Twenty-five bicycles are parked outside Shikshantar, bedecked with ribbons and balloons, papier-mâché masks and puppetry, hand-held drums and flutes and whistles. Twenty-five riders are bustling around, strapping sleeping bags to rear racks and affixing signs to the handlebars: Dosti (Friendship), Ram Bharose (We’re in God’s hands), Jaiso an vaiso man (So we eat, so we are), Apne seekh apne hath (Our learning is in our hands). The riders themselves are adorned in garlands, headscarves and bandanas. They are preparing for a weeklong cycle yatra, a journey out of the city and into the arms of whomever they might meet along the way.
Would you like to join this adventure? All you have to do is leave behind your money, credit cards, cell phone, iPod, snack food and all things plastic. For you are entering Gift Culture, and there will be no monetary transactions this week. Over the next 200 kilometers, you will secure your food and shelter with the gifts of your labor, your creativity and your capacity to build relationships with strangers. You will practice surrender. Surrender to the tires that will bust on the unkempt dirt roads, surrender to the single gear that has the hills claim victory over your legs and your lungs, surrender to the brakes that may fail as you soar downhill—and to the wisdom of the veteran rider who advises under such circumstance that you wait for a curve in the road and then jump!
And you will receive the refreshment of floating in a cool lake, the soothing touch of fellow riders massaging your feet and walking on your tired back, the ambrosial rush that comes from sucking on bits of sugarcane from a passing field.
You may find yourself hauling stones and being offered a place to sleep, painting murals and receiving fresh buttermilk, singing songs and entertaining children and performing short plays just for the sheer delight. This is a world of reciprocity, the antithesis of the market, and there’s no guarantee that what is exchanged will balance out. Here, you throw yourself into the hands of the universe and say, I offer my gifts to you, and so shall others to me, strangers and friends alike…
Are you willing to make yourself this vulnerable? To trust that someone, somewhere will provide? Can you give yourself over to a rhythm that is determined by the people you meet, the places you journey and the experiences you participate in? Can you be this trusting of life?
When you return from the yatra, be gentle with yourself. It may seem strange to notice how much of our lives are devoted to consuming the ready-made world. It may be unsettling to discover how little is required to feel joyful and secure—and how freely those who have less than we do share what they have. We put so much effort into seeking security—accumulating wealth, advancing our career, acquiring things, planning for the future. How much of that security is real and how much illusion?
Of course we can’t live in gift culture all the time. But we can taste it, we can begin to explore the edge between seeking security and trusting that we’ll find what we need. We can experiment with what it would be like to participate in the transactional economy just enough to have what we need—and to gift out everything else.