Elena Ray Revolution Gift Economy

Revolutionary Economics: Why The Gift Economy Is Not The Answer (right now anyway)

I came across Mirror Living’s profoundly beautiful work in her recent guest post on Marketing For Hippies. I made contact with her straight away, as her message resonated so strongly with me and the ideas we have been exploring here on Dreaming Aloud about money, abundance, entrepreneurship and co-creating a new world culture.

Mirror is an inspiring voice, and someone who walks her talk. I am so excited to introduce her to you via this powerful guest post.



Before I started in business, I was steeped in separation.

Of course I didn’t know it at the time. I thought my heart was so wide open in divine angelic love that sparkly rainbows would pave every step of my way. My new age ideals and spiritual concepts were sure to bring me infinite expansion and bliss – all I had to do was create a dream board, visualise what I wanted, open my heart, pray, meditate, do some marketing stuff and abundance would soon be mine.

Image: Elena Ray

Image: Elena Ray

Like many things in life, I was quick to learn it’s not quite as (ahem) simple as that. A majorly abridged version of the story sees me riding waves of small successes, soul-destroying multiple failures, depression, shame, confusion, darkness, insight, clarity, surrender, lightness of being, awakening, grace, peace, more small successes and endless gratitude (not necessarily in that order).

These waves have brought me for better or worse, to land gently on the shores of the gift economy where I am now an intrepid, awe-struck and constantly surprised explorer of the revolution itself.

In my work with yoga teachers and healers, in my local grassroots, hippie community I come across many others like me. Earth guardians longing to live as love and consciousness who are actively engaging in making the world a better place. People who are deeply touched by my decision to work in the gift economy. It confirms their own insights into alternative pricing models, the ruin that is our current economic system and the myth of money and debt. It gives a sense of possibility for those of us who’ve felt like outsiders, freaks and rejects of society our entire lives. It echoes the journey of the heart’s deepest wisdom and the more beautiful world we can create together.

Many are certain mainstream pricing and business models are not for them. Or they’ve tried it for short periods of time and it’s been a difficult and overwhelming road leading to retreat or blame of the system or themselves. A sense of powerlessness and inadequacy is often evident.

There’s an assumption, that because I’m doing this visibly and I’m seen regularly in both pixels and real world events and because I present myself in a professional manner, I must be successful working in the gift. And if I’m successful, then they will be too.

And yet, though I’m doing this wholeheartedly and believe in it fully, when a client comes to me for help and they tell me they work in the gift, my heart sinks a little.

But let’s back up a bit…

What is the gift economy?

  • it’s model of the movement within society of necessary goods and services wherein human relationships are valued above all else, one in which money no longer determines the existence of relationship.
  • money may still be used as part of the gift economy but its presence (or absence) does not define the relationship (unlike in the dominant economy).
  • it’s a movement from accumulation and separation toward generosity and the natural reciprocity that arises in the face of a gift freely given.
  • models like pay what you want / pay what it’s worth pricing, you decide invoicing and by donation are all interpretations of the gift economy and attempt to capture the essence of the pure gift economy found in traditional cultures.
  • it does not include barter and trade models that seek agreement on value before the transaction can occur.
  • it’s a truly radical path

The reason I cannot recommend people work fully in the gift is because I don’t yet know it’s possible.

My Story

Before transitioning into the gift economy six months ago, income earned via business in the current economic model paid my way 100% for more than four years. Business has been (and continues to be) one of the most intense and liberating spiritual paths I could possibly imagine. It’s not for the faint-hearted or for those who want quick, easy money. There have been years of hard work, long hours, a plethora of disappointments, challenges and crippling self-doubt. Money issues shoved in my face. Putting things out there and getting no results, not being noticed, not being seen, not being responded to. Measuring achievements against others and believing with every cell in my body that of course, it’s obvious, I’m just not good enough and never will be. Drowning in unworthiness. Attempting to change who I am (yup, even going so far as to wear makeup and collared shirts. bleugh!) to better fit in. I’ve tried to sell, played the game, manipulated, become obsessed with money and woken in sweaty panics at 3.00 am. I’ve felt desperate, alone and ashamed of how little I have to show for the time and effort I’ve put in. I’ve let fear dictate action (all this despite being a devoted yogini and dedicated-to-consciousness-and-higher-states-love-bunny).

I’ve been human.

Alongside this, there’s been unspeakable thrills of putting out offers and overnight making rent for the next month. Sold out courses. Coaching sessions booked for weeks in advance. Beautiful feedback on blog posts and emails. Co-creative opportunities flowing in. Published print and online articles. Being sought out from word of mouth glowing referrals. The sense of one’s power that comes from taking action, showing up every day and seeing direct correlations between said action and results. Knowing you’re master of your own destiny. Moments of Awe. Radiant epiphanies beyond this realm. I’ve cried many a tear of gratitude and received many an unsolicited testimonial of soppy thanks. I’ve seen and known the omnipotence of Source in my business and life. Witnessed miracles, coincidences, gifts of such abundance I’m humbled and brought to my knees by the beauty and glory of it all. I’ve tasted heaven and know it is within.

I’ve been spirit.

This has only been possible because of a willingness to step into the world as it is, not how I would like it to be. To look at business from every perspective, honour and identify what I don’t like about the mainstream economy and how most run their businesses and make choices that come from an empowered and embodied place that’s here, now and grounded in the third dimension.

And 100% transparent.

Working in the gift economy I am definitely not making as much money as I was in regular ol’ business. Also, for the first time since I left home at age 17, my partner is paying the rent so I no longer have the responsibility of having to earn enough to keep a roof over our heads. I am also debt-free. This ride thus far has been crazy-making, humbling and incredibly challenging (just like working in the mainstream economy is). There are mammoth amounts of fear and complacency that first need to be met within the self and then met with love in others before we can embrace what it means to truly work in the spirit of the gift.

The reasons below outline why I believe the gift economy is not the answer (not right now anyway). The opinions here are strong (partly because I wish someone had been as straight with me when I first started working in the gift instead of having to messily hash it out on my own! But then again, perhaps they did and I just couldn’t hear them…?)

1. Working in the gift economy can reinforce and perpetuate separation, creating an Us vs Them mentality

Many of us carry core wounding from lifetimes of feeling like an alien, of looking at the world around us and seeing nothing but deceit, unconsciousness and violence against each other and the earth. Many of us have exited in a variety of ways: into drugs, eastern spiritual, metaphysical and artistic paths and into communal living with greater and lesser degrees of peace and lasting happiness. If less than lasting happiness has been your experience, I urge you to sit with and hold any part that wants to escape from this economy, judge or pull down society gently. Society and the economy is messed up, it’s true. But it’s no more messed up than our own internal processes. Pushing against it, avoiding it, shaming or blaming it is not an effective strategy for transformation or success in business in any kind of economy. It creates separation.

And if our beautiful, profound and magnificent education is preventing us from engaging in the world as it is, we are contributing to separation on this planet.

Because we have to keep coming back into society as it is now.

We can no longer avoid a world that doesn’t appear to value love and vulnerability. We can no longer afford to keep ourselves apart from others because of superior concepts of consciousness, inclusive economies and dedication to saving the planet. Until we see everyone is us, we are moving from fear, reaction and separation. I’m pretty sure this is not the kind of world we dream of.

2. You won’t learn the language of the world (and the world is where the money is)

One thing I know for sure (from copious amounts of personal experience) is that if you step onto this path of the gift economy you will be judged as naive, potentially loopy, silly, and a crackpot hippie by many. Folks may be polite and supportive to your face but some part of them will be doubting you and your motivations, wondering what the catch is. Or people will be confused and won’t book in or buy because of this. Probably not your friends, for they love and understand you. But in the wider community you will be likely be disregarded as someone who is too radical and far out to be serious about much of anything. This is reality (however narrow and sad it may be). This is how we live in the West. Our primary way of defining and determining interactions (outside of family and friends) is fiscal. Money determines the value, worth, breadth and depth of relationships and if you challenge this overtly you will be labelled, discounted and discarded. Your audience will be limited or worse, may become so far left-of-centre as to appear non-existent.

This is not how to make enough money doing what you love in the world.

3. A vital part of your own self-development and personal evolution will be neglected 

If you’re feeling a call to share your voice, help others heal and make a difference, running a business from the heart is the next stage of evolution being asked. It’s not about changing who you are at your core or “playing the game”. It’s about understanding the way things are and meeting it all with love. For self and for others. A love that proves you understand the realities of busy lives lived from values that, although different from yours, are no less valid, necessary and meaningful. A love that’s willing to listen and be moved by the universe because you’re here for a reason. You’re not somewhere else, living in a close-knit traditional culture where the gift economy is essential to their survival in daily life. You’re here.

If we skip over the mainstream economy we will fail to understand fully the depth of conditioning and cultural influences inherent in both ourselves and our clients (no matter how conscious and aware we might be) therefor true communication and self-knowledge is limited as is a felt, direct experience of oneness and connection. If we bypass the mainstream economy without knowing it well enough to get a sense of our own power and right to exist, we also risk bypassing our potential and feeling like perennial outsiders. If we’re in business and we miss the learning contained within the structure of the mainstream economy to work in alternative economies, we are preventing and short-changing our own evolution.

Running a business in the dominant economy teaches us about the nature of the Self and Mind. It will show us how magnificent and infinite we really are. It leads to an understanding of truth, value, worth, community, presence, perception, trust, commitment, surrender and deep communion of the heart. And once we know these things, we can do it our own way for conscious business is an intimate and personal path to enlightenment.


I know many gifted individuals sharing their offerings in low-key, off-the-grid kind of ways working in alternative and gift economies.

Some are amazing examples of how these “new” models work effectively (in small, highly local, cloistered permaculture communities). Others are struggling with ideals they haven’t yet been able to actualise (without withdrawing from society and heading to the hills) or dealing with depressing internal conflicts around self-worth and integrity in making money, enoughness and survival.

Many I know interested in alternative economies in business have low confidence in who they are. They don’t know their message or what they stand for. They’re unable to speak clearly about what they do or invite people to experience it or communicate the value of their offerings. They cannot share from a pristine place of exactly what their service will help with, exactly who it’s for and exactly how much it costs. They haven’t learned how and because of this, are unable to attract clients and create enough income. They may then become disillusioned and leave before the energy of business can transform. Or shelve dreams entirely, holding onto stories of inadequacy for years ahead, go get jobs or opt-out of society to live in ashrams because it’s easier than running a business and facing fear and money every day. It’s easier to avoid learning a new language than to be yourself in the world as it is.

If you step into the gift economy without first having met and mastered communication, your experience and ability to serve others will be less. It’s likely you’ll tire rapidly of the hard work required to explain what you do because it’s not in terms people can easily understand. You may give up, believing you’ve failed and this is the real tragedy.

There are way too many soft, caring, intelligent, talented, extraordinary people of the heart not doing what they love, not being seen because they haven’t yet found a creative and conscious way of being in business and marketing or they’ve given up looking. Their messages of self-healing and self-responsibility are not being heard or contributing to the wellbeing of the earth because of their inability to communicate with the world as it is now.

Working in the gift economy is one path of many to enlightened relationships with each other and the planet. Mainstream business is another and if you’re wanting to make enough money doing what you love, it’s the only one I recommend (at this current point of personal and planetary evolution anyway). Stepping into the gift and alternative economies as a reaction to what we see around us (and judge as destructive and ignorant) is an incomplete approach. At this point, it’s a utopian dream for many.

This is not intended as direction to never enter into alternative economies (that would also be a tragedy. The earth needs this! We need you! The dominant paradigm must be challenged by the passionate rebels among us!) rather let it be an organic transition that comes from a foundation of (at least) a basic level of competence in business in the current economy. Let it come from solid ground and from service to the whole. Let it come from realisation. Let it come from an awakening, when the time is right.

Keep going, keep giving in ways that feel good, keep living in service, keep sharing from your heart but be honest about where you and where the world are at. Come from a place grounded in the current reality and the love that’s already and always here.

You and I right now are crumbling walls of separation and changing what it means to be in business.

With a triumphant yell, let’s raise our fists in the air and be seen in the world.

We are the revolution!

(Read Part Two – Ten Ways To Work in the Spirit of the Gift… for lots of practical ways to apply these ideas.)

Mirror Living

NE_mirror_-22_lowresMirror Living teaches authentic marketing for yoga teachers and healers. Devoted yogini, love bunny, living room dancer madly in awe of any practice that takes us from our heads to the beauty of our hearts and wisdom of the body. She digs  playing with puppets, swimming naked, crystal singing bowls and anything that even vaguely hints at offering the tiniest taste of divinity… Mirror is the founder of The Conscious Business Circle – a support group for yoga teachers and healers that meets regularly in south-east Queensland, Australia. Come join the community –www.businessfromtheheart.com or on Facebook

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  1. becky jaine
    becky jaine02-28-2015

    Dear Mirror (and thank you to Lucy for sharing), I enjoyed your article although I was a bit disconcerted by the title… as it sounds like you are not in support of the gift economy. The gift economy is for radicals yes… a major difference/change in one’s personal definition of reciprocity and how to live one’s life.

    I’ve offered my work in gift economy for over a year now. It is not easy. I too make dramatically less money than I ever have before. I had to (and continue to) do some deep soul work to feel through all the surprising rotating feelings of inadequacy and over-inflated sense of self: a duality that is beautiful, human, at times tormenting … perfect imperfection.

    I redefined success in my own terms from what I expected when I was monetary exchange-based only. I now choose to view the impact of my work as now the “currency” generated by my efforts. (everything I personally receive from it is the icing, yes, very real and needed and appreciated icing that helps me feed and clothe my children.)

    I’m still muddling through. I’d love to compare notes and look forward to more of your work and will check out your web site.

    One of the best books I’ve enjoyed on this topic –and there are many good ones, as I’m sure you know–is Women and the Gift Economy.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful and honest thoughts on the gift economy and for your thought provoking expression of what the gift economy can mean. I plan to write a reflection essay on my first year in gift economy to share what happened in my work 😉

    love and abundance,
    Becky Jaine

  2. david pinto
    david pinto09-27-2016


    I tried to use comment on Mirror’s website but it is broken. Guessed an email which is invalid. Can someone help?

    We are approaching the completion of our beta platform. It provides an accounting system for a gift economy. It might help.


    • lucyhpearce

      Hi David, I think she’s gone off radar at the moment – but thank you so much for reaching out. Your platform sounds great – do leave a link here if you want.

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