A Gift Economy

By Zachiah Laurann Murray mb55-AGift1

Throw away holiness and wisdom and people will be a hundred times happier. Throw away morality and justice and people will do the right thing. Throw away industry and profit and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough, just stay at the center of the circle and allow all things to take their course.

--Tao Te Ching, A New English Version, Chapter 19 (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

“Each week we give all of our profits to Barbac, the owner of the Wise Cicada Health Food Store. When he has taken care of his financial obligations, he returns to us what he feels the cafe can offer,” says Susan Gribble, co-creator and visionary of the new Wise Cicada Cafe, located in New Market, New Zealand. “Then on gifting night,” she continues, “we place the money Barbac has offered us into the center of the circle on the floor, where we have come together, and each person takes according to his or her need.” She pauses. “It takes real trust.”

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On February 28, 2010, I had the honor and privilege of washing dishes on the cafe’s opening day, just before embarking on a silent walkabout in the bush of New Zealand. The cafe is the manifestation of a vision shared by Donna Murray, Susan Gribble, and Endel Araujo. Their vision is to create a cafe based on a new paradigm, one dedicated to living—actually embodying—a new way of being in the flow of commerce in today’s marketplace.

In a gift economy, no prices are placed upon the items being offered. One is asked to go beyond what physically appears on one’s plate or in one’s cup. One is asked to look deeply and mindfully into one’s entire experience—the love and hearts of those in service, the nourishment one receives, the beautiful atmosphere of the cafe, and all the beings, plants, and minerals, including the clouds, the rain, the soil, and the sun, that have contributed to making the food. Looking with the eyes of mindfulness, one is called to deeply acknowledge one’s complete interbeing with all of life. And from this inspired place of truth, one is asked to offer an authentic expression of one’s heart and understanding in gratitude for the gifts received.

This expression of gifting and gratitude shows faith in the truth of our oneness. The exchange is an embodiment of the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on interbeing. While the visionaries and co-creators of the cafe are not Buddhists, they have great insight into our need to see beyond the illusion of our separateness. Not only do they recognize our interbeing, but they have also dedicated their livelihood to this knowing. Their cafe gracefully reflects the beauty of our oneness with all of life and directly invites each of us to see with our Buddha eyes, to live from our Buddha hearts, and to fully express and realize our Buddha nature while actively engaged in our daily lives.

Through their being and presence, the co-creators of the cafe stand as a clear mirror of faith and trust, offering us the opportunity to acknowledge Thay’s teaching of interbeing through our own action; this action deeply waters the seed of truth in each of us. The mirror of truth stands before us; it is ours to look closely and not only know, but embody, its wisdom.

During a month-long silent walkabout in the bush of the Waitakere Ranges, I stayed down the hill from my friends’ retreat center and cafe. Each morning, very early, I went up the hill to the center. Sometimes when I arrived, they were preparing food for the cafe. I entered into their flow, silently joining them, and then slipped back into the bush and disappeared like a visiting bird. The love of this silent communion with my friends hummed its song within my heart as I spent time in solitude with nature.

My final day upon the sacred land—for certain, my second home—returned me to the familiar and welcoming arms and hearts of my friends at the Wise Cicada Cafe. Having ingested only protein shakes while in the bush to keep things simple and not attract animals, I was extremely grateful that my last nourishment in New Zealand would be the soul food offered by my friends. When I arrived on the morning of March 25, Endel served me as I carefully selected the beautiful foods that would fill my plate and my soul, foods prepared “with great love,” as Donna was often heard to say. I asked if I could partake of my meal before paying for it, that I might drink deeply of its offering. With a warm and easy smile, Endel granted me the opportunity to explore the fullness of my senses before making my financial offering.

I relished the food’s rich flavors and looked for all the life and energy within it. I realized I was embodying the sky, the clouds, the rain, the sun and its warmth. I was grateful to the hearts and hands of the beings, animals, plants, and minerals that had offered their life energy to this meal, and I let this truth resonate deeply within me. Enfolded, too, in this experience, were the love and hearts of my beloved friends. I wrapped their love in my heart cloth, and I will carry them with me wherever I go.

I realized no money could ever really recompense my friends for the gift I had received. I resolved to express its merit and truth through my life and through the extension of my own generosity and love. In each moment, as I observe the world, I stretch to see beyond my physical senses and to trust my inner vision and knowing—to see the sky, the clouds, and the sun in everything I meet—and from this awareness engage with the true presence around and in me.

Donna, Susan, and Endel have thrown away industry and profit, and in so doing have made room for the human heart in commerce. They have planted the seed of a different way of being within our economy, one that deeply acknowledges the one life we all inter-are. We are all nourished by their effort and their living message as they manifest this beautiful gift economy in New Zealand. May they and all beings prosper in the soil of this new vision.

For more information about the Wise Cicada Health Food Store and Cafe, visit www.wisecicada.co.nz.

mb55-AGift3Zachiah Laurann Murray, Pure Truth of the Heart, is a Registered Landscape Architect. The Heart Sangha of Santa Cruz, CA, is home for her practice.

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