply flawed and often dishonest. Because a number of Democratic politicians are good-hearted, they have wanted to treat the Tea Party Republicans as the honorable opposition. That is a nice fantasy, but those same Republicans have not acted with honor, they have cheated, lied, tried to restrict voting, how undemocratic is that? I think it is important to treat people who are not acting out of good intent, not as equals to be honored, but as road blocks to human progress we need to get around.  (Note: I believe in the goodness of all human being at their essence, but I also see that when a person is acting in a deeply destructive way, I need to take account of that in my actions, even if I can sense that somewhere there is  beauty in that person’s soul)

We need to make job one overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that says corporations have the same rights as people. As well as that being a destructive idea, it allowed the kind of ridiculous spending that made the last election much closer than it needed to be, and gave fuel to a set of deeply restrictive ideas that support inequality.

We need to find a real set of ideals and people who support rural progressive populism. When you look at all the post election maps, almost every large urban area voted Democratic, and almost every rural are voted Republican.

If the rural ares were close to even, progressive idea would dominate. The key to winning over rural areas, is to understand that the rural experience is different. They have a different relationship to the government, to money, to work, to life. I think both we need to have some rural progressives who have different ideas than urban progressives, and don’t get criticized for it. And we need to keep the same progressive ideas, but find a way to talk about them that appeals to folks with a rural experience. Rural folks often have a know your neighbor kind of community that many of us long for, and their are ways that government is needed in the city, to create order and fairness,, that it is not needed in the country in the same way.

We need to learn to not try and win arguments, but to look at the assumptions underneath, and make sure we are having the right conversation. An example recently pointed out by economist Robert Reich, is that the Republicans have gotten most folks into a debate about what we can cut to reduce the national deficit. The right discussion, is whether we should even worry about the deficit while people are not able to work and maintain financial balance in their lives. We should be talking about work and having enough to live, the deficit is way down the list.

And lastly when elections do come around again, and it will not be much more than a year, when they begin to draw attention. We do not act nice, and treat the Republicans as the loyal opposition, but we remind the public, how they cheated, now they bold-facedly lied, and how they went out of their way to prevent folks from voting.

We need to say that these are not serious representatives of the people but dishonest agents who deserve to be swept off the face of history,

If we begin to make this changes, maybe at a election in the near future, the dichotomy that the media sucks up will not be progressive vs conservative or R vs D, but centrist or rural democrats vs. the Jeff Merkeleys and Bernie Sanders of the world. In this environment the ideas that some of us cherish could actually get a hearing on the national stage.

Only The Beginning

I, along with many people I know, were overjoyed about the election returns last night. It seemed most of the elections swung the way I wanted them to.

There is some sort of feeling like, “Oh, we can relax now”. But I think nothing is further from the truth. In the vision of building a truly progressive, cooperative, loving world, Obama is not the one who will lead us, he is just a much better middle step than Mitt Romney.  There are still plenty of factors out there that may over time drive the country is a more fearful, divisive direction over time, unless we find ways to not just win an election, but change the way that people think, and the way the system works. And that work starts now.

Ultimately elections are decided by how much the candidates accord with what people THINK will make their lives better. And so the battle of ideas, the picture of what people hold to be true, is what sets the stage for election night. It is the reason someone as disingenuous, and selfish as Mitt Romney could get the votes of 49% of Americans.  It is the reason things still look tenuous in the future, much of our national understanding of life and the economy and world is based on lies. And to change the world, we need to change those ideas for the majority of Americans.

We can start with ideas that come out about what this election meant, how it is interpreted.

One falsehood that will come out is that Obama did not win a mandate, and so he has to compromise with the conservatives. The lie in this, is that all elections and all people’s minds are this simple line from red to blue, and are decided by which candidates are closest to your red-blue balance. What is true is that some people think this way, but many vote for whoever they believe will meet their needs, and that person can be very progressive or very conservative, in all depends on the case they make and how they can convince people that their ideas will meet the people’s needs. When people’s lives are not working, often someone radical seems more appealing because they bring change.

What this election tells us, is that no one has come up with a good narrative, a good story about what is really going on in the lives of Americans. It is time we come up with this story and tell it.

Another idea that will probably come out of the election, and I expect Obama to say this one, is that the election is over, let the past be the past and now lets work together. While this is a laudable sentiment, this only works if you are working with other people who have integrity who are actually interested in working together. And at this point, most Republicans are not. They are interested in cheating, and stealing, and lying, and more interested in winning than making our lives better. More interested in making Democrats look bad for the next election than governing well.

We need to emphasize that what went on in this election was disgusting, damaging, and unacceptable. It is not OK to lie over and over again. It is not acceptable to put lots of money into preventing and discouraging people from voting. The conservative, Republican movement is not a serious campaign of ideas and has little integrity. We need to call a spade, a spade, and not make their behavior acceptable.

And a huge part of this is around money. The Supreme Court decision that corporations have the rights of people and that using unlimited amounts of money in elections is protected free speech, is what gave fuel to much of the lying horrible campaigning that went on. This is unacceptable and if there is one law in American that needs to be changed, it is that one. Either by constitutional amendment, or by conservative justices leaving the court, and a new court replacing the travesty that is Citizen’s United.

Also we need to break out of the societal media perception that the conversation in America is between these two forces, the Republican and Democrat, the conservative and the liberal, as they show up on our current talk shows. The conservative idea base is fear based, and needs to be relegated to the fringe it is, and there needs to be a new conversation where Obama is the conservative, Jeff Merkeley is a moderate, and we have new voices of what can be that are part of the national conversation (Charles Eisentein?)

And then once we have dealt with the perception of this election, then is the time to do the really deep work, of changing the lies that feed Americans perceptions of their lives.
This is worth a blog post all by itself, but for now, let me list a few.

My life is hard and getting worse because of the government and taxes.

It doesn’t affect me that some people hoard billions of dollars.

Accumulating money is the best path to happiness

Competition is an unshakable fact of human nature

We are ultimately separate individuals who should interact with others only when it suits our interests

If someone just makes the right economic decision, we will go back to the seemingly unlimited prosperity of the 50’s and 60’s

There isn’t enough for everyone to have their basic needs met (this is a tricky one, because when people are selfish, and then they need to constantly acquire, then there really isn’t enough)

Now to go in a somewhat different direction. When I look at the voting maps, what is almost universally true is that urban areas vote democratic, and rural areas vote republican. There is a lot of beauty to rural small town life, and somehow progressive folks need to tell the story of how what we do and what we believe support that life.

And one other huge piece, rather than just waiting to elect the right people, we can and really need to begin building the world that can be now! As a model to what happens in  a truly cooperative society. Many of us are doing this in our ways. And I think that Gift Circles and the Gift Economy are the tool that can knit us together and make us into a powerful, functional system that is a real alternative to the rest of American life.

This is a totally fictional account of what the Gift Economy could look like in Eugene in 3 or 4 years.

I woke up and looked out on the courtyard. I was lucky enough to get in one of first gift apartments; units that the landlords rented for simply the pass through cost of the property tax, and then trusted the tenants to get any maintenance done through the gift economy. Part of my apartment agreement was to gift the community in a certain way, and with my commitment to provide conflict resolution to gift economy transactions that didn’t feel good to both parties, I was a good fit.

I had a busy day, so rather than fixing breakfast, I stopped by The Gift, the first of our now 5 gift economy restaurants in town. At the Gift, their menus had two prices, one for the general public, and one for members of the gift economy. When The Gift first opened its doors, their  gift prices, which just charged for food costs and a small slice of their utilities and space rental, were about 40% of the regular prices. But recently several of their suppliers had also gone gift. and now the GE (gift economy) prices were about 20%. I savored the taste of my potato scramble which cost me $1.20. Others put cash in the huge tip jar to be divided among the employees or signed off on the needs list that the employees posted every day, with ways members of the community could give back to The Gift’s employees.  I knew I was giving to the community in several ways and felt no need for a direct exchange.

Now it was off to Center for Appropriate Transport to pick up my bike after its yearly tuneup. CAT was one of the first businesses to go gift, and now almost every bike shop in town had a gift option. And then I went to pick up my shoes at Tire Treads, a business that began as gift, making shoes out of recycled tires. Now Tire Treads had became one of the biggest cash businesses in Eugene, pumping the little cash we needed into the pockets of gifters. Locals still got their shoes as gift, but there was a long waiting list, I had to wait a month and a half.

Then I dropped off some clothes off at Susie’s Closet, one of the 3 free clothing exchanges in Eugene. Usually I just gave here, but this morning there was a pink silk shirt that  just fit my mood, so I changed on the spot.

I didn’t have time to ride out to Jerry’s to pick up wood for some shelves.  Jerry’s didn’t go totally gift, but had recently started giving a 20% discount for those that had proof of membership in a local gift circle or organization like Kindista. The community had mixed feelings because 20% off still wasn’t cost, but we accepted this, because their was no great hardware option in the gift economy, yet.

I thought about stopping by Sweet Life, but I didn’t want sugar that early in the morning. Sweet Life was one of the first businesses to receive a big gift from the community. Their entire renovation and add-on was done by gift craftspeople. And was it beautiful! And now gift building was beginning to take off. A lumber supplier has been offering wood by gift, and a new organization, HFP (Housing for People) was now building gift housing for just the cost of the materials they still had to buy. Their waiting list was growing every day.

Now my errands were done and it was time to start the giving part of my day, two mediations, a couple’s session, and then a matchmaking interview. I think offering to be a local yentl was the favorite of all the great ways that I gave.

And I stopped by my one official job, working for a local social service agency, and helping their clients who could not fit in full time jobs find niches in the gift economy. This population had proved to be a gold mine of energy, as they hungered to have some way to contribute, and had no good options in the money economy. Many of them were willing to do some of the less skilled gift jobs that others avoided because the jobs lacked creative expression, like cleaning.

And finally in the evening I went to the meeting of the gift council where every 3 weeks we met to discuss issues that had come up in the community. At this meeting we celebrated some of the triumphs of the last year. One was the legal agreement that all unsatisfactory gift transactions would be handled in binding arbitration, helping professionals avoid the risk of being sued. This landmark agreement opened the door to 3 more doctors in Eugene to go gift, and our first dentist.

We talked about some of the tensions in the community. Some businesses wanted  a card or official list to allow people to shop at gift prices, we discusses who had the authority to issue such a card, or at least decide who could issue such a card.

We discussed dealing with the small percentage of folks who seemed to be using the gift economy and consciously not giving back. And the very few who had been abusive or dangerous. Recently someone had started a website called Bad Gift, with a list of people not to give and receive from, and there were a lot of mixed feelings about this approach.

We recounted how the government had became more interested in finding a way to tax us as we became successful, and how that as long as we were going by pure gift, with no cash, they just couldn’t find a way to do it. This aspect of the gift economy had drawn very disparate groups to go gift, everybody from tight ethnic groups in New York to evangelical church communities in Georgia (which reminds me that 4 Eugene churches now had pastors that were payed mostly by gift.)

It had been a long and fulfilling day. And I reflected on how I had been changed and continued to be changed, as money became less and less of a factor in what I gave and received each day.

I have recently read a paradigm shifting book, Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. And I bec0me enthralled with the idea of the Gift Economy, a modernization of the traditional tribal potlatch economy, as path to a more beautiful world where all our needs get met.

I encourage all of you to read Sacred Economics, which I count as one of the most important books in my life,  for more more information of the hows and whys of the gift economy.  But for the purposes of this article, I will begin with a short summary.

Our current economic system encourages competition, taking things that we all have in common and were at once time “free” and charging money for them, and the hoarding and concentration of wealth among the few. It is based on the idea that we are separate, separate from one another, and separate from nature. And that we need to always need to have more to be happy. The system is broken and has been slowly falling apart for decades.  Both for our happiness and for our survival, we need a new path.

That path is the Gift Economy, where we each do things that we feel good about, and that serve the earth and culture. And we offer those things as gifts, with no set costs. Others do the same, offering their gifts to us. We all express our best, give fully, and are able to receive in abundance through the strength of our circle of givers.

Many people can see the beauty in this model, but many would also see this as an impractical model, and ask the question, “How do we get there from here?” This is my own humble attempt to identify first steps.

1) Give Where You Can

No matter what your life/work situation is, find things you love to give, and that can make a positive difference for others, and give them as gifts. Part of being happy as human beings is to give our gifts, this is worth it, even when we receive nothing in return.

*note – eventually, giving a gift may be similar as doing something for free, because we will be having most of our needs met by others’ gifts.  When we give we will create the social capital of others’ gratitude, and we will be creating a stronger circle that has more to give to us. But during the transition period  while many of us are still living in the money economy to some degree or another, it means giving with no set cost, and realizing that people who have money to give will give you money, others will give services that you need, and others will give nothing but will and are “paying it forward” by giving to others.

2)Pass On Real Costs

One of the failures of our current economy is that costs to society by creating negative impacts (pollution for one) and using precious resources, is not figured into financial transactions. We can do real cost accounting in our personal lives. Even when we give a gift, if there are costs involved, pass them along. If there is driving it is OK to pass the real costs of travel along, not only the gas and an estimate of car wear, but maybe time. If we are building something, it’s OK to pass along the cost of materials. Giving in balance means being honest about the costs we pay.

3) Honor the Giver

In current society, getting a “bargain” is seen as a good thing. Some people might might receive a gift, and give $5 when they could have given $20 ( and even felt that would have been more fitting) and feel like they scored. But in a gift economy, it is the one who gives that is most honored. Make it a practice that both in giving, and in honoring others’ gifts, to give the most you can give and still be in balance.

4) Money for Money, Gift for Gift

I do not want to give without limit to all. If I give to a giver, and we are part of a common community, that gift will accomplish the good I want in the world and almost always come back to me, usually even better. I want to give to my circle of givers as much as I can. But if I give to someone who still lives and thinks in the money economy, they may see my gift as “cheap” or a bargain. It makes sense to charge people in the money economy, money prices, since they are not trying to build community but to get the best they can for themselves, I have to stand up for myself to create balance.

If I give to a person who is caught in an addiction, physical or emotional, and who consistently needs more than they have to give, I want to give in ways that help that person get better, not ways that drain me, and might even enable them to continue living our of balance.

So I will give as much as possible to the givers in my circle, and give wisely to those outside.

5) Communication and Reputation – Creating a Circle

As our community gets larger, how do we know who is standing in our circle with common ideas and practices around gifts? There are many ways of identifying a community and communicating. One way is through forming a  community online which gives a place to offer gifts, state needs, and record gifts given and received. Such a network is being developed in Eugene and should go online within a month. The community is called Kindista, and I encourage you to check the out at kindista.org.

Check out and see if there is a gift circle or time exchange in your area, If you are on the West Coast, Kindista will probably be up and down the coast in a year. If there is nothing in your area, start a circle!

6) Admit Your Real Needs (and Ask For Them!)

Many people who want to be good, and make a difference tend to minimize their own needs, and not tell others about them, or ask for them to be met, because they don’t want to be burdens to others . They end up being less joyful and strong because of these unmet needs. When we are in a circle with one another, the stronger and happier each person is, the stronger the circle is. That includes you, We don’t want to focus so much on the “replacement” needs (chocolate to fill the need for love, or excess money to replace the security of community) but on our real base needs. If there is wisdom, help, companionship, needs for the physical basics of life that you have, ask, ask, ask. And give others the opportunity to give to you.

Here is list of things, that people often need and don’t ask for, Child Care (shared or given), expertise,nurturing touch, help figuring things out, tools, rides (shared or given), listening, for just a few.

7) Ask Before You Buy

Every time you are about to purchase something, ask yourself, if you could borrow or receive this thing or service from your community and ask first, you can always go and make the purchase if something is not available in your gift circle.

8) Increase Hedonism, and Full Cost Accounting

Many people are torn between wanting to do and purchase things that make them feel good, and wanting to take care of the planet. These are both good things! I see many progressive folks almost getting the idea that too much pleasure in not ecological. Hooey! Pleasure is our natural state, our gift from the earth. We just want to get better and looking at the real cost of each act or purchase, Ask yourself 3 questions, How good is this for me? How good is this for others? How good is this for the planet? And do the acts where the balance is positive. And we don’t need to be perfectionist about this.  If something seems really important for you, is neutral for others, and a little negative for the earth, do it, just like you might do something that was an inconvenience for us but that was really good for the earth

9) Minimize Daily Travel

Our current upshoot in gas prices is a wonderful reflection that is closer to the real costs of gasoline engines. Many people choose their dwelling first on space, appearance, quality of neighborhood, and have closeness to work as a secondary issue, and closeness to friends and activities off the list.

T o make you your life work, and the earth be in balance, live in a place where your friends and life are close, make that priority one in choosing a place to live. You will minimize the costs of auto transport, and just importantly, the wasted time of transit. Live close to those you love, and love those you live close to.  If we do this vibrant informal communities will thrive.

For years I have heard and used the terms, “being in your body”, and “being in touch with your body”. Even though I have had powerful experiences with the body and seen others have them for over 30 years, I didn’t really know how to describe this experience in a concrete way.

But with the help of some new scientific studies, that has changed, and I want to share with you in specific terms, what “being in touch with your body” is, why it is important, and how to learn to be in your body, if you’re not.

Being in touch with your body is noticing physical sensations that happen in your body in response to internal stimuli, such as feelings or thoughts, some of which are in reaction to the events of your life. And connecting those sensations with your thoughts and feelings. It is a skill that we are all born with, and many of us “unlearn”.

Why is it important? Here is where science has helped me be very concrete. There are a number of studies that appear to show that the nerve ganglias in the body actually initiate contact with the brain, and send it information that we could call  ideas. The body thinks. These studies (you can find some at the HeartMath Institute – http://www.heartmath.org) do not go into as much detail as I would have liked, but they made very concrete what I have seen over the last 30 years. There are specific, significant types of information that originate in the body that we do not receive if all of our attention is focused from the neck up.

1) It is in our body where we clearly know what we want and what we don’t want

2) When making decisions that have information on both sides, we often have a sense of knowing what is right in our body. This includes intuitions of things it would serve us to do or people to contact

3) It is in our body where know what we are feeling, and when our feelings are affecting our behaviors. It is where we recognize we are angry, sad, or even attracted.

4) It is in our body where we realize that past events are carrying into the present and affecting us.

Many people who are seen as “passive aggressive” are not consciously trying to be dishonest, but they are simply not in touch with their bodies enough to realize that they are emotionally reacting, and so their emotions come out sideways in their behavior. For example I was once at a group meeting where a significant person was denied membership. One member of the group talked about how he liked the individual, but brought up 5 reasons, all procedural why we should not accept this person. It was 6 months later when he realized he was absolutely furious with this person because he had taken part of his job in the organization. By then, a lot of damage had been done.

Now I am sure that some of you can tell that folks who are “in their heads” sometimes get some of the information that I described as coming from their bodies. In my experience the information they receive is like looking around a corner through a dirty mirror. It comes much more slowly, with less clarity, and sometimes they miss the mark and act in some way that is not aligned with what  they really want.  Another analogy for the mind trying to “figure out” what is real and important for us, is that the mind is a like a bureaucrat in Washington getting statistics and trying to decide how to use our forests, without ever actually having been in a forest.

Many benefits of being in your body are obvious from this explanation, but I will share another one. In many relationships, one partner, more often the woman, is telling their partner that they want him to share himself more, and he often has no idea how to do that. What they want is for you to be aware of the kind of information that comes from your body and share that. The mind gives news reports. The body notes what is important to us and how we feel. When we share the information that comes from our body, others feel they know us better, they experience a sense of intimacy.

So why do many of unlearn the skill of being in our body? The most extreme reason is sexual or physical abuse. On some level we connected the pain we felt with our bodies, and so we shut off our sense of paying attention to them. This may have served us in the moment, but carrying that belief with us is obviously destructive as it cuts us off from the very knowing that helps keep us safe.

For many of the rest of us, we get messages that our feelings are not OK, that others would prefer we not have needs, that we should be quiet, fit in , and be obedient.  And so we cut off our awareness of our needs and feelings. many of us have cut off some feelings and not others, and so our bodies only shut down at certain times.

Many men are close to completely shut down. They have received messages that vulnerability is bad, and often either they are beat up, or they watch others beaten up when they show vulnerability, and so those messages are powerful and deep. I have met many men who really think they don’t even have any feelings (they do!)

So how do we reclaim the awareness of our bodies and the important information and aspects of our humanness they contain? It is simply a matter of awareness, of retraining ourselves to notice the sensations that our in our bodies and then listening for the thoughts and feeling that are connected. Like all practices it often seems hard and arduous at first, but becomes easy and natural over time.  Full breathing is a great help. As we breathe fully, we feel our bodies more, and it  becomes harder to ignore our body sensations.  Breath is another area where we have been trained out of doing what is natural.

At first is important to have specific times when you pay attention to your body sensations. When I first started this practice (and by the way I was one of those people who was REALLY out of touch with my body) I would lay down on the floor and breath into each part of my body one at a time, beginning with my feet, and then see if I was aware of any sensations, and thoughts and feelings that went along with the sensations. I did this practice for a year, and at the end of that year my body awareness was high and has stayed that way my entire life.

In addition to some type of practice time, you can specifically choose to aware of your body at times where you might be having an emotional reaction.

Now, especially if you have been really cut off from your body like I was, there is likely to be resistance. You are likely to feel numb and uncomfortable. Just keep breathing deeply and be patient with yourself, and the numbness will change.  You are likely to feel fear. This is the body remembering times when if was not safe to feel the body or to feel or show vulnerability.  Remember that it is no longer dangerous to be in your body, so these feelings are no longer current. It is much more dangerous to not listen to feelings in your body. But I encourage you to be patient with this fear. In many people the fear will show up in a specific place in their body. It might be a tightness around the neck and shoulder, a “wall” at your diaphragm. Rather than hate your fear, just pay attention to the sensation and listen to it, almost like a hurt child. And then remind yourself that you body is safe and wise. This may be a slow process, like I said, it took me a year. But once listening to your body becomes a habit, it will happen with out you having to work at it. And the benefits are great.

Namaste

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