Dear Reader, if you like to give, are naturally giving and big-minded, then please skip this blog post.
I had hoped to write a breezy blog entry about the need for generosity, how giving is an integral part of the path of meditation.
An appealing topic—unless you’re not in the mood.
And I’m not.
A Giving Family
Why? Early last week, in the middle of an already busy time, an older relative visited from away. We had what I thought was a good connection. My financial planning and investment advice had helped him secure a retirement nest egg. In this process, he was appreciative and warm. Now he was rude and challenging. Instead of cheer, the subject of his nest egg brought concern. Did he feel secure with his money?
“Everybody wants it,” he snapped. I hadn’t asked for or received any compensation for my work. Still, I sensed that “everybody” included me.
Was age catching up with him? Dementia? Was my attempt at being “supportive” rubbing him the wrong way? Friendly with other family members, with me he was abrasive. In the midst of random outbursts and non-sequiturs, an emotional wall prevented real conversation.
Hurt and demoralized, by the end of a 3-day visit, I was exhausted. In the future, I resolved, he and I would see less of each other. Doubts lingered. Had I given too much, or too little? Was I hurt because of some subconscious expectation that hadn’t been met? Rather than being a good thing, did vulnerability reflect self-absorption—making me somehow an easy target?
Behind the doubt there was more pain. The feelings of irritation and hurt clashed with my self-image. I see myself as someone who can accommodate this kind of challenge. After all, I’ve been known to teach on the topic of generosity! Instead, I was angry at being mistreated. Was this also me? Life gets complicated when you’re afraid of how you feel.
An internal monologue raged: the unfairness of it all! This perpetual defensiveness served to distract me from my emotions and hurt. After the visit, “no” was my quick response to invitations and questions. Whatever the next challenge, I couldn’t afford it. Finding myself less likable than before, there was the sense of falling behind—losing. Complaining to friends and colleagues, disbelief, frustration, and fatigue were shared. It felt like a release, but this rehashed outrage only deepened my sense of helplessness and alienation.
When to Give
Popular posts on how to give may not mention it, but in my experience, it’s in difficult moments that the practice of generosity begins. Giving is easier when everything’s fine. The real opportunity for letting go comes when you find yourself hurt and bereft—a victim of injustice.
Last night, I talked to Jeanine, sharing the disappointment in myself. My wife just listened, saying only, “All of this must be very hard.”
This morning, sitting alone on my meditation cushion, feeling the breath coming and going, I summoned the courage to simply be with how I felt. Sometimes you need to be able to say to yourself: “This Hurts!” or “This Sucks!” or “I’m Angry” and simply rest with how you feel. Breath by breath, I gave myself room—without trying to be somewhere else, someone else, or feel something else.
Giving at Home
Relaxing in meditation, one insight was obvious: the painful narrative playing over and over in my head was self-inflicted. I resolved to let it go. Making room for my ‘felt suffering’, behind it I found tenderness, sadness, even loneliness. In this aloneness, facile comparisons between myself and others relaxed their grip.
Everyone, I realized, is struggling with something. When my meditation session ended, the space had opened up for a different kind of conversation with myself. Reflecting upon the day ahead, I wondered what, if anything, I had to give. The answer coming back was poignant: “Michael, you might not be ready to be generous, but you could start by sharing the one thing you know you have—this slightly bruised and tender heart.”
Dear Reader, where were we? Oh yes. Giving. Please be generous. Learn how to give with joy, with a smile. But from time to time, like me, you may need to remind yourself: giving begins at home.