I did this drawing, several years ago, sitting in my car while on my lunch hour break from the art studio. I was trying to let go of my secret complaints about how much energy I had to give to my full-time job.
This drawing seemed to illustrate a tentative new belief in giving that went beyond my habitual self-concern. I was starting to consider the possibility that I could be enriched and revitalized by true giving.
Generosity was flowering in my mind. I pondered how I withheld my fullest generosity from the typical ego fear that if I gave too much I might become depleted. This depletion through giving is a strange and untrue logic that our defensive ego likes to purport.
There is so much more that we can give in a day but what we give must come from an authentic place within. Perhaps it could be said that we can learn to give to the truth of life. We can learn to be generous to the truth of what needs to unfold in a healthy and balanced way.
This balance often requires us to say "no" to people's unreasonable ego demands. It requires we set healthy boundaries about what we can and cannot give. As we learn how to discern between genuine and false giving we become much more alive and alert as to where to place our gifts and attention.
"My mother or father needed me to be happy" is a simple formula that trained many children - later stressed and depressed or physically ill adult - into lifelong patterns of repression." -Gabor Mate
False giving feels wrong in our bodies. We often give in a way that is not genuine. When we hear a "I should give this" in our heads and a "no" in our bodies we should be alert to the truth that something is not right.
Most of us are conditioned by family of origin pressures, for example, to give in ways that are not genuine. This can fund a lifetime of confused giving where we give in a way that feels comfortable in its familiarity, and yet requires we make every effort to ignore how drained we feel.
The more we are generous from a genuine heart place, the more energy and loving stamina we build. When we give from our intuition of where to give and where not to give, we build a mature and satisfying strength of generosity that can meet the most challenging dilemmas of life.
The Authentic "No"
Often false giving feels easier because it is more comfortable in the short-term to not disturb the status quo. We need to discern where we can genuinely give and where we cannot. Most of us are confused, especially if we had to compensate, and give untruthfully to compensate for our parent's emotional struggles when we were growing up.
That is certainly one major family pattern that I had to unravel in my own life. When I was growing up, I did not know where I ended, and my mother began. I felt all her feelings as if they were my own. I did not find the courage to disturb the status quo until I was in my 30's.
If we were not allowed to develop our authentic selves as children, we may need to take a period of our adult life to get in touch with our truth, our feelings and our personal rights and boundaries as developing human beings outside of our family system. This might involve finding the courage to say "no" to emotionally taking care of our parents so that we can tend to our own healthy development.
This differentiation away from false giving can bring up a tremendous amount of guilt, low self-worth, anxiety and family shaming. For myself, I went through a period of about ten years of intense self-study, creative and spiritual practices, and psychological study before I felt like I had enough of a solid sense of self to connect with my family in a clear, loving, and healthy way.
"For many people, the higher power need not be concerned with a deity or anything spiritual. It simply means rising above their self-regarding ego, committing to serve something other than their own immediate desires."
- Gabor Mate
Most of us give to try to prove that we are good people and rarely allow the warmth, richness and power of authentic giving. Giving in this wholehearted way was surprisingly energizing and healing. By giving to others, I was learning to give what I most needed - to myself.
Developing a wider heart became a rich experience for me. In this drawing, I could see that I was building the muscle of a mature kind of giving - that could find my own power within the strength of my giving.
When we genuinely give from a sense of sincere and loving intention, we are enlarged beyond our emotional pain and feelings of inadequacy. When we give other people what we most need, we discover how to give it to ourselves.
When we forget our small self-concerned selves and give wholeheartedly, we go beyond our limited mind and preferred emotional capacities. When we give truthfully, we are always rewarded with emotional healing. We become energized with our own spiritual power and the ability to go beyond ourselves.
Here is a quote from Sakyong Mipham that deeply speaks to me:
"Helping others represents a new approach to life. We often draw a blank about how to help, because our caring energy isn't flowing outward yet."
"Care and warmth invite a different energy than thinking we should give. When we think we should give...we'll feel tired because we are not really thinking of others. We're thinking of ourselves. "Enriching our thoughts and actions with love and compassion releases tremendous positive energy. When we churn "What about me?" into "What about you?" we are consciously changing our molecular structure by engaging the big mind chromosome."
Creatively "Forgetting Ourselves"
There are many ways that we can transcend our limited psychology, and giving wholeheartedly is one way. All forms of transcendence involve "losing ourselves" in some form of passionate, all-absorbing activity - whether it be falling in love, genuine generosity, deeply focused creative work or physical activity. We intentionally "forget ourselves" to find our true Selves. This self-forgetting of the small and defended self can lead to heightened and visionary states of consciousness.
True giving can take many forms. Giving to what is higher in another, by refusing to indulge in what is smaller, can make people angry or upset initially, but ultimately it serves a larger healing that we may not be able to see in the immediate. So often, true giving is finding the courage to say "no" to the ego demands of others.
We can learn to discern where our generosity is needed, and where we need to set healthy boundaries. The minute we give in to another person's demanding ego - so as not upset the status quo - we can become diminished and drained of our own truth.
My early childhood experience of false-self giving was to smooth things over, not ruffle feathers, and in essence, to have no self or feelings of my own outside of being "good". In this way, I disappeared into niceness as a way of untrue giving.
As we learn how to understand true generosity, we come to understand that we actually do not always have to "do" as much as we think. We do not have to extend ourselves in ways that feel false. We can relax.
Life does not require us to spread ourselves thin in untruthful ways. It does require, however, that we intuit where our true gifts are needed. We are each called to uplift the quality of life for others in some genuinely helpful way. We can feel enlarged and even enlightened in the process of genuine giving.