06/12/2013 06:09 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

The Gifts of Giving

Giving of ourselves is giving to ourselves.

"Conscious perfect love is when you love someone so completely that you wish only for your beloved's self realization. That they are given the space and the wherewithal to discover who they are without thought of reciprocation or reward for oneself." -- A.E. Orage

The greatest strength that we possess does not come from money, from fame, from influence, from glory, or from any of the trappings of power that most of us spend vast amounts of time and energy pursuing. It is the power to give our full attention to the presence of life in any given moment and to make our choices from that awareness. The key to this process is the word "give," which is what we must do with our attention, to direct it to our immediate given experience in order to be fully present. It is in the act of giving, whether it's of our attention, our care, our possessions, our awareness, or anything else that we possess or value, that our experience of ourselves and our world is transformed. It's often those times in which we feel that we can least afford to give of ourselves that giving is what we most need to do. In giving we challenge the underlying belief that we do not have enough, be it time, money, love, friends, or whatever else it is that shows up to us as the "deficiency du jour."

Giving or practicing generosity in any form directly challenges the belief that we don't have enough to give away. Living from a mindset of insufficiency predisposes us to act in accordance with this belief and in so doing to amplify and reinforce it by withholding from others our own gifts. When we share our gifts, they multiply and become reaffirmed. The desire to share our gifts is inherent in all human beings and is naturally expressed through words, deeds, and other offerings when we are tuned in to and responsive to this impulse.

Recently we went on a weeklong vacation with our children and three grandchildren ages 2, 3 and 5. One of the things that they reminded us of during our time together is that it is normal and natural to want to give, share, and make each other happy. Food, toys and grandparent attention were shared freely throughout our vacation, but not always. There were plenty of instances in which one of the boys wanted another to share but the latter wasn't feeling inclined to do so at the moment. Consequently, we all shared in the ensuing interactions that sometimes included tears, arguing, and anger. We five adults were often called upon to defuse these instances of non-generosity and most of these incidents were cooled down fairly quickly. These interactions are inevitable with young children, and even necessary in order for them to appreciate that all of us, even mommy and daddy, have desires that at times conflict with those of others that have to be worked out. We all have the spirit of generosity as well as the withholder within us who at times is just not inclined to want to share.

Reconciling our desire to hold on to what we want in the face of another's desire to possess it (at least temporarily) for himself is a skill that even many grown adults have not yet mastered. Yet master it we must if we are to be able to avoid living with feelings of resentment, self-pity, deprivation, or shame. Both Linda and I felt empathy and appreciation towards our grandchildren's parents (our own children) as they brought great creativity, patience and understanding to their children in validating their all too human urges to possess objects of desire while helping them to manage what can be for many children as well as many adults overpowering impulses to hold on or grasp. It was also deeply gratifying to observe how they rarely missed an opportunity to acknowledge or praise a child for voluntarily sharing. This practice of voluntarily sharing continued even when their acts of generosity went unnoticed.

The children were unknowingly practicing "enlightened self interest," which has to do with taking actions that benefit and enhance the experience of others as well as that of yourself. When we have been shamed or blamed for being "selfish" for not giving enough to satisfy the expectations of others, we tend to continue to withhold from othesr or to give out of a sense of obligation. Doing so is actually an expression of a fear of a negative consequence for not giving or sharing. Either way our natural impulse towards generosity fails to get experienced, and we continue to live in a spirit of insufficiency or scarcity. The good news is that with intentionality and practice, these beliefs can be neutralized and replaced with feelings of sufficiency at any age.

Generosity stands at the foundation of all great relationships. When both partners are living from that state of consciousness, there is an ongoing exchange of goodwill between them that deepens the spirit of enlightened self-interest. This cycle of reciprocity results in a heightened appreciation of each other's gifts and a greater willingness to overlook the inevitable human fallibilities to which we are subject. Some ways of giving that support this process include:

  • Giving without expectations
  • Giving from a sense of gratitude
  • Giving from an awareness that our time together is limited and precious.
  • Giving to express appreciation for all the gifts they gave that we failed to acknowledge
  • Giving because it feels good to give
  • Giving because it's a great way to maintain a positive mood
  • Giving because it promotes intimacy
  • Giving for no good reason

And there are more. You'll find them by starting with this list. Just do it, and enjoy!

For more by Linda Bloom, LCSW, and Charlie Bloom, MSW, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.