Generosity does not come easily to me, at least not as something freely given. I tend to subconsciously expect something in return, which is not true generosity. I grew up in a family that was always doing service. My dad would pick up people on the street holding cardboard signs and bring them home to give them some work around the yard. My mom was always volunteering at some place or another, and they always, always gave 10% of their income to the church or charitable organizations.
So it is not a surprise that as I grew up, I also jumped into this way of being. And yet, for me somehow, there was a certain sense of obligation around giving; a feeling of guilt if I wasn’t giving enough. Even though my giving is usually confidential and private, my conscience ragged on me. There is a pervasive and desperate sense that it’s up to me to save the world through my contributions, both through financial gifts and through the giving of my time and talents. To this day, I give away more money than I put into savings. In fact, I never even had a consistent and official savings account until last week. Somehow, I got the memo that generosity toward myself was selfish, unnecessary, and, well, unspiritual.
And then I started going to Common Ground Meditation Center. There, the attitude toward giving is one that comes from a place of true generosity, one that is about mutual benefit, joy, and freedom. The word for this in the Pali language spoken by the Buddha is Dana. From the start, I felt that this was a true invitation to practice generosity, which to me meant it didn’t have to be perfect from the start, that I could experiment with the amount, frequency, and method of giving to find what makes the most sense for me. And I feel permission to keep changing this indefinitely, depending on the circumstances of my life.
One of the most beneficial practices I’ve learned from the Buddhist tradition is the practice of Lovingkindness meditation, and its sister practices of Compassion, Appreciative Joy, and Equanimity. To me, all of these beautiful states of the heart are connected to generosity, because they demonstrate the boundless, abundant nature of things. Noticing and changing my mentality of scarcity has been a big part of my journey related to money and time. When I can bring in kindness and compassion toward myself and others, it creates space to look at my life through a more realistic and objective lens. I needn’t be so attached to my identities as a “giver,” a “saver,” or a “frugal person.” I can set that all aside, and really feel into what makes me happy.
Last week I was biking, when a car cut into the bike lane directly ahead of me to be able to speed past the cars in front of him. My normal, past habitual reaction would have been to shout obscenities and feel tension and anger in my body for a good ten minutes at least, if not for the next several hours. Instead I was shocked and delighted to hear the words that flew out of my mouth without thinking. I shouted at him, “Oh, Dear One!” giggled, then let it go. It was a moment of spontaneous generosity. Seemingly inconsequential, I knew this moment was an outward expression of a long, inward process of a softening heart. This is only one example of how my practice of meditation is benefitting me. I am much less angry, reactive, controlling, vindictive, isolated, or anxious, to name a few.
Last week, as I was reviewing my finances, I decided to start making regular recurring payments to Common Ground. In the next breath, I also decided to start making regular, recurring payments to myself in a new savings account. Both of those decisions gave me a deep sense of contentment. The formal practice of Lovingkindness gave me permission to be generous and loving toward myself, not only others. Common Ground and the teachings of the Buddha have given me so much over the years, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the slow but steady transformation happening within me.
I invite you to consider what has changed in you over the years and what or who has helped you grow. Really take a moment to feel gratitude for this.
Is there a joyful way of giving back with which you might experiment?
What talents or time do you have available that might be used to bring others joy, and in turn bring yourself joy?
In what ways can you be more generous and loving toward yourself?
I'm a Spiritual Director, Enneagram Educator, and Liberationist-Buddhist-Universalist-Mystic-12 step-Queer-Christian. Playing with questions, answers, and surrender.