My meditation class explores the six paramitas, or perfections, in the path of the Bodhisattva (one who vows to liberate all beings from suffering). Simpler than it sounds, the path of the Bodhisattva is the path to happiness. Any of us can follow it. In the months to come I will write posts about each of the paramitas and explain how we can use them in our lives.
The first paramita is generosity. In class we’ve talked about where generosity comes from, what it feels like, and what impedes it. Turns out, we all know a lot about it. We know what generosity feels like—lovely. No matter what we give, whether it’s time, attention, material goods, emotional support, recognition, there’s a warm, open quality to giving freely. Every one of us has something to give. Nobody is so poor as to have nothing to offer. We have our wisdom or experience, our love. We have advice to give, the gift of space to offer, the possibility of connection.
Sometimes, when we feel lacking, stressed out, or are in scarcity mode, we forget this. We forget that it feels nice to practice generosity, that generosity can actually be the antidote to our fear and resistance to sharing.
I made a cake one day, from scratch, because I’d been craving cake. That cake tasted good, like I’d expected. Maybe even better. But a whole cake is too much to have sitting around. I told a friend I would give her some. Then I found out another friend had broken her arm. Yet another friend was considering whether to undertake a third round of treatment for cancer.
I sliced the cake and wrapped slices for each friend, went to their houses, and dropped it off. I didn’t call in advance, didn’t stay and chat, just made my offering and left. Though everyone was delighted with surprise cake, I doubt any of them were as delighted as I was. I couldn’t believe how much fun I had delivering cake. I thought of it as reverse trick or treat. No cake by itself in my house will bring the kind of joy sharing it brought. Eating it was good—sharing was even better.
It’s all in the sharing.
We don’t all have cake ready to deliver, and not everyone eats cake, but we all have something we might habitually hold on to that we could offer instead. Sylvia Boorstein, in her book on the Paramitas (Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake), writes about the freedom of not needing. When we share what we have, or give it away entirely, we experience liberation from grasping and attachment, which are the roots of suffering. Such a simple thing, something we are all capable of, yet we hold back. Why?
Our class concluded that we get scared, lazy, or we don’t think we have anything of value to share. The fear that stops us is usually a fear of not having enough, or a fear that if we give we will not have it when we need it. Present moment practice helps with this. Look around, notice your surroundings. Do you have what you need right now? What do you have more than enough of? What might you give away? What could you share with someone else that would make them happy, that would meet a need they have?acknowledge our present-moment situation, we usually find that we have something to offer. We could have a freedom from need that can be relied on to benefit others, and we will be safe.
Though I give a dollar to the first person that asks me each day, my commitment is to give more than money. I ask the person’s name, introduce myself, and shake hands if possible. It’s easy to give a buck, but more meaningful to give respect, recognition, human regard, and compassion.
Our class took Sylvia Boorstein’s advice and, for a full week, looked for five opportunities a day to be generous. (Warning—once you set the intention, it’s a hard habit to break.) Many of us noted that we already practice a fair amount of generosity on a regular basis. We also noted that we need to include generosity towards ourselves in this practice. This means cutting ourselves some slack, relaxing with who we are, dropping the critical self-talk. With others, it often means just being a little kinder, going a little bit out of our way, offering something we might have wanted to keep, giving the bigger slice of cake, making a cup of tea, doing chores without being asked, paying full attention when someone is talking rather than half attention and half-thinking of other things.
Generosity is simple, and opportunities to practice it abound. Practicing generosity enriches our lives and the lives of others, and brings more joy and peace into the world. There is something deeply relaxing about trusting that we have more than enough, noticing that we have no needs in this moment, and offering our gifts and abilities to others without hesitation.
Will you take the five-acts-of-generosity-a-day practice challenge? Tell us what you discovered in the process, please.
© Copyright 2011 by Ker Cleary, LPC, therapist in Eugene, Oregon. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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