Transforming Money into Sacred Reciprocity

posted by Cynthia Robinson on August 7th, 2015

despachoOne of the topics I encounter often on my path is around the integrity of receiving money for spiritual work. Many comment that authentic spiritual work should be free and accessible to everyone or that in traditional societies money was never exchanged for spiritual work. This is a complex and non-linear subject. I have personally spent quite a bit of time contemplating the nature of energy exchange and reciprocity and am inspired to share my own insights in order to open this for feedback and further reflection of our community.

Reciprocity & the Interdependence of All Existence

Reciprocity is the practice of harmonious, balanced energy exchange which brings mutual benefit. This principle is key in many if not all ancient societies and I have personally experienced it to be profoundly imbedded into the way of life in Amazonian, Andean, Tibetan and Northern Native American traditions.

Energetic reciprocity is known as Ayni in the Andean indigenous culture and is at the very core of the Andean spiritual tradition and perspective on evolution and healing. It is considered that we live in a universe of living energy and that we are in constant exchange with this living energy all around us whether we are conscious of it or not. The indigenous people learned this way of life through profound observations over long periods of time being in nature. They saw how everything in nature is contributing to the well-being of the whole organism of which everyone and everything are an integral part. Much of their practice was to keep the energy exchange flowing and in balance between the inner and outer universes as well as impart this wisdom to their communities.

This kind of systemic approach was applied to the life of the community and the individuals from which it consisted. It is the foundation of social structures, where communities share and exchange work and services; Moral code of conduct, treating others as we wish to be treated; as well as the spiritual cosmology where it is the basis of the creative principles of the universe. When this exchange becomes unconscious and out of harmony it is believed to be the source of all discord, imbalance and disease.

A powerful parallel and complement to the principles of Ayni can be drawn to the Tibetan Buddhist principles of Karma (cause and effect), and interdependence. That is to say that we can not exist as separate individuals without this interconnected web of relationships all around us and everything we do, say and think affects the whole.

Ancient Principles in our Modern Context

These ancestral traditions were born and cultivated in a much different cultural context and reality then we see today. Communities used to value the place of healers and spiritual guides, upholding this place for them within the social structures. In this way reciprocity and responsibility was held collectively through a shared value system. Additionally, the practice of barter naturally developed within the small communities where people were able to express their usefulness to each other by exchanging goods and services that contributed to the sustainability and evolution of that community and its productive relationship to the surrounding communities through direct interaction, mutual support and individual effort.

Besides direct barter ancient societies chose many different mediums for exchanging energy as currency: For example in Mayan culture cacao was used and Incan culture used coca leaves. Those currencies reflected the life force well for those cultures since it is not possible to hoard organic matter – it has to cycle. Overtime as the social interaction has continued to grow, the concept of our modern monetary exchange has developed. However complex this current system can be, underlying the concept of money we can still find the same ancient principle of energy exchange. It may be distorted from the original and balanced principle of reciprocity within modern political and industrial corruption and yet it is still possible to identify it as the symbol of life energy in nature. In my own life, once I was able to identify money to be merely the symbol and not the source of energy, life has become to be a lot less stressful and a lot more meaningful and joyful as a consequence.

In ancient societies certain services such as healing or spiritual guidance, which are not as tangible as material goods or food products, were considered to be priceless, for it was these services which supported the whole community to stay in balanced reciprocate relationship with self, others, the earth and the universe as a whole. Priceless however did not mean free, and actually the meaning was quite the opposite. Individuals were expected to give their most precious material and service offerings. Here once again, people were able to not only pay for a certain service but express the gratitude for that service by offering something of great value in their lives. This expression of gratitude and acknowledgment was seen as a key step in the actual healing process.

Today this is something that the occidental society has been conditioned to express through money. If something is free many people in the modern world more often than not will not appreciate it. Yet if money has been paid for a certain service, there will be due diligence and effort to actually receive that service to the fullest degree in order to justify that investment. Therefore it is once again possible to view money as a symbol which more than being able to provide for someone else’s sustenance and the ability to continue their life’s work, is done to make the giver fully appreciate the service through the act of payment. The original meaning of offering payment within the indigenous societies we have lived in is meant first and foremost to make an effect upon the one who is offering in order to truly value and appreciate the reciprocate exchange. Whether offering gifts to Mother Earth to appreciate Her abundance of harvest, a healer or an organization for the authentic benefit they provide, or offering one’s life and everything in it for the sake of all sentient beings – the essence behind is to truly appreciate that connection and sacredness of energy exchange based on gratitude and heart centeredness.

At our non-profit organization we are continually asking how we can exchange energy in a way where both the giving and receiving brings benefit individually and collectively. While for ourselves the work and services we are involved in are invaluable we still have to place distinct numbers on them not because they define the price of the work but because those are the basic resources that allow us to sustain this work while simultaneously creating the possibility to perpetually bring greater benefit into the world. In this receiving we see it as our responsibility to channel our energy back to the work itself, the earth, the local communities, and can thus continuously be in dynamic equilibrium with the creative source of life inside and out.

Through this conscious channeling of our collective energy the principles of reciprocity are alive and flourishing and we are in this way manifesting an example of beyond fair trade sustainability, and a system of values that includes healing, spiritual evolution, eco-balance, social responsibility, culture, creative expression and regenerative living above the mere material expression of false happiness. It is via this strategy and intention and with the support of our ever growing family of like hearted people that we have been able to accomplish projects such as Natural Medical Campaigns which are a part of our Cultural Healing Exchange Program, The Sacred Science documentary, 4000 Acres of land dedicated to eco-preservation and of course hold space for the many healings and transformations we have witnessed in our global community over the years. Despite many years being dedicated to this vision we honestly see our work to be just beginning and are looking forward to the unfolding relationships and collaborations within our global co-existence responsibly sharing one life force within everyone.