A wise person is motivated to benefit oneself, others, and both self and others.” —The Buddha
Bright colored lights twinkle in the cold december darkness even though it is only 5:30 pm as I drive home. My bones are tried, my fingertips cold, my shoulders ache. I am starting to feel holiday pressure about when I might be able to get gifts for those on my list. Hell, I haven’t even made my list yet. The days are dwindling quickly and my calendar is brimming with meetings and parties as people are trying to get everything wrapped up before the Christmas break.
I pause as I wrap my hands around a cup of hot tea trying to warm them up. I feel dread with an edge of panic. Is it bad to say I hate the holidays? Is it bad when I think of all of the work to “do” the holidays right—send cards, decorate the house, go shopping, find the perfect gift for my mother (almost impossible), bake cookies, light pine scented candles, meet with friends for coffee before the end of the year, all of which makes me want to want to go to bed and hide under the quilts and comforters?
To be honest I let go of most of these exceptions years ago. I might decorate, we are talking a simple Charlie Brown one stick tree with a single red bulb or maybe some white twinkle lights hung around the living room windows. I will meet with friends, coffee and friends is always good. And yes, I will go shopping and search high and low looking for that perfect gift for my mother (I have never found one yet).
Generosity can be a tricky thing. It is easy to give beyond your means—time, money or effort—out of a sense of obligation or even fear. This obligation or fear can drive me to overspend, twist my stomach into knots, keep me up at night. Hell, I even find myself in a mall sometimes, where I walk around in a daze, my eyes wide open as I stare at throngs of people carrying multiple fancy bags from thousands of stores I never heard of or knew I needed until I went to the mall.
I once heard a Dharma talk that discussed the concept of wise giving. Wait wise giving? It was a revolutionary concept for me. I was stuck in traffic (yes, I listen to Dharma talks while driving in my car) and I stopped my iPod to rewind it back to hear it again. The first idea that gave me pause was the notion that generosity is to benefit both the giver and the receiver. And not like, I give you this book or what ever so you will like me or you then owe me something of equal value in return (that is what I was taught).
As the giver it is normal to feel warmth, goodness and yes, have your heart open when giving; this is a good healthy motivation to be generous. This is what I need to strive for.
Wise giving is not harmful to either the giver or receiver. So if I give beyond my means to the point it harms me, I am not giving wisely. I can’t tell you how my life is littered with failed relationships where I gave and gave to the point of complete depletion of my resources, material and spiritual, in hopes that I might be good enough. I clearly harmed myself in those relationships and I harmed the people I gave too much too also, because I was not giving freely or wisely.
So what can I do to cultivate wise giving?
First I need to let go of the idea I can please my mother or others with the perfect gift for the holidays. I want to give from my heart, not the obligation I grew up with. I need to stay aware of where I am at with my motivations and feelings. Some of my ideas of giving are hardwire and will creep in if I am not watchful. I need to pay attention to see if I am feeling tight or short of breath. Is my stomach in knots? Am I finding myself wandering aimless around a mall? Am I thinking I need to get something great so they will like me more? All of these are warnings. And when they arise I need to hold myself in a space of compassion.
I also know I need to practice loving kindness or Metta, meditation to help me cultivate generosity and open my heart. I know this works but I still resist it. As I sit on my meditation cushion each morning I find it easier to go back to my breath, note my thoughts, then to focus on loving kindness intentions for myself and all beings. Still I try each Metta each morning.
I want to think I am evolved, that I know how to give wisely, free of obligations or fear. But I am not, I am learning. I feel like I am taking baby steps when 14 days before Christmas I still don’t know what to give my mom or others in my life. At least I am aware I want to give wisely and I have a choice today. So that is start.
Writing to Open Your Heart starts January 31, 2015. Writing to Open Your Heart is an online weekly creative writing workshop where you will learn to trust your voice and share your writing with other writers. More information HERE.
Parts of this post is a response to Kat Mcnally’s Reverb14