A key component of living an abundant life is living in the spirit of the gift. As we strive to live a more beautiful and abundant life we should consider what abundance really means. When we live in the spirit of the gift we live from a place of abundance where generosity and gratitude are our currency of exchange. For westerners use to the ethics of the marketplace anything other than a quid pro quo transaction may seem naïve or unworkable. But living in the spirit of the gift is the way all traditional societies functioned for thousands of years.

When we live in the spirit of the gift we live in a place of abundance. We give freely of our surplus to those in need, and they out a sense of gratitude make a gift of their surplus to us, in whatever form is appropriate. Sometimes that may be currency, other times that may be goods or services. Both gift and gratitude meet whatever need arises.

When we live in the spirit of the gift we live in relationship with one another. A quid pro quo transaction is generally speaking a one off transaction. You sell me goods for a fixed sum and we are done. We are even. There is no more need for us to interact.

Conversely, when you receive an unexpected gift from someone of something you need or want the feeling of gratitude lingers long after the initial gift. You remain in a debt of gratitude to the person and will actively try to think of ways to make their life better and meet their needs. You can see how this cycle of giving and receiving can quickly take on a life of its own. Forming a social fabric of generosity and gratitude.

Part of the alienation many of us living in modern industrial societies feel arises from our removal from the gift economy. Quid pro quo transactions allow us to live together as strangers. We don’t know our neighbors because we have no reason to interact. In traditional societies we were dependent on our neighbors for survival. We shared skills and resources to meet one another’s needs. We lived in an economy of generosity and gratitude.

Most of us no longer need to know our neighbors. The complexity and sophistication of our economic systems allow us to imagine we are independent beings who “pay our own way.” We have no debts of gratitude. We earn what we have and are poorer for it.

But the truth is we are all given a gift at birth and throughout our lives that is unearned grace. Our bodies, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and our abundant planet home are all gifts from a benevolent universe. We are born with a debt of gratitude to that benevolent universe, but many of us forget along the way.

We all have to balance the way the world is with the more beautiful way our hearts know is possible. Generosity can quickly impoverish you in a culture that has forgotten gratitude. But we can practice living in the spirit of the gift where we can with friends and family. We can teach one another how to be generous and grateful once more. We can dare to live in relationship with one another.

I’m practicing living in the spirit of the gift with this offering of spiritual service. I have the luxury of earning a decent living in the quid pro quo economy as an attorney. I do some pro bono work, but generally speaking if you don’t pay me, I don’t represent you. But from that surplus I am able to offer spiritual service to others in the spirit of the gift.

Spiritual service is the gift to others that is a gift for me to give. When we are living our mission the act of service becomes a gift unto itself. Any gratitude others may express is just icing on the cake.  

This act of service has been a fantastic growth opportunity for me. The act of generosity has opened my heart in ways that only service to others can. Learning to graciously accept gratitude in all it various forms has also highlighted where I still have resistance to receiving abundance.

Some of us are very comfortable giving. We have generous hearts and enjoy being of service to others and making them happy. But perhaps we grow a bit tense when someone shows gratitude and tries to reciprocate.

Unilateral giving is a one-sided transaction, it isn’t a relationship. The giver in some ways has more power than the recipient, because they have the power to help but aren’t being vulnerable enough to receive help. That is the subtle ego trip many caretakers find themselves on.

But you can’t be truly abundant until you are able to give and receive freely. It is only then that energy flows smoothly in an uninterrupted flow. You aren’t in harmony with natural law until you recognize your debt of gratitude to life and live in the spirit of the gift. Abundance is living in relationship with other people from a place of generosity and gratitude.