- 02 Dec
December Theme: Generosity: The Giver is the Receiver by Sharyn Galindo
If you let go a little, you will have a little peace.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.
If you let go completely, you will discover complete peace.
A couple of months ago, we had a theft at North Shore Yoga. Trying to make sense of the feelings, I convinced myself that whoever took the money must have needed it. Then I decided maybe it was a personal message from the universe that I needed to be more generous. Generosity is a core virtue extolled in every spiritual and religious tradition. We know how good it feels to give, but often resist receiving. Giving leads to an open heart, and a foundation for well-being. What does science say about generosity? What does yoga say about it and what does Buddhism say about it?The message is very similar.
Most of the time, when we think of being generous, we think about donating money. This has always made me anxious because I don’t have a lot of money and when I can give money I wonder if it’s just not enough. The NGE’s come up even here! (See the “Not Good Enough” blog) None the less, it can be difficult to find the right balance between generosity and a responsible conservation of what we’ve got. Not a challenge we want to avoid, but rather an opportunity to take a fresh perspective on one’s real needs and the needs of others. Most importantly, we can be generous with all kinds of non-material things. We can be generous with our time, attention, energy, presence, information, knowledge, encouragement, understanding, kindness and love–to name a few!
We give of little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
From a Western point of view, there is a wealth of research that shows that giving of yourself –whether it be your time, energy or money, has consistently shown to improve mood, physical health, job/life satisfaction, and even increase longevity. When it comes to your health, it truly is better to give than to receive.
In The Paradox of Generosity, a new book by sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, they found lower depression rates among Americans who donate more than 10 percent of their incomes (41 percent say they rarely or never experience depression versus 32 percent for everyone else.) And giving away money isn’t the only way to reap the psychological rewards of generosity: Americans who are very giving in relationships—being emotionally available and hospitable—are much more likely to be in excellent health (48 percent) than those who are not (31 percent).
The feel-good effects of giving begin in the brain. Apparently, philanthropy doles out several different happiness chemicals including dopamine; endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria, and oxytocin; which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace. However, the giving must be Heartfelt. If it’s a meaningful donation, it can have a significant impact but if one is begrudging, or not connected giving loses much of its positive impact. Why? Because this kind of meaningful giving takes your focus off yourself and your day to day drama. Apparently, research indicates that people say their friendships are deeper, they’re sleeping better and they’re able to handle life’s obstacles better. Way cheaper than anything you could buy at the drugstore!
In addition, being stingy or being ashamed of being stingy is stressful! It’s linked with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In one study, the more money people chose to keep in the experiment, the greater shame they felt — and the higher their levels of cortisol.
Taking Generosity into our yoga practice…
From an eastern perspective, generosity is based partly on two of the five Yamas in the Yoga Sutras
- Asteya or non-stealing. Generosity is the opposite of taking whereby we share freely
- Aparigraha or non-greed. A generous person sees life through a prism of abundance instead of scarcity. There is enough for everyone.
Asteya, reminds us to take only what is freely given to us and give in turn. For the majority of us we believe that we don’t steal because we think initially of material things such as money or belongings. However, notice if you take attention away from someone? If you are late and steal someone’s time? Or energy? And how often do we steal from the environment? The Sutras teach us that we should cultivate the opposite of our negative behaviors. So in the case of Asteya, this means we could try to be generous with our time and attention, be more mindful of how we treat the environment and those around us, and donate our time to a cause or volunteer.
Aparigraha is translated as non-grasping, non-greed, non-indulgence, or even non-acquisitiveness. This Yama is about letting go of things we don’t need. It could be belongings – or excess food and drink – but also old patterns and memories that no longer serve us.
On a deeper level, Aparigraha can be practiced as non-attachment, to all experiences, whether they are labeled as good or bad. This is Mindfulness, being fully engaged in whatever experience arises, but having no expected outcome attached to it or identification with it. Then a good experience can be enjoyed fully, but we don’t cling or make it “mine.” It just happens. A bad thought or emotion is experienced too, but we don’t believe or identify with them either and thus they won’t have the same or so much effect on us. They just happen.
Aparigraha is also about letting go of expectations about what we “should be”. During this time of year, it is easy to get caught up in outcomes and expectations. Notice when this comes up. Take a deep breath and let things happen as they are, not to a “me” or “mine” in particular. Through this mindful practice of aparigraha, you begin to lose your attachment to the outcome and sharing becomes easier and more positive.
In Buddhism, Generosity is one of the 10 paramitas, or enlightened qualities that we try to cultivate. Practice taking in the good and giving it out again. In Pali, the language of the earliest Buddhist texts, the word for giving is dana, the practical act of giving. The word for generosity, the underlying spirit of giving, is caga. The word caga also has the meaning of “letting go” or “relinquishment”. It is unselfishness of the mind. It is this letting go of acts that weaken and reverse painful attachments and longings. Each time you let go of something which you are grasping tightly – a thing or an idea, an assumption or an expectation – there is a sense of relief, of having laid down a burden. True freedom. It can be felt as the difference between a clenched hand and an open palm. Through the repeated exercise of letting go, you become calmer and your awareness grows. It is the antidote to self-centeredness. Generosity is not something we leave behind but what contains and holds our practice. It is a hum that underpins everything we do in practice. We practice taking in the good and giving it out again.
Generosity is also one virtue that most of us believe we possess. In one sense, generosity is natural: We can no more help giving than we can live without the support of everything we receive. But even so, the ego fears not having enough, worries about getting hurt or losing out, feels anxious at the thought of looking silly or getting ripped off, and above all, looks for a payoff. For most of us, there’s a continual push-pull between our natural generosity and genuine desire to share and the ego’s feeling of lack and its desire to drive a bargain and win.
That’s why practicing generosity can be such a boundary-expanding thing to do. Every time we make a genuine offering or even think a generous thought, for its own sake without thought of reward, we strengthen our essence. In that way, generosity truly is an enlightening activity: It opens us to the loving, abundant, good-natured core of ourselves and the universe and, at least for the moment, loosens the ego’s grip. As stated earlier, we need to look at how we are giving? Generosity is different than giving away things because we don’t want them anymore. We might give joyfully, reluctantly, unconditionally, mindfully, with strings attached, with effort or spontaneously. We must also be able to receive someone’s generosity. Appreciation is a gift we can give someone and itself is a form of generosity.
So here it is, generosity is the base note underneath our practice. It has no expectation. Not how much is being offered. It is not measured or self-referencing and it’s not about how great I am or how good I look. We attend generously to our own experience and meet it without expectation that something ought to, or ought not to be happening. We even see our stinginess and comparing mind, doing the best we can at that time. And we meet it by surrendering to the present. Albert Camus said, “Real Generosity to the future lies in giving all to the present.” So our job is to find all the opportunities in our life to practice. Whether it be time, listening, skills, money, we offer our heart over and over again, until it feels as if it costs you nothing to give and let go! Give abundantly and abundance returns.
“That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.” Simone de Beauvior
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