Our year out of the housing grid. And what do we mean by that?

It means having the gift of living rent/mortgage free while house-sitting for friends. This gift enabled us to leave the paid university tenured teaching position in the USA that was depleting our health and spirits and return to our home country of Canada. We made a life-value based decision early in our relationship to not enter the market of owning a home or land. In retrospect, we also recognize that much of our life and work has been based in gifting/healing [1]. Humans inherently know how to live this.

The background to our current gifting/healing experience is that these friends were part of our In Search of Fearlessness Centre and community over 20 years ago in Calgary, where we initiated, taught and practiced a form of gifting– peer counseling (LPC) that was non-clinical and relationally-based within a grassroots community and outside of the individual monetary “healing” health paradigm. These same friends contributed with an interest free loan 23 years ago when the Centre had outgrown it original home and moved to a larger downtown location. Their trust and willingness to gift to a community committed to extending “healing work” in the world is notable.

We have learned a good deal from the current experience of the gift of living in their home. Which has had its struggles as we work together to operate somewhat beyond the renter/owner paradigm and to cross into a healing and we believe sane paradigm of gifting and receiving.

We have lived this gift, with times of guilt and struggle to fully accept the gift and they in turn have experienced push back from some friends and family suggesting they are giving an unjustifiable gift away. In other words, they are being used by us. We have had some interesting conversations on our struggles together and there is a back story that surfaced from one of our friend’s family history of immigration, where the first family member coming to the new country of Canada opened their home to the subsequent family members immigrating to get themselves started in the new country over generations. He grew up living with extended family as a young immigrant boy and unconsciously internalized the value of passing the gift forward. This is typically an unacknowledged gift that our global immigrant community brings to the individualistic lifestyle of North Americans. The dissociation from this passing-the-gift-forward thinking is glaringly visible in what we are currently tragically witnessing and experiencing with our neighbours in the US and other countries overseas.
apple tree
Crab apple tree and national flags that reside alongside and nourish us in our gift home space. Photo by Barbara Bickel

At one point in our struggle to justify the home place gift we were receiving, we suggested framing our living in their home as their investment in us as artist cultural workers. This came in part from our conditioning as western artists in the historical paradigm of patrons for artists coming from the renaissance separation of art from communal life, and the emergence of the individual artist. Implicitly we were working to pay off the uncomfortable debt and guilt that we were feeling. It was an effort to value ourselves as workers rather than merely humans receiving within community. They did not “buy” our reframing and rejected it saying they preferred to give to us as humans like we were family. This conversation had a profound impact in fully realizing that we were recipients of a sending-the-gift-forward way of thinking from a more recently arrived immigrant family. It kickstarted us into really researching and studying the gift and sacred economics emerging more and more in today’s world (see Eisenstein, Noubel, Vaughn). It is heartening to see more people are wanting a different paradigm to operate in that is outside of what has become an oppressive, classist, sexist, racist, scarcity-based capitalist global world of extreme disparity of wealth, status and human worth.

Through initial study of the gift/sacred economy we recognize it as a relational and love-based paradigm in contrast to the individualistic fear-based paradigm of the money-based economy. Our lived experience of guilt in receiving, we understand now as a fear-based response to the gift, and related to the capitalist-based debt-driven model where humans are always owing and there will never be enough for everyone. The gift economy operates on empathy and gratitude in contrast to guilt, and in practical economic terms it means that those that have more gift to those human and more-than-humans that have less, just for being. When this is working we are then more able to live sustainably on this earth and not contribute to the depletion of the earth and its inhabitants. It has a history of working in ancients times and still today in some indigenous cultures, yet for us “modern people” it is really a huge consciousness shift.

Our transition year of living with the sustaining gift of a home place has led us to commit to passing the gift forward in a gifting/healing economic model. As elders and baby boomers, with life experiences and skills as artists, writers, researchers and teachers, we believe we have much to share and gift forward to the generations coming after us. Recent conversations exploring gratitude and empathy within the current capitalist paradigm (which the majority of the world is living in or impacted by) calls for us to complicate our understandings of these “virtues” and their dubious historical roots in fear-based scarcity-based capitalist economies. How often we have heard the demeaning moralistic message from the elites and those who are owning class, or even our parents, that “you should be grateful for what we have given you”.
As we move forward in this critical inquiry and life-work shift into the gifting/healing paradigm through the vehicle of Studio M* we will keep you posted. We’d also be glad to hear your comments on this exploration.
1. After reflecting, we have decided to use the convention of “gifting/healing” because non-gifting economies have hurt us all and thus to reclaim a gift economy requires healing of those wounds.

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