A few years back, we went through a particularly testing time of our lives. I had quit my job because I was unable to agree with my role of “optimizing” productivity and cost. My entire life’s savings and investments had been wiped out following a personal crisis. I did not have any marketable skills and I am not too clever at, well, anything. We chose to simplify our lives and work towards setting up a revenue stream from the only thing I knew to do – write. My wife, who, along with me, was then recovering from a deep personal loss, began to look for work. However, in the time that was going to happen, we were at home, with a good deal of spare time (even the most wicked writers do not write all day long or do they?), and heads and hearts full of dreams.
The dominant emotion we experienced during those many months was that of need – need for sustenance, for validation, for belonging. As we explored these feelings, we realized that we were not alone in our need. All around us, need was crying out. We also began to see that while a great part of this need was real, it tended to obscure the riches that we were blessed with. We had our health and faculties intact, we had a roof over our head, and food to keep us alive. We also had unbounded faith in the innate goodness of human beings in spite of having been bombarded by "takers."
Over the next several months, we explored the art of giving. Giving of our possessions, giving of our time and attention, and giving of our physical presence. We opened our doors to anyone who needed us – from the neighborhood kids to idealists doing incredible work with little or no support. We worked at no charge for organizations and individuals who wanted to make a difference to the world. We ran errands for the sick and the elderly. And we did this not so much as to test the law of cause and effect as to express our belief in abundance, to share what really belongs to us all – our humanity.
In the process, we learned a few things about giving. Here are some of them.
Giving of yourself
Have you ever been on a Ferris wheel with a child? Remember how it feels when you begin the descent? The feelings are myriad, but they all cancel each other out and for that one moment, you are free, you have freed yourself from your construct of who you are and how you must appear. Even the most seasoned of scrooges will let go of the masks they have made their own in that moment. We have learned, perhaps out of the need to survive, to hide our true selves, to deny those around us a glimpse of the joyous being that we truly are. The goal of giving of yourself is to reach that state of freedom, a state that unites you with all of being, and raises you out of limitation to divinity. The process of giving of yourself starts with this simple step of allowing your true self to emerge. The giving doesn’t need your permission, but the being yourself does.
A common stumbling block here is the belief that the person we really are is not that nice, that if people came to know the real me, they would stop loving me. The beauty of genuine giving of yourself is that it doesn’t matter. Each one of us are imperfect, we dwell in myriad worlds and are plagued by darkness. The trick is to allow light into that darkness. There is no darkness that will not disappear in the light of honesty, trust, and love. The moment we acknowledge and express ourselves as we are, we start changing. And that is the magic of giving of yourself – that in the process of sharing ourselves, we start letting go of all the unnecessary baggage we have learned to carry.
Giving of your time
This has been (and continues to be) the most difficult lesson of my life. I tend to value my time and feel that others have limited claim to it. This not only applies to acquaintances and strangers, but extends even to my loved ones. This self-importance is something I have learned, and though I love my teacher very much, I am waiting for the day when I will have unlearned this. The greatest need that is there in the world is of presence, of another person being willing to spend some time with you. It is more visible among the elderly and the suffering, but the easiest place to find it is in children. They might not always want you to engage with them in their activities, but they want you to be there, to be able to look back at you to see whether you approve or not, whether you are present or not.
This need is there in everybody, young and old, and it is a need that our times have labeled as unproductive. As a result, even acknowledging this need brings with it a fair dose of guilt. Since we had little to do in an otherwise very busy world, we were able to put out our time, to be with people, to participate in dialogs and silences, to babysit, and to spend time with the elderly and the ill. Even the pursuit of art – an essential declaration of our divine oneness – is an act of giving time. It takes time to listen to music, look at paintings, read a book, or even a piece of writing such as this. Yes, it takes time, and time is at a premium, since we are continuously running after goals that will make us feel better about the fact that we do not have time.
As I am writing this, I see that one of the reasons I have not been writing as much on this blog is because I feel that my time is better spent on more “productive” tasks. One of the areas I am focusing on of late is productivity that does not come at the cost of the more important things of life. Time management is an integral component of peak performance training, and while it might seem colder than the rest of this post, it is a tool that will help you practice giving more effectively.
Giving of your possessions
For many years, I believed that in order to be generous with material possessions, one had to have reached a certain level of self sufficiency. If one hardly had enough for one’s self, how could you consider giving? We were at that point in our life where we believed that we did not “have” enough. We did not have enough money, enough clothes, enough things. Through reflection and mindfulness, we were able to see that the concept of possession and the concept of enough had both been hijacked to where they ruled us. No one truly possesses anything. All things pass. All things ultimately belong to everyone. Nothing is really enough in our times. Enough is a pursuit that keeps changing as you pass through the stages of life till you realize you left it behind a long time back.
At the time of our life that I am speaking of, our possessions were one study table (gifted), one second-hand computer sold to us by a co-worker at almost a gift price, a mattress to sleep on, bought by ourselves, a small second-hand refrigerator (gifted), a kitchen that cost us 1500 rupees along with a whole lot of gifted crockery and cutlery. We realized that almost all the material things we possessed had come to us as gifts.
We began looking for ways that we could pass it on. We stripped our wardrobes down to the minimum that we needed and gave our clothes away. We stripped our library down and gave away all that would be useful to others. We shared our home and meals with friends. We bought food, drinks, medical help for those we found in need. All of this is not to say that we became generous, "giving" people. On the contrary, it often caused our own insecurities to surface. As we persisted, we witnessed these insecurities gradually lose their hold on us.
What we realized is that giving of your material possessions in no way diminishes your wealth. In addition to being of use to another, it enriches the giver in many ways. It helps you look at your beliefs about possessions and enough. It helps you travel light by letting go of things that you can actually do without. It creates space for new and more important things to come into your life.
Giving of your beliefs
We live in times when there is little to rejoice at, when doomsday preppers and snarling politicians rule the airwaves. There is want and need all around, and not enough warmth and generosity. We are witnessing destruction of the very planet that sustains us, that too by our own actions. There is war and debilitating poverty in more than one-third of the world. Yet, in all of this, there is hope. We still fight for the greenness and the blueness, for the right and the cool, for love and for honor. We still hang together. We share happy pictures and write uplifting blog posts. We still do what we do without speaking of it.
The greatest gift we can give to another is that of hope, not irrational, blind-faith hope, but hope that is built on reason. I often struggle with this, since I am hard-wired to resist all that is human about me, but it is essential that we share what we believe and why we believe it. It is important that we speak about what is important to us. Warts and all. Not just courage and faith, but all the things that we hesitate to say, worrying about how we will look. Things like I like Willy Wonka. Things like it hurts. Things like thanks for paying the toll fee to the stranger ahead of me.
It is only by sharing ourselves as we are, by giving ourselves to others that we get to experience the fullness of life. The joy of giving is what makes me write and you read. It is also the pleasure of inflicting 2000 words of prop art, but then that is just me. We are where we are today purely through the practice of giving and sharing. And we do not do this as a personal effectiveness hack, but out of the realization that we are all part of a party that was planned long before we knew this life, and we are journeying together only to celebrate the promise we made then.
If you liked this, consider sharing it with your friends. Also, if you have experienced the abundance of giving, please share your story in the comments.