“Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do.” ~ Khalil Gibran
Sometimes, I feel stingy. I imagine myself, Scrooge-like, hunched over my desk with my hands clenched, unwilling to let anything go. My stinginess can come up around anything – time, objects, food, attention – and I can feel it in my body when “The Stingies” come on. I feel it as a tightening in my stomach and tautness in my muscles, as if I’m ready to pounce on someone who wants what is mine. Buddhists call it grasping: holding on to something – an object, an experience, a person – and not wanting it to change. And the only antidote to The Grasping Stingies, is to let go.
Years ago, I visited a teacher friend in San Francisco. It was summer and I was shocked at how cool it was. (I had forgotten Mark Twain’s quote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”) As soon as I arrived, I realized that I hadn’t brought enough clothes. My friend offered me a jacket to use during my stay. It was lovely: a black suede softness that was as buttery on the inside as it was on the outside. All week, I gratefully buttoned it around me as we walked in her neighborhood or sat in sessions in an over air-conditioned hotel. At the end of the week, as I handed it back to her, she shook her head and said, “It’s yours.” She insisted despite my protestation. Her lending of the garment alone was an extraordinarily generous act, but to give it to me? The grace and ease with which she let go this lovely thing stunned me. And I have never forgotten it.
I have no idea how my friend felt about that black suede jacket. She may or may not have loved it. I’ve never talked to her about her gift (except to thank her afterwards) so I don’t know how it was for her. I do know that when I think of something I have and how it would be helpful/appreciated/enjoyed by someone else, my mind will sometimes pop in and tell me that I can’t let that go because I need it or might need it or want it or love it. This is a black suede jacket moment: a sure sign that I need to let it go and release my grasp on it.
In the Kalil Gabran quote above, generosity can been seen as self-sacrifice – causing myself suffering so that another may feel more ease. And yet, I’m wondering if that is really the meaning of the words. Perhaps the external circumstances are secondary to the internal benefits of offering true generosity.
In this first month of sabbatical, I’ve felt The Grasping Stingies come up around a whole host of things: my schedule, my Nia practice, my studies, my time with people, my time alone. This week, I experimented with offering myself or another generosity: a gift, a meal, time, attention. What would be a generous thing to do/give/wish for myself or another? Generosity creates a softening in my core almost immediately. A sense of expansion and breath comes in where before I had been tensing against the letting go. Even if it’s not a black suede jacket, offering myself and others generosity heals ME.
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” ~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta
A friend (not the Black Suede Jacket friend, another one) has recently started offering workshops about one of her passions: healthful cooking. I’ve seen her do this work (and tasted the yumtastic results!) and she is spectacularly talented both in her presentation and her skills. But she shared that she was shy about letting people know about what she was doing because, in so many words, she didn’t think it was “all that.”
I have observed in myself and others, that it is often amazingly easy to discount that which we do well or easefully. If it comes naturally to me, there is some sense that it isn’t much of an offering. “Oh that,” I say. “That’s nothing.” Because it is easy for me to give or do, somehow its value is diminished in my perception. The fact is this is the farthest from the truth. That which we do well and with ease are often called our “gifts.” I believe that they are gifts that we, ourselves, have been given, and also gifts which the world needs us to give.
Right now, think of something that you do well and easily. Whether you’ve been trained formally or not. Whether you learned it recently or have been doing it your whole life. Imagine yourself doing it. See yourself clearly, and notice how you feel. Do you shrug and say to yourself, “Meh. No big deal.”? Whether it is your ability to balance a checkbook or tell a joke, repair a damaged heart or split a log cleanly down the middle — do you feel the fullness of that gift, or do you undervalue it?
Part of generosity is offering what we can do best and most naturally (even if it’s after years of training and hard work). So this week, notice what you do easefully and naturally (maybe without even thinking about it) as a skill, a talent, a gift. See if you can recognize that doing that skill is an act of generosity to the ocean of all of us.