The Lost Art of Giving


By Mary Jaksch

The season of giving is upon us. We know about the benefits of giving to the one who receives. They feel appreciated, loved, understood and so on.
But what about the benefits of giving to the one who gives?

The other day, I had an interesting experience at the supermarket. An elderly man stepped towards me, offered me a twenty cent piece and said, “I’m Greg. Would you like twenty cents towards buying food for the local Foodbank?” It turned out that he’s a Rotary member and was trying to encourage people to buy food for those who live in poverty.

I immediately dropped my own grocery plans and decided to shop for the Foodbank instead. I bought pasta, tomato sauce, cans of beans, a couple of packs of cereal, a Christmas pudding and some other bits and pieces. I imagined how a family in need would feel when they enjoyed my Christmas pudding, or how a mother would be happy to put breakfast in front of hungry kids. When I handed over my shopping bags to Greg, his face split in a big grin. Tears gathered in my eyes. Afterward I wondered why giving touches the heart.

how confident are you

Giving moves us because it frees us

For a moment we are released from thoughts about how we are, how we were, how we will be, how people see us, how we could be, how we should be, and so on. It’s what my teacher Robert Aitken calls the ‘Me-tape’, the tape that keeps on playing in our mind.

When we give with an open heart, we remember that we are not alone

You may want to say to me, “What? Of course I know I’m not alone!”
True. But let’s try an experiment. In order for this experiment to work, you need to be stressed. You’re not? Congratulations, you’re obviously a saint and can stop reading now. The experiment is for the rest of us who hurtle towards Christmas. We try to complete work, buy Christmas presents, attend work functions, organise the holidays, plan celebrations, contact family and friends, clean the home, and do many other things – even though time seems to accelerate.

Ok, so you and I are stressed, right? My question to you is:
When stressed, what percentage of waking time do you spend thinking about your own life?

Include thoughts about your work, planning thoughts, thoughts about the past, thoughts about pressing tasks, and thoughts about your relationship with others.
Well, what’s the percentage? It’s high, isn’t it?

The higher the stress, the more we become wrapped up in our own life

And when we’re wrapped up in our own life, we become oblivious to the fact that there are others ‘out there’, and that they have problems and needs too. That’s where the miracle of giving comes in.  When we give with an open heart, we suddenly wake up from the ‘Me-tape’ and feel connected to others.

That’s why the Buddhist tradition places Dana, the path of generosity, as the first of the ten Perfections. Dana means freely giving of one’s material goods, time or wisdom to others. Dana is the first of the ten Perfections because generosity is a fundamental aspiration from which all spirituality flows. For example, generosity is the basis of kindness and compassion.

When we give with a pure heart, we feel joyful

What is a pure heart? It’s giving with no thought of return. In reality, our motives for giving are often tinged with ‘impure’ motives: maybe we are shamed or intimidated into giving; or we give to receive a favour; or we give in order to feel good about ourselves. Is ‘impure’ giving worthless? I don’t think so. Every action is in some way ‘impure’ because we are human beings, and not saints.

At the core of each one of us, there is a goodness yearning to find expression

Each act of giving emerges from that core of goodness, even though layers of mixed motivation may cloud our natural aspiration of generosity. Whenever we touch that core of goodness, we feel moved. This is natural giving.

Give freely, and enjoy how your core of goodness is touched

What’s your experience of giving? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Talking of giving, there is something I would like to give to you. I plan to offer virtual retreats on Natural Spirituality (check out my next Goodlife ZEN article on Natural Spirituality!). Virtual retreats are ten day periods in which you are guided to focus on a particular aspect of spirituality, while still continuing in your everyday life. The first virtual retreat, Awareness: The Miracle of Now, will run from 22 February to 1 March, 2009. This virtual retreat is going to be by donation so that no-one is excluded because of financial hardship. Read more about the retreat and register your interest here.

Check out my personal story of giving and getting: Why Leo Babauta of Zen Habits Gave Me His Blog

Enjoy this related post: What is the Most Precious Gift?

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind WritetoDone.com, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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