THE BLOG

The Art of Receiving Is Different From the Act of Taking

10/05/2012 07:58 am ET | Updated Dec 05, 2012

"Gracious acceptance is an art -- an art which most never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving ... Accepting another person's gift is allowing him to express his feelings for you." -- Alexander McCall Smith

As many of my friends and readers know, in addition to Diane, who is my best friend, cheerleader, confidant and wife, my "other" best friend is of the four-legged variety. Mac Doodle is a 3-year-old, half-Goldendoodle, half-Labradoodle, 80-pound bouncing ball of fluffy fur with a wagging tail at one end and a drooling tongue at the other. From the day we brought him home he was the energetic embodiment of love; his devotion to Diane and me is at times humbling. Josh Billings was spot-on when he wrote, "A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself." It just seems to be in a dog's DNA to give of himself fully to those he considers to be members of his pack.

I think we could all learn something significant from dogs regarding the nature of not just giving, but receiving. There seems to sufficient conversation around the need to be a good giver, and appropriately so, but there is little talk about the other end of the stick -- the necessity of being a good receiver, which is where Mac comes in; he is not only a master at giving love and affection, he is also highly skilled at receiving it. From the day he was old enough to negotiate the stairs, every morning Mac's ritual has been to scamper down the stairs ahead of me and sit on the third (not the fourth or the second, but always the third) step from the bottom. There, he waits patiently for me to sit down next to him and give him a thorough scratch and massage from stem to stern. Only then will he come off the stairs and enter the kitchen, where he enjoys his morning meal. While to some this may sound like a dog with entitlement issues, I would have to disagree, because dogs have no ego. I see it more as a statement of Mac's ability to naturally and fully receive as much nurturing, attention, and love as he gives. Therein lies the lesson for each of us.

While the motives of how and why human beings give to others may differ from dogs, suffice to say many of us are far better at the giving to others than we are at receiving from others. Let us be clear, there is a big difference between a "receiver" and a "taker." Takers are plentiful in our world -- they "take" with no sense of propriety or desire to give anything in return, unless there is something in it for them. This is the mindset that often comes with a sense of entitlement, which is a mistaken belief that the world (or someone specific) owes them that which they are taking. Receivers, on the other hand, are open to what is being offered and are able to graciously accept it with gratitude and, if appropriate, humility. The difference between a taker and a healthy receiver comes down to self-worth: A taker takes because he has an agenda and, most often, a consciousness established in lack and limitation; he simply doesn't feel worthy of receiving so he takes to ensure he has "enough." A receiver, on the other hand, accepts what is given because he knows he is worthy of receiving -- and when appropriate and able, extends the giving, in one form or another, to others.

Knowing that we are all passengers traveling on that perpetual learning curve known as the road of life, I invite you to do try this mindfulness practice: Ask yourself: "On my daily journey and in my interactions with others (from friends and family to strangers), do I tend to be more of a taker or a receiver?" One of the best ways to determine this is to first be mindful the next time anything is given to you: It could be something tangible such as a material gift, a meal, money, a ride, a job... or, it might be something more intangible such as a compliment, having someone open a door for you or letting you into a busy traffic lane, getting directions from a stranger, a person's time, a smile, a hug, a kiss. In either case, be the giving tangible or intangible, examine your feelings and notice which emotions spontaneously arise from within. Are you simply "taking" what is being given (for granted), or are you mindfully "receiving" it? The different energy between the two is palpable. After you locate the feeling, just sit with it. The way you'll know if are a worthy receiver is that, irrespective of what is being given, a wave of gratitude, which is the natural reciprocal energy of life in motion, will rise up from within and wrap itself around you.

We don't have to be a dog to know the difference between "taking" and "receiving" and how one links us with the energy of life and the other separates us. Mindfully and gratefully receiving what is being given not only honors the giver -- it honors us; it is a way of affirming to the universe that we know we are one with something infinitely larger than ourselves. Just as Mac does naturally, when we align with our true nature there is something within us that knows we are inherently worthy of receiving the best life has to offer... and if that doesn't make our tails wag, most likely, nothing will.

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