“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Many religions talk about being generous to those less fortunate. We are reminded at this time of year to be monetarily generous to charities. But what does it mean to live generously? How does one live with a Spirit of Generosity? Why would you want to? What happens when we open our hearts and live with a spirit of generosity all year long? Today I want to open up the discussion.
Many people have written about having a generous spirit. Acting with generosity at all times is really about having an open heart and communicating love where ever you go. It is a practice that takes a certain amount of effort to remain conscious towards the outcome you seek.
I’ve been actively working this concept for awhile now. Why? Because I understand that the world only changes when I change first. Second, like the sages that have gone before me, they have all acted in the spirit of love and I too want my life to be about love. Third, when I open my heart, more comes back to me-perhaps not directly, but it does indeed come back.
Being “Generous of Spirit” means to live in a heart of love. Love does change the world. But if you’ve been wounded and walk with that wound, it’s extremely difficult at times to give love. Start with strangers. I try and make people smile. It started at the coffee stores. I thought “I’m going to attempt to help these people feel joy.” and I would smile, ask them sincerely how they were, thank them for taking the time. Sometimes I would make them laugh, but I noticed that after I left the line, they were still smiling for even the briefest moment and that reward was deeply, deeply gratifying.
Then I would do it with service people, sales people, anyone anywhere. It takes effort to come out of your head and be available for others. But it’s a habit that can be developed.
If I happened to be on the phone in a store, I would apologize to the sales woman and try and get off ASAP. I would apologize for being on the phone. I’ll look at her in the eye and ask, “How is your day going?” Take interest in someone else.
My work offers me the opportunity to work with hundreds of people in the course of a year. Some people I work with come in with deep emotional wounds. Their suffering is tangible. They only way I know that they can trust me to help them is to offer this spirit of generosity. I let them know they are safe and that they are not judged. It doesn’t turn their hearts at first, but slowly slowly, when they see that I’m still saying the same things, offering a safe harbor, they come to trust me little by little. They honor me with their vulnerability and their love. It’s deeply gratifying. I believe it’s how the whole human relationship thing is supposed to work.
But it’s easy to be generous with those open to it. What about staying generous when you’ve been hurt and shut down? That is much harder. I recently had to deal with a situation which I felt I had been wronged. It took a lot of will to decide that even in that situation, I was going to respond generously. I didn’t blame, I didn’t strike back. I kept my cool and decided instead to exit the situation. I’ve talked to the person whom I needed to, but I don’t want to be a victim either. If I chose to be a victim, than I would blame and wallow in being wronged, which is frankly useless. It won’t change the situation.
I want to live my values. I’m not in denial. When I stay present in a spirit of generosity, it allows my heart to stay open for other opportunities to receive love. I still have crappy things happen, but I have faith that more comes to me than I give. That’s how this being human thing was designed. Believe that your generous contribution is how humankind will shift.