A gift circle is easy to create. You can create one yourself. By doing so, you can build the kind of authentic values and relationships that will transform economics and build community. It is one of the many ingredients that I see for authentic living. It responds to genuine local needs. It is also extremely powerful. Why? Because it is generating an economic system, which—although small in scale—allows us to grow not only in sustainable wealth, but also in gratitude, trust, and compassion. Furthermore, it is easy to put into practice, requires no economic qualifications, and requires no financial investment, borrowing, or risk. It is therefore a powerful antidote to action-paralysis and apathy. Along with the use of local community currencies, it is a game-changer, a paradigm-breaker, that will release us from our dependency on the debt-based, centralised economics that drains our wealth and energy, fragments our society, and is ecologically, socially, and economically unsustainable.

What is a Gift Circle?

A gift circle is simply a gathering of people in a circle of community for the purpose of giving gifts to each other and circulating wealth, without any involvement of money or bartering. Gift circles have been with us for thousands of years, forming one of the foundations for community in traditional societies. By giving in circle we are reminded of our community and wholeness, and of the centre that connects us. We can also look each person in the eye and communicate directly with them, being fully present.

Through the process of giving a gift, we can lessen our attachment to things, share our surplus with others, grow in trust, gratitude, and compassion, and strengthen our relationships. Whereas a money-based exchange is called business, a gift exchange is called generosity. Which of these two uplifts you more? We are naturally touched by acts of generosity—even to the point of tears. The same can’t easily be said about monetary transactions.

A gift-exchange not only meets our needs, but engages our heart and spirit. It strengthens our heart-based connections to each other, and our appreciation of humanity. It cracks open the shell of selfishness that is fed by the conditioning of economic scarcity and the belief in the separation of life, and frees the human spirit to experience the connectedness, support, and abundance of authentic community.

In mass society, the giving of gifts is usually done out of social obligation, and is often restricted to birthdays and festivities. Gifts are almost always bought, exacerbating the problem of economic consumption and commercialisation. In contrast, a gift circle is a feature of authentic community, where giving is about sharing rather than obtaining a commodity. Importantly, the gift is not bought, but given from what we already own. It can be:

  • Something surplus to our requirements
  • Something we value so much that by giving it away we add value to others
  • Something we have made
  • Something we are naturally gifted at

How we give depends on our mindset and our environment. In a gift circle, the giving of gifts stems from a different point of view from that of giving in mass society. It is a point of view that arises as a result of living from the authentic self and belonging to an authentic network of support, rather than of living from the reactivity of the ego-self in an insecure environment with no real sense of belonging. The gift is given out of a feeling of abundance that is nurtured by the wholeness of authentic living, rather than a feeling of lack that is the cost of inauthentic living. This is why gift-giving can have a downside in mass society, and be used for other motives that are based on the ego’s reactivity. It’s important therefore to practise gift-giving with mindfulness, along with other aspects of authentic living. The great thing about a gift circle is that the act of genuine giving, as an expression of generosity and kindness, creates genuine gratitude that inspires further acts of gift-giving.

Starting a Gift Circle

To start a gift circle, get together a group of people in your home or a public space where you won’t be interrupted and everybody can feel safe to open up and share. The circle begins by devoting a few moments for centring with the practice of mindfulness, so that each person has the opportunity to connect inwards to their authentic self, enabling the circle as a whole to find its centre.

Each person in the circle then takes their turn to introduce themselves if necessary and to share their needs with the rest of the circle. For example, somebody may need help renovating their home or obtaining a resource, or they may need some therapy, or need to borrow some tools or implements. By grounding our formulation of needs in the circle and expressing them to active and genuine listeners that we are bonded with, we are more likely to be authentic in our identification of needs. Rather than asking for a gold watch, we will be asking for something that we really need. We therefore avoid the ego’s reactivity that in the marketplace of mass society, influenced by advertising and marketing, and ungrounded in genuine community, could lead us to buy that gold watch that we don’t really need.

I like to pass a talking piece around the circle whenever meeting in circle. A talking piece is any object that can be passed easily from hand to hand, and designates the person holding it as the person to speak and be listened to. It encourages people to be mindful of the person speaking and to give their full attention, while empowering the person holding it to open up and speak.

Once everybody in the circle has shared their needs, the second round begins, with each person sharing what gift they would like to give. If possible, each gift to be shared will be one that meets a need that has been expressed in the first round. This may not always be possible, and that is fine. Sometimes the gift may meet an unrealised or unvoiced need.

The circle can then close with a moment to centre and experience and express gratitude.

Depending on how you wish to work the gift circle, you can either create the opportunity for people to respond to each other before the group leaves, or you can circulate a list of needs and gifts so that people can make contact with each other afterwards.

Of course, it is quite possible to work this entirely differently, and for people to bring their gifts into the circle. This requires a good degree of mindfulness to ensure that the gift is well-chosen, and in a strong, self-aware community this will be the case. The first round can then be for each person to share what they would like to give, at which point they place their gift into the centre. Where their gift is a service, it can be written down on paper. In the second round, after a period of mindful self-inquiry, each person can then collect a gift from the centre that they most need, express their gratitude, and share how it will meet their needs.

Have fun exploring what works best, and have fun contributing to a new paradigm of authentic living. Simple acts of authenticity will change your life and your relationships for the better, and in turn will build authentic community and a better world.

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