Become a Fan
Our lives today have become so tight, so jam-packed. Between work demands, financial responsibilities, time to spend with friends and family, school, taking care of our homes, we fill our lives up to the very top.
I remember my Catholic high school dances. I remember that some boys and girls would get so close, hands, hips, lips touching that the teachers at Catholic school would come over and say “leave room for the Holy Spirit.”
As a Unitarian Universalist, I don’t necessarily embrace the concept of the holy spirit—capital H, capital S— but I hold onto that concept of leaving space.
Whenever there’s a space in our lives, we immediately try to fill it. Pema Chodron, a well-known western teacher of Dharma practice, asks in “When Things Fall Apart” what if we didn’t fill up that space? What if on a day off, when a loved one leaves us, we didn’t fill up the space? What could arise if we just let the space be?
Take your hand sometime and place it on an object in front of you. You think that this is a solid, but it’s not. If you could see inside the way a physicist or a mystic does, you see that such things are mostly space.
We, in fact, are mostly space.
There are other spaces we’ve learned about: the space between when our brain receives a stimulus and we respond. Not reaction, which is automatic, but response. We can choose how we respond to a situation.
As a Bostonian, I'm particularly aware of how I drive in my home state of Massachusetts. I've noticed that when we drive in Massachusetts, we tend to tail-gate the car in front of us. You know, drive bumper-to-bumper at 70 mph on Rte. 128, speed up when we see someone signaling that they want to change lanes, or my personal favorite, entering the intersection before the cars ahead of have cleared it, so that when the light turns green for drivers going the other way, they can’t get anywhere.
For me, driving in Boston is the greatest opportunity to practice generosity. I can always measure my state of mind by how I am driving. Leaving several car lengths between myself and the car ahead of me is tough, especially during rush hour, and I admit that I am somewhat addicted to driving fast. But it’s amazing how smoothly traffic flows when I leave that space. Leaving that space lets me be a generous driver. People signal, people make left turns, pedestrians cross the street, I don’t have to run lights, it all just seems to happen naturally, to flow.
After doing this for a number of years, I’ve started to notice that I don’t experience the tension, the frustration, or the rage that normally accompanies commuting. I can remove myself from that rat race, and give myself (and hopefully some others) freedom from feeling like crap after a drive, just by paying attention to space. Think about what might happen, if more drivers practiced this. We could actually change traffic in Boston!
Living in the city has also provided other practical ways to practice generosity. A friend of mine told me of a poet who said “Give money to whoever asks you for it.” He carries rolls of quarters so that he can do this. This is wonderful. (How many parking tickets I could have saved myself from if he’d just been around to give me that last quarter I didn’t have.)
But questions arise: if I give someone on the street a dollar, do I actually notice that person? What he or she is wearing, what his or her name is, what color are his or her eyes? Or do I give him or her a dollar so that I can forget that he’s sitting on the street? What will he/she do with my gift? What if he uses my money to buy drugs or alcohol? But then, if I’m on the way to or from a bar and I have a couple of bucks left, can I really criticize him? How important is it what people do with gifts we give them? How much does it matter just that we give?
To me the difference is found in the attention, and intention, we put into the gift. Money isn’t always the right gift. Rev. Kim K. Crawford Harvie changed my life one Sunday when she asked us not to give money to beggars around the church because of a thriving drug trade in our back alley. She said to “look them in the eye, acknowledge their humanity, their dignity, and invite them to have supper with us here every Friday night.” Invite them to be a part of my community, and a part of each member's self.
Whit Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass:
“There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or pity or dread, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day... or for many years or stretching cycles of years...”
Everyone, everything I encounter on my path, and how I respond to it, becomes part of me. And so, I cannot always give money, but I can always give my good wishes, I can always say good morning.
People think that generosity is about giving, but that’s just a part of the picture. Generosity to me is about connection…think of that very expensive electronic thingamajig or the ugly vase in the back of the china cabinet some friend or relative gave you. You may never use either, but the worth of a gift isn’t only measure in monetary value, or how useful an item is, it’s the intention of the giver, and the gratitude of the recipient. Thoreau says, “If you give money, spend yourself with it.”
But what about ourselves: we are supposed to be self-sufficient people. It’s New England and we’re supposed to get it on our own, or else not have it. But no one ever gets everything totally on his or her own… think of the people who created whatever it is we receive, or all the teachers who’ve taught us the skills we use to earn our living, or all the people who keep the company that pays us afloat.
Giving someone else the opportunity to be generous, by sharing our honest need, is in fact the most generous thing we can do, for ourselves and for them.
In the spirit of Generosity (lowercase S, capital G) I share ten simple things every day:
The last bite
The last word
The benefit of the doubt
I leave with a little exercise I sometimes use a form of generosity in silent reflection, prayer, meditation, tomorrow morning in traffic, or whenever I wish.
1. Close your eyes, gently.
2. Relax your face... neck... shoulders... arms... back... belly... hips... legs.
3. Now breathe deeply, all the way in, naturally.
4. Let your mind rest on this inward breath.
5. Don’t worry about your mind or its thoughts, just acknowledge them and let them go.
6. Now breathe out, all the way out, and let your mind rest on the outward breath.
Do this a couple of times. While you’re doing the exercise, try to notice that there is a space between breaths, just a tiny piece of a second. Pay attention to this space. Seek it often.
This space is where generosity lives.