“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” —Rabindranath Tagore
One of the ways we come into balance and connection with each other and life is by giving from the heart. When we give to others, whether it’s an act of kindness, generosity, or compassion, it helps us live from the heart instead of the ego.
Living from the ego is painful and exhausting. It’s like feeding a hungry monster that’s never satisfied. Ego craves, pursues, and clings to status, approval, material wealth, and control. It views the world through the eyes of fear—constantly evaluating, judging, and acting in ways that are self-centered, defensive, and protective. Ego is about getting more, which leaves little room for generosity or compassion.
In contrast, generosity requires that we open our hearts to the world and each other. We accept that in life there are challenges, and we meet these challenges with humility, patience, and compassion. This is the work of the spiritual warrior, to open our hearts and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. In doing this, we open ourselves fully to life, love, and relationships.
The practice of generosity also helps us let go of striving and pursuing things. When we stop striving, we begin to see, value, and respond to what’s happening in the present moment in ways that are healthy and healing. This movement from striving, to be present and open to life, is what nourishes the heart. In responding and valuing our connection to others and the world, we let go of an “us-versus-them” mentality. Our priority shifts from attaining things to appreciating what we have and being open to share with others.
Greed vs. Generosity
“Thoughts rooted in greed, hatred and delusion lead to disharmony and suffering. Thoughts rooted in generosity, loving-friendliness, compassion and wisdom lead to harmony and peace.” —The Buddha
The opposite of generosity is greed. When we view life through the eyes of greed, our hearts are closed off and we suffer. We become small, fearful, and contracted, and view ourselves as lacking some elusive thing (material, spiritual, emotional, physical). This is much like the character Scrooge, who lived a lonely, bitter, and resentful life. On the outside, Scrooge appeared to be a grumpy, mean-spirited, and stingy man, but under this tough exterior was a fearful and vulnerable person who wanted connection but was afraid of it.
If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us has moments where we engage in Scrooge-like behavior. We get caught up in a “me, mine, I” mentality. We compare ourselves to others and either feel superior or inferior/inadequate. When we act in ways that feed the ego/greed, we lose our vital connection to the life around and within us. Generosity, which opens our hearts to each other and life, falls by the wayside.
Joy Arises from a Generous Heart
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” —John Holmes
In the book The How of Happiness, author Sonja Lyubomirsky states that “being kind and generous leads us to perceive others more positively and more charitably. It fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in our social community.”
Generosity is a quality of kindness, of living from a place of abundance. When we act with kindness and generosity, we see the world through a clear lens that isn’t clouded by fear, wanting, or clinging. Our eyes are open to see life as it is, instead of how we want it to be. When we interact with others, our connection is genuine and based on a sincere concern for each other’s well-being. We see people instead of judgments or labels.
This may sound confusing at first, but think about it. How many times do you interact with people without really seeing them? When you go to the grocery store, do you see a“person” or a “cashier”? What about your spouse/significant other? Do you see the living, feeling, vulnerable loved one, or do you see a “service provider”? Generosity allows us to cultivate a heart-to-heart connection.
Start a Generosity Movement and Watch What Happens
“To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.” —The Buddha
I’d love for us to start a generosity movement where the goal is to act from a place of goodwill and give without expecting anything back. I’m not advocating that we give up all our worldly goods, and it’s not about giving to the point of depriving ourselves. It’s about living a balanced life and sharing with others. Too often we live from the viewpoint of “me, mine, and I.” When we do something or give to others, we expect to get something in return. Sometimes we’re not even aware of this expectation. We only become aware of it when a feeling of resentment arises, or when we feel as if we’re taken for granted. If instead we offered time, care, a hug, etc., from place of generosity, we may experience a warm feeling inside and in the live connection that is present in the moment of sharing.
Being generous arises from the heart, not the wallet. We don’t need to have material wealth in order to be generous. The only requirement is a willingness to open our hearts, to see life as it is, and to interact with others from a place of compassion and love. Some examples of generous acts are:
- Do a household chore without being asked.
- Offer to buy lunch for someone.
- If someone is in need of emotional support, set aside what you’re doing and listen with compassion.
- Hold or open the door for someone (it doesn’t matter if they thank you; what matters is the intention to be kind and generous).
- Tell your loved ones what you appreciate about them (this is a beautiful gift, as you’re letting them know you value them).
- Spend time listening to your children and try to see the world through their eyes before offering advice.
- Take time out of your busy schedule to spend quality time with a loved one.
- Smile at a stranger.
- When you ask, “How are you?” look into the person’s eyes and take time to truly listen with an attitude of curiosity and compassion.
For this week, pick a few activities from the list above and be mindful of your experience. Remember that generosity awakens goodness in the heart and this helps us open to life, love, and relationships.
May you be well!
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, Mindfulness-Based Approaches/Contemplative Approaches Topic Expert Contributor
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