"Happiness is not having a lot. Happiness is giving a lot."- Buddha
To serve others is to become more receptive and open to ourselves. Each time we assist another we are renewed and strengthened. In such circumstances, giving is also receiving. During this holiday season, keep these ideas in mind the next time you have the opportunity to help someone.
I am deeply moved and inspired by the growing impact of the Huffington Post as it transcends cultural, political and theological differences, bringing together a universal way of living together in peace and harmony during this challenging time of conflict and uncertainty.
Now, after three years as a blogger for 'Healthy Living', thank you, my friends, for including me in your world and continuing with me on this journey that chooses peace over conflict, and love over fear.
In profound gratitude this holiday season,
My two cats, Lucy and Sasha, have been wonderful teachers for me by sharing the fine art of giving and receiving. During the day, they take turns grooming each other. Lucy receives patiently, while Sasha gives unconditionally. Then the roles are reversed, with Sasha receiving, while Lucy gives unconditionally. 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', as one gives to the other unconditionally, while the other, patiently receives and basks in the glory of the moment. What a gift to observe and practice!
There is no time more precious time than the present. Lucy and Sasha demonstrated and reinforced that concept for me. As a person with illness and in a wheelchair for so many years, I often forget that there are many other ways I can give: pay attention and listen with an open heart to everyone without judgment; offer and give support, respect the dignity of another; share with, and serve others besides those actions that require physical strength and full mobility. We give with a free and open heart and without keeping score. 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 expect to receive anything in return for our gifts or services. We don't give or serve grudgingly, you know, with an attitude. You know, we consciously or unconsciously set up contracts: I will scratch your back as long as you scratch my back in return.
Somehow the pleasure of unconditional giving seems incomplete.
When I am dependent on others to help me move about, to help with eating, driving to appointments, and to help me in the bathroom, I am 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. The roles are interchangeable moment by moment and fluctuate from one to the other. And 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.
When the energy of giving and receiving flows smoothly, we feel loved and supported. Our lives seem abundant and full. When the energy is uneven, we may feel angry, frustrated, and disappointed. The pay-offs might mean shutting down, detaching or withholding our expression and joy. The consequences of these actions are ultimately killing our spirit.
But we, who have limited mobility have the advantage of viewing life with the perspective of 'altitude', in other words, to observe, correct and adjust where they see imbalance in their expressions of giving and receiving. In my spiritual practices, I have observed that 'altitude is our viewing point, the perspective we have. The higher our viewing point, the more we can see. The more we can see, the more information we have.
The more information we have, the better we can make well-informed decisions. Self observation is another valuable tool to practice.
Reaching out to others makes life meaningful. What's really great about this is the more you give the more you receive. We don't need to live isolated on a mountaintop to affirm...when you serve others, you gain more in return.
Real caring is unconditional. We don't stop to think whether we or someone else deserves it. And when you really love someone, you don't stop and think, "what's in it for me"? Maybe the real problem is that we have forgotten how to enjoy unconditional giving. Or, is it that we don't know how to take in the pleasures of giving? Or is it that we have forgotten how to receive, that in the act of receiving we are withholding whatever magical ingredient my cats naturally know that makes the giver happy?
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.
It is quite clear, as I watched my cats, that each received great pleasure from giving. For both of them, giving and receiving were the same.
For this holiday season, here is a summary:
You might tenderly hold the hand of your mother, your spouse or a friend.
This holiday season, spend a few moments listening to someone who might be alone.
Be helpful and kind to someone who needs a hand.
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 by offering little intimacies with those we care about - offering a foot massage, a back rub, even telling a joke.
We give from the heart by sharing our vulnerabilities and expressing our emotions, through forgiveness of others and ourselves.
We give by discovering our own core strengths and finding ways they can make a positive difference in someone else's life.
These core strengths might be resilience, compassion, understanding, courage, gratitude, clarity, perseverance, inner peace, purpose, encouragement. inspiration, humor, enthusiasm, joy, honesty, spontaneity, thoughtfulness, appreciation, and intention and integrity.
We give by learning the joy of giving without conditions or attachments, be it through money, wisdom, time, creativity, a special skill, our life experience, or our hearts.
Sometimes giving involves sacrifice--giving up something you value to benefit someone else. This might mean your time, your talents, your energy, your money, or, maybe, even your blood.
To serve others is to become more receptive and open to ourselves. Each time we assist another we are renewed and strengthened. In such circumstances, giving is also receiving.
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 holiday and prosperous New Year.
Portions of this article were excerpted from Chapter 5, Who We Become, pp 166-168,
in my book, "You Are Not Your Illness".
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.