This post is dedicated to my wife Maya, and to all other women in the world who breastfeed their children.
One of the ways we’re living in the Gift in our family, is that my wife is breastfeeding our daughter.
Does it sound strange to put it that way? What is “the Gift”, anyway? What does it mean to live in the Gift?
Let’s be clear: there are no stable answers. In life, answers come and go as waves on the ocean. That is at least my experience from having walked on Earth for nearly five decades. Answers come and go as needed; as guidance in my process of maturing – into life. For that is what we do mature into, isn’t it? And that is what we are born into, too. Life, then, it seems, is the Gift. Life is our constant companion; our faithful partner in all that we experience and endeavour.
The concept of “living in the Gift” originates from Charles Eisenstein. He talks about living (and working) in the gift in a strictly economic context where giving/receiving is contrasted to selling/buying, but he also uses the concept in the general context of living a life true to one’s unique gifts. In this essay, he writes:
The crucial point isn’t what words we use, it is the thinking that they come from, the story that we stand in. The more we stand in the story of the Gift, the more compelled we are to align our actions to it, and the more clear it becomes when it is, and is not, in alignment. Then there follows a long navigation through the social and psychological hazards, the buried wounds and conflicts, that arise as money conditioning is disrupted and our economic relationships re-constellate. As this happens, a new world emerges into view that feeds us on this journey, as we witness more and more generosity, more and more gratitude towards us and around us. That, at least, is the terrain I’ve seen in my halting journey into gift.
Let’s lift out one concept from that quote: “money conditioning”. Charles Eisenstein, the visionary who has inspired us to start this website, contrasts “the story of the Gift” with our money conditioning and money system. The observation that our present interest-driven money system is incongruent with living in the gift, is one of the core observations permeating all of his work, and most specifically Sacred Economics. In that book, he concludes that “[t]he foundation of a sacred economy . . . is gift consciousness”, implicitly suggesting that the consciousness prevailing in human society today, is not gift consciousness. Rather the consciousness within which we conduct our modern lives, as he masterfully shows us throughout his work, is a consciousness of deeply rooted money conditioning – fundamentally at odds with living in the Gift.
Charles Eisenstein associates this money conditioning intimately with what he often refers to as the Story of Separation. This is a story that tells us – in Charles’ words from his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible – that: “We started out as naked, ignorant animals, barely hanging on to survival, living lives that were nasty, brutish, and short. Fortunately, thanks to our big brains, science replaced superstition and technology replaced ritual. We ascended to become the lords and possessors of nature, domesticating plants and animals, harnessing natural forces, conquering diseases, laying bare the deepest secrets of the universe. Our destiny is to complete that conquest: to free ourselves from labor, from disease, from death itself, to ascend to the stars and leave nature behind altogether.”
This story of separation – that tells us that our destiny is “to free ourselves from labor, from disease, from death itself, to ascend to the stars and leave nature behind altogether” – is the story that forms the very strands of the fabric of civilisation-as-we-know-it. All we see when we look at the modern world, is the embodiment of this story – as is the modern human psyche. It is the story we all have been raised with, and it is the story that is today crumbling. The breakdown of this story, is merely natural and inevitable: any story that sets the human being apart from the nature of which her physical body is but a flow-through, must eventually crumble and fall into oblivion.
The new story, as the very name of our website indicates, does by no means suggest that humanity’s destiny is to conquer and possess nature, but instead that it is to give.
Look at the mother in the picture above, and look at her baby. Would you not say that this is a picture of Natural Giving? Would you not say that it is a picture of the Gift of life itself being given? Would you not say that it is a picture of living in the Gift?
In embodying the Story of Separation, what the human being, ultimately, has separated herself from is her own nature; her natural ways of being; her own self. She has separated herself from her innate knowing that she is inextricably intervowen with all of nature; all of planet Earth. The sense of a separate, skin-encapsulated self thus created, is the “modern self” that Charles Eisenstein, in Sacred Economics, describes as follows:
The modern self . . . is a discrete and separate subject in a universe that is Other. This self is the Economic Man of Adam Smith; it is the embodied soul of religion; it is the selfish gene of biology. It underlies the converging crises of our time, which are all variations on the theme of separation – separation from nature, from community, from lost parts of ourselves. It underlies all the usual culprits blamed for the ongoing destruction of ecology and polity, such as human greed or capitalism. Our sense of self entails, “More for me is less for you”; hence we have an interest-based money system embodying precisely that principle. In older, gift-based societies, the opposite was true.
Yes, the opposite – in other words, “more for you, is more for me” – was once true. Says Charles Eisenstein, in Sacred Economics:
I once heard Martin Prechtel, speaking of his village in Guatemala, explain, “In my village, if you went to the medicine man with a sick child, you would never say, ‘I am healthy, but my child is sick’. You would say, ‘My family is sick.’ Or if it were a neighbor, you might say, ‘My village is sick.‘ No doubt, in such a society, it would be equally inconceivable to say, “I am healthy, but the forest is sick.” To think anyone could be healthy when her family, her village, or indeed the land, the water, or the planet were not, would be as absurd as saying, “I’ve got a fatal liver disease, but that’s just my liver – I am healthy!” Just as my sense of self includes my liver, so theirs included their social and natural community.
Now, imagine a man who one day enters that village in Guatemala, or any village like it, with a big suitcase in his hand. Picture that he calls on all the villagers to gather around him, and that he opens his suitcase with a big smile, saying: “Look, here is what I have brought to you: milk for your babies to drink!”
Would that be meeting a need of the villagers?
No, of course not.
Yet, this is a perfectly illustrative example of what has happened on planet Earth. Let’s take this example of infant formula to illustrate the general development we have seen. Then, in a nutshell, we could put it like this: For millennia upon millennia upon millennia, mothers were breastfeeding their babies. Then came money. And with money came debt and interest, and with debt and interest came the need to make more money. And with the need of making more money, came the need to increasingly exploit, and increasingly create, human needs; in the name of progress; and more progress; and more, and more…
In the name of progress, today we have infant formula (as well as the scandals associated with it). In the name of progress, today we have hordes of mothers who don’t have TIME to breastfeed their babies. For instance, in the United States of America, only 57% of all mothers put their newborn babies to the breast, at all; and only 20% breastfeed after the first half year (source). And, finally, as a response to all this so-called progress… in the name of questioning the value of it, we have a surprising response: ADVERTISEMENT FOR BREASTFEEDING.
Now, say, isn’t this a sign that something has gone very, very far in an UNNATURAL direction…?
And let’s remember, we took infant formula merely as an EXAMPLE of the GENERAL trend. The fact is that today the MONETIZATION of human life is conquering ever more intimate and personal domains. In addition to the baby milk industry taking up the competition with breastfeeding, here are another few examples of how money is eating its way onto our bare skin:
- The fragrance industry is, since long, selling products aimed at improving on the ways our bodies naturally smell.
- The cosmetic and cosmetic surgery industries are, since selling products aimed at improving on the ways our bodies naturally look.
- At the pace the Earth’s fresh water reserves deteriorate and shrink, the industry of selling bottling water, to those who can afford it, grows.
- At the pace the Earth’s atmosphere is polluted, there is even an industry emerging that sells bottled air to breathe – to those who can afford it…
- At the pace our feelings of isolation and yearning for true intimacy grow, there are even industries emerging that supply products such as professional hugging and cuddling and friends for rent.
Maybe then, ads for breastfeeding is no isolated phenomenon. Maybe we will be seeing, in our days, at the very end of the dying Age of Advertising – Age of Usury/Interest; Age of Progress; Age of Separation; call it what you like – an upsurge of ADVERTS for all that was once NATURAL-beyond-reflection on Earth!?
How about ads for being at peace with one’s natural smells and looks, for drinking the water of nature, and for being naturally intimate with one another!? Has anyone seen those – yet? A friend once mentioned that she had seen an ad for smiling at people in public places(!)
The mere existence of adverts for feeding human babies human milk may, as mentioned, be seen as a sign of a development gone very far in an unnatural direction. Yet, is it not AT THE SAME TIME to be interpreted as a sign that WE, THE PEOPLE, are starting to wake up from the hypnosis of the interest-driven monetization of life? Isn’t it a sign that the Age of Advertising is about to come full circle, back to where it originated: in the beauty of HUMAN NATURE? And if so, is this not a WONDERFUL sign that WE, HUMANITY, are about to AWAKEN to the remembrance of our TRUE SELF – into the Age of Reunion!?
Or, how else should we interpret the fact that this kind of advertisement exists today, for the first time in human history?
One of the ways we’re living in the Gift in our family, is that my wife is breastfeeding our daughter.
Do you see now why I started this article with that sentence?
In one sense, we are ALL, ALWAYS living in the Gift – of life. But our daring to be intimate with this Gift, trusting in our INTERBEING with all of life and relying on the natural gifts of one another, makes all the difference. It is the INTIMACY with life (including all of our emotions) that brings us back in touch with who we REALLY are. The proportion of American mothers not once having put their babies to the breast is 43%. This is a tragic reflection of how many of us still embody major themes of the Story of Separation. In the imminent Age of Reunion, at the pace these themes dissolve, babies will be reunited with the breasts of their mothers.
Maya and Shanto
NOTE: This blog article does in no way wish to deny that infant formula (or other products of modern technology) can sometimes come of good use, and even save lives. The article is about something much more fundamental than pros and cons, for anything.