Editor’s Note: This is a contribution by Karen Mead
“We must never forget that it is through our actions, words, and thoughts that we have a choice.” -Sogyal Rinpoche
I grew up deep in the “Bible Belt” in Texas and along with that came the teaching that certain beliefs were never to be questioned. This kept life simple and reduced choices but it also left me with the baggage of dogmas I no longer accept.
One of the mainstay beliefs was “It is better to give than to receive.”
Somehow, this one has held on in my head, in my heart, deep in my innermost belief system. Never mind that it makes no logical sense—to give requires someone to receive, so for someone, it must be better to receive. I just don’t know who that person is.
All my life, I have practiced giving religiously; even while longing to receive. I even wound up with a career in the “Gift Industry”—talk about commitment!
I could be counted on not only to give material and monetary gifts, but also to give my time, my support, and my skills. And then I would be angry for feeling depleted, all the while still giving.
No one ever taught me how to receive. Not a compliment; I am a master at countering any comment with insight about all my faults. Not a gift; I immediately feel the need to give something in return, preferably bigger. Not a kindness; I wave people away from helping me in a grocery line, no matter that I am dropping bread as I speak.
How could I have gone through so much life and have no experience with such a fundamental act as the ability to receive?
As I begin to examine this, I realize for me receiving involves vulnerability. When I give, I feel in charge. When I receive, I feel less.
Give feels like an action word; receive feels like something passive. Yet I can see how mistaken I am. Giving and receiving are yin and yang, the equivalent of the infinity symbol—looping back and forth, neither side larger than the other, both integral to the larger whole.
I’m learning to practice this shift into comfortable receiving, slowly, one baby step at a time. I receive a compliment with a simple thank you , no matter that inside I am discounting the words.
This is a learned skill. I can learn this. I can let the words sink in and fill my empty spaces. I can accept a gift with a thank you and let that be enough, sitting on my hands to keep from jumping up to return the favor.
I can let others help me with grace and the profound gratitude that someone wants to be of service. I can let others have the fun of giving.
And ultimately, this is how I can give more easily, by learning to refill my needs through receiving.
I am also learning about giving—that giving to quench my own need will never be enough.
When I give, not from a full heart, but from an empty space that needs recognition, I’m exhausted. Giving from my own need leads to resentment, victimhood, and financial distress. Yet I know that giving from a full heart is replenishing and sustaining. It brings joy into my own life.
For myself, I have created 5 reminders to help me as I learn this new skill.
1. To begin, I must accept the basic premise that I am enough—that before I give a thing, before I receive anything, I am enough just standing here. The act of giving or receiving doesn’t change this at all.
2. I am becoming more discerning with giving. I’m learning to examine my needs as well as the needs of others. To see when my gift is truly given from love and when it comes with expectations. To see when the expectations are self-imposed and when they come from others.
3. I am making room in my life for receiving. This includes being aware of all the ways I can receive, whether it is accepting kind words, a stranger’s smile, or being let into the stream of traffic. I know that as I receive, I am becoming more comfortable with the art of receiving. I am staying conscious of how my receiving empowers those who are giving to me.
4. I am relaxing into the feeling of receiving—becoming okay with the feeling of openness that is necessary to truly receive. I allow this open space to be available to receive.
5. I remind myself that this is fun and joyful. Giving/receiving is a major game at the party of life. There’s no reason not to join in the fun!
How do you open up to receiving?