“I was afraid we might starve, you dad gave back so much of his salary to the Church. If he was going to ask the members to tithe, he figured he had to give back twice that, and on his little salary….”
Mom, ever the preacher’s wife, continued. “The hobos had us marked too. I don’t know how they did it but they always knew we’d give them some food. Course they had to listen to your father preach to them but….”
This is the tangled spirit of martyrdom and generosity I grew up in. I’m still sorting out my relationship with money; I am grateful to my folks however for helping me learn early that it feels good to help other folks out.
Any of us with sensitive hearts wish we could be doing ‘more good in today’s world. Yet I’ve discovered (through personal research!) our very approach to giving and receiving often sets us up for a guilt-of-insufficiency and a disappointment in personal potency. Who of us, after all, feels like we’re doing enough for a world in need?
Yet, “Tis the Season” as I write this, with the calendar approaching the turn of the year and various religious holy days upon us. And indeed it tis a season for gifting and receiving beyond just the boundaries of family and friends. My mailbox, like your’s I expect, is overflowing with requests for charitable donations, with worthy needs for financial support.
There’s the local volunteer fire department, the Food Depot that gathers food for those in need, shelters for the homeless, children’s homes and animal sanctuaries and conservation groups and international service organizations of every strip and hue imaginable. Thank Goodness!
I say, “Thank Goodness” because without these pleas, granting us the opportunity to share from our own abundance, we would become ‘less human.’ Indeed our humanity is in some ways defined by our generosity to those with less than ourselves.
“The simplest acts of kindness are far more powerful
than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Sharing and kindness and generosity have become inextricably linked in the research literature with the topics of happiness and generosity and well-being, thanks to the rise of interest in the ‘what works’ variety of psychology, i.e. positive psychology and the science of happiness. I suspect most of us can use all the positivity we can get; I certainly can.
That’s the personal need and urge that launched me on this thread of thinking and research: one was a realization that I (we) don’t allow ourselves to actually receive the full benefit of our giving; and secondly, by more fully engaging in this gifting/receiving dynamic we could more consciously contribute to nurturing a culture of kindness on the planet. (Yes, I’ve always dreamed big when not crashing with despair!)
But I mean it: we can nourish a culture of kindness while also boosting our own happiness and health and well-being. Following are a few simple tips how.
- Give with a spirit of gratitude. If you’re going to give something, $5 or $3 or $300… do so consciously. Mindfully. The attitude with which you give is far more important than the quantity. Even if the amount feel small, you and the recipient can still receive the rewards of your thoughtful kindness, particularly if your own gratitude is activated.
- Feel into the tangled web of the giver-and-receiver relationship and explore, without judgment, whatever attitudes arise for you. Do you perceive a one-up—one-down relationship or are you able to sense into an exchange between equals? Can you sense into the gift received by giver any time we are able to attend to another’s need?
- If you’re the giver, in the act of your gifting allow yourself to actually feel and allow in the openness of your heart impelling you to offer this gift. What is the itch? What does it feel like in there? What you’re looking to let in here are two things, at least. One is to take a moment and savor the difference you are making in someone’s life, be it a warm meal or smile or a look from your eyes that says, “I see you.” Secondly, acknowledge to yourself you do not know how big this $3 may actually be—for one-act of kindness breeds another we now know. And a major trick to nurturing this culture of kindness is to begin with yourself: savor in your heart the warmth that comes from a generous and kind act. Now turn that kindness around and offer it to yourself. (Helping others reduces our stress.)
- When on the receiving end, let’s say, “Thank you,” while also not allowing ourselves to feel diminished in any way by our state of need. The need of any one of us is also the gift of an opportunity for another of us to reciprocate in honoring the cycle of giving and receiving that underlies all life.
Truth is, we are all receivers and the more conscious we can become of this, the kinder we will become to ourselves and others. Who among us deserves for the sun to rise tomorrow, to grace us with its light and warmth? Who among us has earned the grace of the rain that allows our gardens to grow. We are woven by the nature of life into this relationship of breathing out what the plants breathe in, leaving us the gift of breathing in what the plants breath out. This is life.
Now should you care to either experiment or simply dive straight in to raising your own sense of well-being and significance, you can gain an immediate hit of the feel-good oxytocin hormone. Here is a crowd funding site I’ve created for the Magarini Children Center, in Kenya, serving orphans and children in need, so they may have a Holiday Season to Remember — receiving kindness from strangers choosing to ‘feel good,’ knowing the light of smiles they will bring to the some child on the other side of the planet.
It is a small and shrinking world, after all. I for one happen to believe that kindness is our best National Defense strategy. “Kindness is contagious,” just as hate and anger can be.
So whether you choose to give to this cause I’m sharing or somewhere else, choose to give somewhere, to someone, consciously, and allow yourself to fully receive the gift of Life craving expression within. Your own health and well-being will appreciate you for it!
Resources: The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist
Larry Glover aspires to discover what being human truly is, particularly in a paradoxical world woven of mystery and consciousness and fire and water and air and earth and spirit and soul too. He struggled from an early age with a madness that would destroy himself, which he came to recognize as a cultural story of separation and unworthiness for life. Larry now leans into our shared love of nature to inspire and deepen what it is to truly love your self, through his writing, speaking, coaching, workshops and wilderness retreats. Learn more of how to engage with Larry at larryglover.com