Upstartist Diaries

The Mathematics of Gift

Gifting has an exponential ripple effect.

My first night in Chiang Mai I was eating at May KaiDees, a vegetarian restaurant, when two ladies sat down next to me. We were the only three customers, and struck up a conversation.

What have you done here? What do you plan to do?

Hui Ying had just completed a 1-month course in traditional Thai massage. She had decided to study Traditional Chinese Medicine – a big switch from her previous work as an actuary. Dinese had just broken up with her boyfriend, and was touring northern Thailand. The two had met at a co-working space in Malaysia years ago.

We spent the night talking and wandering through Nimmanhaemin, Chiang Mai’s trendiest neighborhood.

It was the end of their vacation and they were treating themselves to one night at Dhara Dhevi, the five star hotel made famous by Anna and The King. “Why don’t you join us for the day?” they asked. 

I resisted. This offer was too generous. True, I flew here to soak in nature, the quiet of the mountains. My hotel, idyllic in photos, was located next to a gas station.  

I had no plans. I only knew I wanted to live in abundance. I had dwelt for years in scarcity, anxious about my finances, time and relationships – they never seemed enough. Seeing the world with abundance felt like motorbiking in Chiang Mai; I was used to driving on the opposite side of the road.

And here were two strangers inviting me to their resort. 

I’ll let you know tomorrow.

The next morning I remained undecided. Why the resistance to their gift? This is exactly what I wanted: a retreat into nature, serendipity, time with two humans who believed that the universe gave them whatever they asked for.

To live in abundance, I had to be open to receiving it

No more of “the right thing to do,” “the wrong thing to do,” “the dangerous thing to do.” No more analyzing motives. Just letting go.

Yes, I’m coming now. 

We were blissfully present at Dhara Dhevi, soaking in the paddy fields, Lanna architecture, and our two-story deluxe villa. It was full of hypnotherapy, Thai massage, and intimate sharing about heartbreak, abundance, and our deepest desires.

We biked, we swam, we sauna’d, we made crafts, we had long conversations in our villa garden, we wrote out manifestation lists, had tea. 

Soon it was 8pm – two hours after hotel guests were supposed to leave! Oops.

“Let’s grab dinner in the city and then I’ll leave,” I told them.

But the ladies didn’t want to disrupt the flow; they insisted on treating me to stay the night. Paying for an extra bed isn’t cheap at the Dhara Dhevi, where rooms normally go for $500 USD/night.

Again I felt the resistance to receiving. No need to waste the extra money! I’ll just head back to my hotel, no big deal.

Nope. They insisted, “Let’s keep this flow, this is our chance to practice abundance, let’s not look at numbers.” These women were not poor, but staying at the Dhara Dhevi was a special treat for themselves – and now me.

The next day, when the the bill came, I insisted on paying my share. But Hui Ying said, “Please don’t. I don’t want to tie off this relationship.”

This was a lesson on gift. It was difficult to receive; in the past 24 hours I resisted their generosity at least three times. Why? Was it because I felt like I didn’t deserve it? Or because I’d owe them something? Or because they were strangers?

Hui Ying was right. I wanted this relationship to continue. Paying them back with money would bring closure to our experience and future relationship.

After I hugged them goodbye, I walked around the Chiang Mai street stalls and roads as if in a trance.

That night, drinking a beer, I suddenly had a thought: was this karma?

I remembered I had offered my Saigon apartment to Jimmy, a dance teacher seeking a new start in Vietnam. As I was going to be in Chiang Mai, why not share my place with him?


I had offered Jimmy my place for a week. Just what he needed to feel at home.

Hui Ying and Dinese offered me refuge at one of the most exclusive hotels in Thailand. Just what I needed: nature, abundance, the gift.

Now I don’t keep tabs when I treat friends or share gifts, but I was curious… my place costs $25/day and Jimmy stayed for five days. This was roughly the same cost as an extra bed at Dhara Dhevi for one night.

I believe we should give genuinely and with no expectation of return. That’s what I did with Jimmy. Hui Ying and Dinese did the same with me.

But the non-monetary mathematics of gift is more interesting.

Gifting has an exponential ripple effect

If I had left my apartment empty, it’s unlikely I would have gotten invited to the Dhara Dhevi, and received so much wisdom and inspiration from my new friends.*

Because I gifted my apartment to Jimmy:

I received an amazing retreat full of love, learning and luxury from two strangers – now soul sisters. 

I built relationships with Jimmy, Hui Ying and Dinese that tie us closer together

The seed of giving was watered. All four of us want to give more to each other, or to someone else.

Each of our actions could trigger four more people to give unconditionally.

That’s 1 to 16 people, an ever expanding virtuous circle. Talk about scaleable!

Giving also changed our ideas of what’s possible: 

Guys like you exist that are looking for long term partners.

Girls like you exist that believe so strongly in an abundant universe.

Strangers can be kind.

And why did I offer Jimmy my apartment? Because others had planted the seed of giving: Thich Nhat Hanh, Charles Eisenstein, Lynn Twist, Michael Roach, Auntie Diane, my parents, my mentors, my friends (too many to count) who opened their homes to me, a friend in need.

Monetary transactions are finite in time, persons and value, keeping us strangers. 

Gifting continues infinitely in time, persons, and value, tying people together. 

What if you lived your whole life this way, giving without expectation of return? Imagine the karma, the connections, the virtuous circles created.

Don’t we have enough? How can we share more?


* Will humans ever understand the ledgers of their karma or that of others? I don’t claim to. I admit I am taking a leap linking these two events, my gifting and the ladies’ gifting. Maybe there are thousands, millions of other karmic actions, in this life or previous lives, that led to these gifts. Still, I encourage you to think of how much your giving and receiving is related, in both small and large matters. My experience is they tend to appear close together.

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One reply on “The Mathematics of Gift”

Thank you for sharing and your generous gifts of your presence and the yummy meals!

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