“More for me means more for you, too.”
~ A Salty Interspecies Kiss ~
During our days at sea, Lua would find her ‘alone time’ on Kalea’s front trampoline early each morning. She would get up just before daybreak and quietly make her way to the bow to do her unique blend of yoga exercises, where she would always include a few minutes of silent meditation at the end of her routine. I think it helped her begin each day with a fresh mind and a renewed connection to herself and to the marvelous world she felt she inhabited.
Bob and I alternated the watch during those early morning hours, so we each got to witness her inspiring early-morning routine, preparing herself for the promise of a new day. ‘Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.’ Those words from H.D. Thoreau came to mind while quietly observing her there one morning, breathing in the fresh morning air, stretching her arms out wide to fully embrace the magnificent endless horizon.
On one of those inspiring mornings, she was kept company by a pod of dolphins playing among Kalea’s twin bow wakes. Occasionally, one would playfully dart from one hull to the other right under the trampoline netting, just inches below Lua, to her great delight. She was overjoyed whenever a dolphin pod would appear for a time to royally escort Kalea on her voyage to her next port of call.
People exhale; dolphins chuff. Chuffing is what dolphins do to blow out air and clear their recessed blowhole of water when surfacing. In this way, a dolphin removes the small volume of water sitting on the recessed surface of the blowhole valve so that it does not enter the lungs when inhaling. There is a network of complex nerve endings located in the region of the blowhole. They sense pressure changes so the animal knows when its blowhole is clear of the water and it is safe to breathe.
Being in the spray path of a chuffing dolphin, as Lua was one morning while doing her sunrise stretchy meditative yoga routine on Kalea’s bow trampoline, is not a common occurrence for a member of the human species. Of course, for ‘Laughing Lua,’ what better way to start the day than with a sweet interspecies kiss in the form of an inverted shower of cold seawater!
On that morning during my watch, I had to go forward on the starboard hull to adjust some rigging and did my best not to disturb her. “Care to join me, Mister Rico?” she called out, without ever turning her freshly soaked self around to see who was approaching. Perhaps she was already familiar with the unique way I would spring about on the deck.
“Not my thing,” I replied, grateful for the invitation.
“That’s okay, Mister Rico. I suppose singing and playing your guitar gives you the same sense of harmony and balance.”
“Sure does. But I can’t say the same for my audience,” I joked.
~ Attack on Atai ~
We arrived on the shores of the island of Atai on the morning of day five. The plan was to have lunch on the island and enjoy some firm ground under our feet for a few hours before heading out at sunset for our long final passage to Rarotonga.
We nudged the boat up onto the beach and were greeted by a small group of locals who had seen us approaching. Several of them recognized Lua, and one fellow welcomed her with a warm embrace before rushing back into town. He returned a short while later with several fillets of fresh-caught Mahi Mahi.
Lua prepared the fresh fish for lunch, Polynesian style. The fish was marinated with soy sauce, cinnamon, ginger and cloves and pan fried with pineapple juice and curry powder and served with asparagus.
Captain Bob and I brought over the chairs and tables and the large canopy tent. We set up our open base camp on the beach and let the passengers explore along the shoreline and mingle with the locals for a few hours while we started the fire and made preparations for lunch.
Jack commented on how he was imaging that we had arrived at the algae island in the book, Life of Pi. “Wouldn’t it be cool to walk into the center of this island and be welcomed by thousands of meerkats hanging around pools of clear deep blue water, perhaps wearing pink sunglasses, sipping on piña coladas, and listening to Bob Marley tunes.”
“That would be marvelous!” Lua responded with her usual laughter.
“That was a ridiculous and pointless book.” Tucker obviously wasn’t impressed with the fantasy adventure novel that became a blockbuster hit movie—a story about an Indian boy with the odd name Piscine Molitor ″Pi″ Patel, named after a famous swimming pool in France. Perhaps he didn’t care for, or understand, its emphasis on religion and spirituality, and its message on the relativity of truth.
In the story, the boy miraculously survives 227 days at sea after a shipwreck kills his entire family. He is stranded on a small lifeboat in the company of, absurdly enough, a fierce 450-pound Bengal tiger curiously named ‘Richard Parker.’
Jack explained that Tucker was not getting the point of the novel. “The author is suggesting that life is a story, and we can choose the story by which we live. He is making the point that perhaps a story with God in it is a better story.”
“The only character that was interesting to me was that large Bengal tiger, that ‘Richard Parker.’ He should have devoured the frail Indian boy Pi at the end. In real life, the big fish eats the little fish; that is all. Stories shouldn’t mislead about the way the real world works.”
Jack explained that, in the story, the boy uses the power of human reasoning and intelligence to overcome fear and keep the menacing cat at bay. He understands and exploits the power of an alpha animal to tame a physically superior adversary. And if life were as simple as Tucker claimed, humans would never have emerged from the African savanna, where big cats and other dangerous predators ruled.
It is our ability to reason, to evaluate, and to cooperate that makes us the dominant species on the planet. Cooperation within a species trumps competition among species. And perhaps religion has had an important part to play in our amazing evolutionary success story.
“But some of us clearly compete better than others.” Tucker responded, hoping to rile up the increasingly annoying know-it-all treehugger. He didn’t like being lectured by Jack on the deeper meaning of some silly, inconsequential book.
“Of course, but you have been competing for wealth in a society where money has largely become detached from anything of real value,” Jack responded.
He argued that creating an addicting website or app that hooks people by exploiting their weaknesses, for example, does not add much value to human civilization or future prospects. We have reality-TV, sex-tape stars creating apps where the objective of the game is to create your own aspiring celebrity and rise to fame and fortune. Throughout the game, the host provides advice to players to help them maneuver their way to coveted A-list celebrity status. Dating famous people will get you more fans, too.
This game became a multi-million-dollar app and netted the star tens of millions of dollars. There is little correlation between extraordinary wealth earned from that kind of thing and any genuine value to society.
Tucker was getting annoyed and sensed that he was losing what little support he had left in the group. Even Jan seemed to be drifting away. He had to fight back.
“C’mon Jack, scientists like you are just too passive and afraid to compete in the Darwinian cut-throat world of business. Or perhaps you are just too socially handicapped to play with the big boys.”
“I don’t see it that way, Tucker,” Jack responded. “I’ve known many hyper-competitive businessmen like you that are just too dense to perceive and appreciate the tremendous beauty and wonder in the natural world.
Everything is understood better with a deep look into Nature, you know, including yourself. But you only value money and possessions because your mind has been dulled by perverse societal values and the false notion of alpha maleness in a money economy of fantasy wealth. Perhaps, if you weren’t so dim and simple-minded, you’d appreciate what I’m saying to you.”
“Screw you, nature boy!” An infuriated Tucker took a wild swing at Jack.
Now, a dim Tucker is a Tucker that fails to notice subtle but very important details in the world around him, like a Jack who has an uncanny way of moving about and interacting with his environment that would suggest he has a heightened awareness of the objects and energy around him at all times.
Jack also had a notable fluidity of motion, which explained his confidence and agility walking around on Kalea. This was unusual, but something I noticed right away about him. And he never lost his balance.
There was a reason for all this. Unbeknownst to all of us, and something we were about to find out, Jack was an advanced practitioner of the martial arts—Aikido, in particular.
Morihei Ueshiba developed Aikido as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. ‘I want considerate people to listen to the voice of Aikido. It is not for correcting others; it is for correcting your own mind,’ he once stated. Aikido is often translated as ‘the way of unifying with life energy.’
The goal of Aikido is to create an art that practitioners can use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury. The techniques consist of fluid entering and turning movements that strategically redirect the momentum of an opponent’s attack.
It was this Aikido training that enabled Jack to masterfully redirect the energy in Tucker’s brutish attack and use it very effectively against him, which resulted in a most embarrassing faceplant just inches from the red-hot burning embers of the campfire.
Tucker was humiliated. But he was also sensible enough to realize that he was not going to be able to inflict much damage on this skilled and disciplined opponent—one who could easily anticipate his next move. He got up, brushed the sand off his face, and hastily retreated down a path into the interior of the island.
“What an asshole,” Jan said.
“Too bad. Such a hottie, but such a hothead,” Clara added.
So much for a sizzling second-chance romance there, I thought to myself. SlimC will be disappointed. But I didn’t give it too much thought as my mind snapped back to something Jack had said to Tucker.
‘It is our ability to reason, to evaluate, and to cooperate that makes us the dominant species on the planet. Cooperation within a species trumps competition among species.’
Those words from Jack resonated with me. But I felt there was something missing there. I asked Lua about her life at home on her island. Was it primarily a competitive culture or a cooperative one?
~ More For Me, More For You ~
Lua laughed, as if I had asked a really silly question. She told me that ‘of course’ it was a very cooperative culture and that there was a pervasive custom of giving that was deeply felt, honored, and valued among the islanders in her community. And that they were generally very happy people.
I had read recently that scientists now have empirical evidence that acts of cooperation with another person—of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness—actually make the brain glow with quiet joy.
“Most feel the same way I do. That it feels good to be blessed with good health and good fortune. But it feels even better to be a blessing to someone else,” Lua said. “I try and make a habit of small gestures of kindness and giving—it’s why I enjoy cooking for others so much—and I know how this affects my mind, my body, my emotions, and my spirit. It is a habit that always rewards.”
Lua said she also enjoyed making connections with ordinary people she would normally tend to pass by and take for granted: a checkout clerk, a marina dockhand, the server at the smoothie shop. It would make her feel more alive and connected to the moment. She said she had always preferred being a go-giver rather than a go-getter, like Tucker. That attitude has helped her connect to the world and to the natural abundance in her own life.
Jack overheard our conversation and added that there was plenty of meaningful scientific evidence to support what Lua was saying. The old scientific worldview claims that we are like individual atoms that are completely separate from each other and on our own in this world—the selfish gene of biology or the self-interested economic man of Adam Smith— and more for you means less for me. So society has to apply various threats and incentives to regulate the selfish behavior of the individual and address the interests of larger society.
These days, new observations in biology are replacing this neo-Darwinian orthodoxy. And there are growing movements in spirituality, economics, and psychology that are challenging the atomistic Cartesian conception of the self.
The new self is interdependent and very intimately tied to the existence of all other beings to which it is connected. This is the connected self, the larger self, which extends to include, by degrees, everyone and everything in its circle. Within that circle, it is not true that more for you means less for me.
“I think that this science is revealing what we feel intuitively on our island, Mister Jack,” Lua responded. “With the giving of gifts—whether of time, money, or things—the good fortune of one is also genuinely felt as the good fortune of others. On my island, we have a larger sense of self, so there is no need for coercive mechanisms to enforce sharing. For us, the social structures of gift giving serve a very important purpose: they remind us of the intuitive truth of our ultimate connectedness. It seems to me that a strong and vibrant gift culture that is recognized and honored throughout society is a beautiful self-regulating means of attaining an appropriate distribution of resources. In a gift culture, people pass on their surplus rather than accumulating it—my good fortune is also your good fortune; more for me means more for you, too.”
Paul soon joined in on the conversation and added that a money economy could do that as well—connect human and nonhuman needs with the gifts of humanity and Nature that can meet them. But instead it encourages concentration of wealth and excludes those who cannot pay—such as poor people, other species, and the Earth itself—from the circulation of gifts.
And our current money economy has several negative features: its anonymity and depersonalization, its indifference to community and connection, its denial of cycles and the laws of return, and its orientation toward the accumulation of ever more money and property. A more balanced sharing economy turns these conditions on their heads: it is egalitarian, inclusive, personal, bond-creating, sustainable, and non-accumulative.
“Both generosity and gratitude have an incredible influence on our emotional health,” Lua continued. “When we practice them, we’re happier, more optimistic. Generous people who live with a sense of gratitude are far less likely to be depressed and experience anxiety. Gift giving reflects how we feel about others and gives insight into how we can maintain healthier relationships with each other. It should come as no surprise that the act of giving has many of the same health benefits as meditation: lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, longer life, and better sleep.”
Julie also joined the conversation and told us that when she talked to her restaurant customers about what, if anything, was missing from their lives, the most common answer was a sense of community. The layout of suburbia, the disappearance of public spaces, pervasive car culture, saturation of television and digital entertainment, and the high mobility of people and jobs have all eroded community life. But, if one digs a little deeper, they all seem to point to a common cause, Julie believed, “the money system.”
“Authentic community is nearly impossible in a highly monetized society like we have on the U.S. mainland,” Julie said. “That is because community is woven from gifts and giving and mutual trust, which is ironically why poor people often have stronger communities and healthier social relations with each other than rich people.”
Julie explained that if you are financially independent, like Tucker, then you really don’t depend on your neighbors—or indeed on any specific person—for anything; you can just pay someone to do something, or pay someone else to do the same thing.”
Lua pointed out that in former times, people depended for all of life’s necessities and pleasures on people they knew personally. If you alienated the local blacksmith, brewer, or doctor, there was no replacement, and your quality of life would be compromised. If you alienated your neighbors, well then you might not get much help if you sprained your ankle during harvest season or if your barn burnt down.
Community—the habitat for cohesive, vital, life-affirming culture— was not an add-on to life, it was your life. And culture was at the center of community life as the shared story and celebration that reminded us of who we were and who was there with us to help ease our burdens during trying times. It had a much deeper purpose than just being the passive and discretionary form of ‘entertainment’ it has become today.
Rituals like carnival pointed to spiritual depths and complexity, established or reinforced the identity of a community or institution, and gave recognition to the implicit functions and reciprocal obligations which make up the fabric of social order.
Today, we like to think that we really don’t need anyone (or any culture or community) in particular. If one farmer won’t grow the food I want, I’ll just pay someone else to do it. I don’t need a specific mechanic to fix my car. I don’t need a particular delivery-truck driver to bring stuff to my door. I don’t need any of the people who produced any of the things I use. Sure, I need someone—or maybe a robot, in today’s world—to do their job, but not some unique, individual person. They are all replaceable.
Julie added that perhaps this state accounts for the superficiality of many social gatherings. How authentic can it be, when the common understanding is, ‘I don’t need any of you’?
When we get together to consume food, drink, or enjoy entertainment, do we really draw on the gifts of anyone present? Anyone can consume, as long as one has money—there is no special relationship there.
~ Gifting Culture ~
“It’s true,” Lua commented. “Social intimacy and bonding comes from co-creation, not co-consumption. It is different from liking or disliking someone. But in a monetized society, creativity generally happens in specialized domains—and almost exclusively for money.”
“Community is woven from gifts,” Lua explained. “Unlike today’s market system, whose built-in scarcity compels competition with the understanding that more for me means less for you; in a gift economy, the opposite holds. Wealth circulates, naturally gravitating toward the greatest need. In a gift community like the one on my island, people know that gifts will eventually come back to them—everyone needs something at some point in their lives—albeit often in a new form.”
A gift circle reduces so much waste, I thought to myself. It is rather ridiculous to pump oil, mine metal, and manufacture a table and ship it across the ocean when half the people in town have old tables they would love to sell or give away! It is also rather silly, if you think about it, for every single suburban homeowner to own a lawnmower, which they only use for four hours a month, or a leaf blower they use twice a year, or power tools they use for one project in five years.
If we shared these things, we would suffer no loss of quality of life. Our material lives would be just as rich, yet would require less money and less waste.
But, alas, such behavior would cause our current consumer economy to crash posthaste! In economic terms, a gift circle reduces gross domestic product, defined as the sum total of all goods and services exchanged for money—great for people and planet, but not so great for corporate profits, I reasoned.
“Both out of desire and necessity, we are poised at a critical moment of opportunity to reclaim gift culture, and therefore to build true community,” Julie said, having spent countless hours over many years in conversations with her local restaurant customers about deteriorating community life in her evolving city. “I believe this reorientation toward a gifting and sharing culture is part of a larger shift of human consciousness—a larger reunion with Nature, Earth, each other and lost parts of ourselves. Our alienation from generosity and gratitude is an aberration, just as our sense of independence is an illusion. We are not actually independent, even if we feel financially secure—we are just as dependent as before, only on strangers and impersonal institutions and transactions. And, as I am quite sure we are likely to soon find out, those institutions are much more fragile than we have been led to believe.”
Giving and gifting reclaim human relationships from the market, Julie explained. They reverse the current trend of converting social relationships—like caring for one’s own children—into professional services.
Strong communities and their informal economies are built on obligations and loyalties and collaborations that express the nature and priorities of the community and its complex network of relationships.
Fossil fuels, topsoil, aquifers, the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb waste, food, clothing, shelter, medicine, music, stories, ideas—all have become commodities. From a gifting perspective, we should no longer seek merely to take from the planet, but to give back as well. This corresponds to the coming-of-age of humanity, transitioning from a mother-child relationship to Earth, to a co-creative partnership in which giving and receiving find their proper balance.
Julie added, “Fortunately, many of us, especially Millennials, no longer aspire to extreme financial independence, the state in which we have so much money we needn’t depend on anyone for anything ever. Today, increasingly, we yearn instead for community. We don’t want to live in a ‘commodity world,’ where everything we have exists for the primary goal of profit. We want things created for love and beauty, things that connect us more deeply to the people around us. We desire to be interdependent, not independent, and to rebuild the competence, confidence, and rich conversations of a particular, unique, cared-for place. The gift circle, and many new forms of giving and sharing, are emerging and are being enabled by social media and the Internet. The trend is clear: we are reclaiming human relationships from the market.”
“Gift giving contributes to another kind of less tangible common wealth—a reservoir of gratitude that will see us through times of turmoil, when the conventions and stories that hold civic society together fall apart. During difficult times, community is necessary to support social cohesion, engagement, shared cultural depth, and possibly survival,” Lua said. “Gifts inspire gratitude, and generosity is infectious. Increasingly, I read and hear stories of generosity, selflessness, and magnanimity that take my breath away. In the coming years, we will need the generosity, the selflessness, and the magnanimity of many people. If everyone seeks merely their own survival, then there is no hope for a new kind of civilization. We need each other’s gifts as we need each other’s generosity to invite us into the realm of the gift ourselves. In stark contrast to this corrosive age of money, where we can pay for anything and need no gifts, soon it will be abundantly clear: we will need each other again … and it will make us happier.”
~ Tucker Befriends a Badass ~
Later that day, a few hours after Tucker’s failed Jack attack, one of the islanders came over to tell us that Tucker has had it with the group and with ‘camping out’ on a ‘slow, girly Polynesian double canoe’ and will be going to Rarotonga immediately on his own to catch an early flight home.
“How will he get there?” Captain Bob asked.
The islander explained that Tucker had met a guy at the local bar who offered to run him over to Rarotonga on his high-speed offshore powerboat after he learned that Tucker had serious cash to offer and wanted to get off the island as soon as possible.
“Coincidentally, the boat captain also goes by the name Rico,” the islander said, directing his attention to me. “But he’s nothing like you at all, my friend. He is a big burly fellow with tattoos all over his body and is not a particularly friendly guy, or very predictable for that matter. He’s kind of a loner. Drinks too much. Did some jail time. Gets into bar fights. And no one really knows how he came into that big, expensive boat of his. No one really wants to ask, either.”
“Is ‘Rico’ a common name out here on these islands?” I asked.
“Oh no. That’s just his nickname.”
“What’s his real name?”