That I May Not So Much Seek

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.

28 comments:

  1. I love love love this post!! Love to you and M.

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    1. Thanks, Bhavana. Looking forward to having you back in Hyderabad, from both of us.

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  2. This post, as most of your posts, is a lesson in humility, simple living and high thinking. I don't agree that you do not have any marketable skills, even your blog title uses the word 'Jejune'. With your skills in humanity you could start your own 'Art of Giving' Foundation :D with 'SoCh' being the predecessor.

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    1. He he he, the ones who appear the most humble are usually the ones who are all snooty inside. Really missed you at SoCh this time, Anita; it was one of the most intense editions.

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  3. I really liked this post. Thanks Bhavana for sharing it. All the points are worth emulating. Loved: Giving of your time the best. Something most people don't do.

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    1. Thanks, Nivedita. You are one of our teachers, just in case you didn't know.

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  4. Respect. Not many can do what you are doing. More power to your thought and belief.

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  5. This is a marvelous post - Something I am going to come back to and read again and again and again.

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    1. Thank you so much, Ruchira. Felt great to see your comment here.

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  6. With treasure troves of ideas and thinking, a great and timely post. Loved it.

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    1. Thanks, Sandeep. Your friendship and support has always been and will always be one of our most precious possessions.

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  7. Oh yes, I have struggled with each one of these. I would like to share my experiences and perhaps have a discussion with you about each point but not in the comments. Having personally met you and Madhavi and having known you, I can say that you walk the talk. And it is an inspiration for people like us who are still struggling with some and unable to let go of others. A great post that brings us back to the core of our purpose in life, of our being!

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    1. Thanks, Rachna. I agree it is a struggle. I also am acutely aware of the logic that the mind throws up about why it is not possible. As a matter of fact, even if your mind decides to support you, society throws the same anxieties back at you. Being able to see that our circumstances and life experiences are much more than happenstance is key. Once we know that all that is happening around us and to us is actually the outcome of a complex interplay of karmic choices, it becomes easier to trust the flow. Looking forward to the ongoing dialog on this. :)

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  8. Lovely post! Ive been quiet the taker in my life.. But having children and in slowing down I see the wisdom in giving. giving time n space that I fiercely protect is a continual practice. Thank u for this.

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    1. Even I think it is a lovely post, Aarathi, since it has brought so many of my teachers out in the comments. I remember reading one of your older posts (can't place it now) and realizing that the toughest act of giving is being willing and able to share time and space with those who shell out advice without truly understanding your situation. I had to encounter this over and over till I was able to look at my own arrogance and selfishness.

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  9. Aah. Being real human is all we call it. Kudos and more power to you. Most of all, that adds my wishes too to some one who can inspire this way with words.
    Yep, difficult to be selfless to this extent. Must share with you, due to personal reasons we have adopted habit of helping the orphans and old age home with best time and money that we can do with. Have been practicing this in town of Udupi in Karnataka and in Bangalore.

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    1. Sushma, you might be aware of the initiative called SoCh that my friends and I put together every few months. In the course of meeting and speaking with people who are doing pathbreaking work in social repair, we are continuously amazed by the selflessness and anonymity with which this work is done. They might all be very small efforts, but there are so many of them all over the place! How can the future be anything but bright?

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  10. The humility that coats every single word on this post. It has made me speechless. Respect to you and your wife for walking the talk. If only more of us were like you. A good samaritan and a human being in the truest sense. Hats off to you.

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    1. Trust me, Sid, the humility is really a desperate fake-it-to-make-it attempt. :) And thanks for your kind words. Hope to see you back for more of what you liked.

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  11. Great post ,though I am with you on every point you tried to put across and in particular when u say "giving of your materials possessions does not dimnish your wealth ...."

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  12. I needed a re-read of this post, Subhorup. Like all of your other posts. How difficult is it to practice each of these points you have cited? And yet you are doing them. Kudos to you and your partner. Many things to learn from a living example of a good Samaritan.

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    1. Thanks, FIF. It is not as if we do not have difficulty practicing these. We struggle too, and there are times when we sink into the "comfort of our insecurities." Like most of my posts :), this too is an attempt to share what is good and to reaffirm our faith in the goodness of things.

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  13. A very inspiring post Subhorup. Wonderful to know that you and your family have walked along this road and found happiness.We practice minimalism in day to day lives, in reducing our needs and wants but we still have a long way to go.

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  14. Honestly.. I cannot do this really. You have lot of strength ..

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  15. It's touchy...i always use to wonder at your strength and courage,sometimes had a question mark in my mind,how you guys are able to go through all this in both of your lives....i admire you both...Sir and Madhavi

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  16. You the MAN :) Hello sir , rememeber me , its been ages since i been blogging , came back and read this article. Very inspiring , I wish I have that much courage to do what you and Mam did..
    we need more and more of good people like you sir to make our nation a better place fpor sure

    Bikram

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