Giving is Receiving

Elliott Erwitt, "New York City," 1958

It’s the strangest thing. When we meditate, we close our eyes and become still. Something inside us longs to get away from our usual lives, to sink down below the noise and pull of the distractions outside and inside, difficult people and thorny situations and frightening prospects and our reactions to it all. So we come to our sangha or carve out a little time on our own. We sit down and bring the attention back to the body and the breath…and a sense of connection to life returns. We get away from life and discover a deeper and more vibrant life.

An ancient definition of mindfulness is remembering the present moment. For a moment, we may emerge from a dense thicket of thought and emotion and remember that we are alive and breathing. We may wonder how we could get so caught up with so much nonsense. We may marvel that the life in the moment is so…alive!

When we sit with others, we may also come away with impressions of the people around us—not in the usual social sense, but their presence and underlying intentions and energy. We may take in an impression of their basic kindness or willingness, say, or we may be really helped by their brave honesty.

To be alive is to be in a great web of  generosity. We are constantly giving and receiving, breathing in air and impressions or all kinds and breathing out, contributing co2 and all kinds of other reactions to the environment. Becoming conscious of how we are generous–and not– is a way to begin to know the truth of our interconnection with life.  Meditating is actually a way of being generous. We give our own bodies and feelings and perceptions and our own suffering the gift of our own nonjudgmental attention. And we can widen the circle of our awareness off the cushion as well. We can begin to notice how our actions–and even our thoughts and inner attitudes–impact the world around us. We begin to see how mindfulness of generosity makes us aware of our own capacity for compassion–our own capacity to come out of isolation and willingly be part of a greater life. At moments, we may surprise ourselves with our capacity for joy and freedom from fear. Who knew?

We begin to discover that giving is a wonderful way to feel supported and accompanied in this life. And we can start start by giving ourselves the gift of our own generous attention. Be lavishly generous with yourself. No mean and stingy self-judging thoughts. Remind yourself with your kind attitude that you are not wrong to feel what you feel.  You just do. And you are welcome here.

“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists and that it is built entirely out of attention.” — Mary Oliver

“Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time.” — Ursula K. Le Guin



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