“The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.” — Walt Whitman
My two cats, Lucy and Sasha, have been wonderful teachers for me. During the day, they take turns grooming each other. It’s all a process of giving and receiving. Sasha lavishes Lucy with her attention, and Lucy does the same for Sasha. As they close their eyes and purr, each one appears to savor the giving as much as the receiving. What’s more, when I watch them very closely, I observe there is an element of “caring” and “sharing.” While one gives unconditionally, the other patiently receives and basks in the glory of the moment. What a gift, to be able to observe such a wonderful practice!
As a person with illness and in a wheelchair for many years, I am so frequently on the receiving end of other people’s attention that I often forget that there are many ways I can give. I am dependent on others to help me move about, assist with eating, arrange driving, and help me in the bathroom. Being so often on the receiving end, I have learned to be on the lookout for creative ways I can make a positive difference in the lives of those who support and comfort me. These are not trade offs that can be planned in advance or carefully measured. The roles of “giver” and “receiver” are interchangeable, moment by moment, and fluctuate from one situation to the next. It’s obvious what other people can do for me — actions that require physical strength and full mobility. What I can offer to others are things less visible but no less real: pay attention and listen to everyone without judgment, offer and give support, respect the dignity of another, share with and serve others with a free and open heart and without keeping score.
When you give of yourself, you find meaning in your life. When the energy of giving and receiving flows smoothly, we feel loved and supported. Our lives seem abundant and full.
Very few people ever stop to realize that there is a particular sense of scarcity we encounter when we are deprived of the experience of giving. Something feels “off” or out of balance. Sometimes, we let the fear of rejection hold us back from risking and exposing our own emotional state. Breathe and let go of that past “picture” and exchange the fear for inner peace. We are all here to heal ourselves.
When we truly give of ourselves, there are no strings attached. We don’t give or serve grudgingly (you know, with an “attitude!”). We don’t expect to receive anything in return for our gifts or services. When we consciously or unconsciously set up contracts — I will scratch your back as long as you scratch mine — somehow the pleasure of unconditional giving seems incomplete.
Real caring is unconditional. We don’t stop to think whether we or someone else deserves it. When you really love someone, you don’t stop and think, “What’s in it for me?”
Have you ever noticed that when you shift your attention away from yourself, your problems and focus on helping others, your own problems don’t seem so serious or overwhelming? If you use your unique talents and abilities to work for the good of others, you’ll find greater joy, inspiration, and satisfaction in your own life.
For this holiday season, my wish for all of is that we can be as generous in giving as we are in receiving. We give through caring, sharing, loving, through being a good listener when others close to us want to share their thoughts and feelings. We give from the heart by sharing our vulnerabilities and expressing our emotions, through forgiveness of others and ourselves. There are many ways this can happen:
• You might tenderly hold the hand of your mother, your spouse, or a friend.
• Spend some time listening to someone who has been alone.
• Be helpful and kind to someone who needs a hand.
• Offer little intimacies to those we care about — a foot massage, a back rub, even a favorite joke.
• Experience the joy of giving without conditions or attachments, be it with money, wisdom, time, creativity, a special skill, or life experience.
In such circumstances, giving is also receiving. To serve others is to become more receptive and open to ourselves. Each time we assist another we are renewed and strengthened. During this holiday season, keep these ideas in mind the next time you have the opportunity to help someone.
This is the blessing of the heart. Hug someone close and have a joyous Thanksgiving holiday.
“I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.” — Mother Teresa
Portions of this article were excerpted from You Are Not Your Illness by Linda Noble Topf.
Linda Noble Topf is dedicated to assisting others in seeing that chronic illness, debilitating injury, or any kind of adversity in any stage of life, can be viewed as a spiritual awakening, and an opportunity for personal growth.