The title is borrowed from a Finnish lifestyle-blogger who had grown exasperated by a weekend of navel-gazing mindfulness meditation.
This supposed season of giving has got me thinking about how selfless I really can be, the though (and sometimes humbling) lessons one learns in trying to be a little more altruistic.
I'm going to try to keep it short and sweet, because frankly, when it comes to generosity and kindness, talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.
If there's one thing that continuously puzzles me about the alternative strain of our Western culture, not to mention the culture as a whole, it is how self-absorbed it seems at times. If a developing nation amidst a crises, got a dollar for every time one of us took time to "work on myself", bought a "happiness"-inducing self-help book, or "manifested abundance for ourselves", they'd probably be manifesting an abundance of food, livelihoods, shelter, education and healthcare with those funds.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with working towards becoming a happier, more balanced, more mindful individual, our impulses to better our own internal lives, are all too often accompanied by a focus solely on the self. Self-discovery, building self-esteem, self-love, self-help can all be good things, but often they're not means to an end, but an enforcement of the solipsistic impulses inherent in human nature. Also known as selfishness.
This focus on "me", instead of "us", does not serve a society that already holds individualism and individual freedom as its core mores. In fact, there is a growing concern that on the whole we are growing less and less empathetic and attuned to the needs of others. And sure, it would seems that if everyone simply thought of others before themselves, it would solve a lot of our problems as a species.
It is interesting to watch people's reactions to situations that require magnanimity, empathy and generosity. Some people are fluidly and graciously giving, as though it's second nature to them, while others grudgingly do what they know is right. Still others calculate what benefit their "generosity" can yield them in the end and some seem to simply not see that another person might need something that's well within their power to give. Sometimes people are even willfully miserly, deriving pleasure from denying others their attention, help, or affection.
It's often the people who demand the most of those things, that are the least likely to give them to others. Folks who take more than they give, never ask how anyone else is doing, who love talking about themselves without being able to make it relevant to a wider context, or see another's point of view, who rejoice not in exchange, but in being in the right, who demand attention, love and help, but feel disinclined to give these things to others.
Actually, it's particularly illuminating to observe my own reactions to those situations. While it's easy to see the shortcomings of others, I find that personally, I can be impressively myopic about my own selfish impulses. In many ways they are second nature too, a learned behavior that's easy to slip into when "I'm tired, poor, over-worked, under-payed, unappreciated.".
Everyday we're all faced with situations where we're asked to give more than we'd like to, more than we feel like we comfortably could. To part with our time, our resources, our energy, our love and care.
One of the most important lessons I'm continuously learning is that our resources are not diminished by our being generous with them. More often than not they're multiplied, because generosity breeds generosity. Not necessarily in the direct exchange of "I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.", but in that when everyone's generous with what they have, eventually everyone also ends up in the receiving end of that generosity.
When I feel stretched to my limit, worn out, like I've given my all, it's sometimes hard to imagine giving any more, yet for the last few years I've tried to make sure that I push myself, step outside my comfort zone and "pretend" that I'm more naturally generous than I am. Often, acting like you wish you naturally would, eventually becomes part your innate behavior.
I've found that though often feels easier to hold "yours" close to your chest, to be stingy with your time, to feel like the wittiest person in the room at the expense of others, than act like your better self, this ease is like feasting on junk food; it leaves me totally empty in the end, whereas if I hold my tongue, offer help that others don't necessarily even ask for, give generously from what I have, I usually end up with more of all of those things and a happy fullness, a sense of completeness.
Of course, one does not do nice things for others to gain more, or the feel righteous, those are just some of the nice fringe benefits of giving.
Nothing makes me feel more generous than the awe and gratitude for the generosity others have shown me. There's also nothing more humbling. Generosity and magnanimity have the power to speak louder than words about that which is truly important in life; they strengthen the common human bonds of family, friendship and community. In fact without them, those connections can become troubled and hollow.
Generosity is intimately tied to gratitude, another new age-y standby, because acknowledging all that we got (And let's face it, as a reader pointed out on my Rich & Poor-post, most of us have a lot more than most people most everywhere.) can sometimes help us see what we can part with.
Anytime is a good time to practice generosity both material and spiritual, but Christmas seems like a particularly apt season for it. So here's how I'm personally trying to be a little more generous this December:
1. Charitable causes instead of gifts, but cards and letters too. Just because I gave your gift money away doesn't mean that you don't deserve to know how much I care about you.
2. Doing things I don't particularly enjoy for the sake of others. And not being a scrooge about it.
3. Offering to help friends and neighbors even when they don't ask for help. This has already created some fun assignments.
4. Giving someone something they want, that's within my power to grant, even if it's inconvenient for me.
5. Doing nice things for complete strangers. This is a good way to practice having zero expectations of reciprocity, even on a subconscious level.
(Hi. Check out this picture of me while I write about self-absorption and stuff)
ps. Both these women have been very generous to me and now they're practicing the same for whomsoever would like a chance for a little extra magic in their Solstice.