Practice giving without expectation and enjoy a bountiful sense of connection.
At holiday time, generosity can feel like something that's expected of us. For all its festivity, the season can be rife with potentially stressful situations, such as big family gatherings where everything is expected to go perfectly, or the unspoken pressure to select the ideal gift. At its heart, generosity is about letting go. When we are caught up in attachments to things, persons, activities, and outcomes, we grow tight, stingy, and contracted. The yogic sage Patanjali tells us that asmita—the feeling of "I-am-ness" that leads us to identify the body, mind, and possessions as Self—causes us to feel separate from others. Yoga challenges us to practice generosity even when we feel selfish, even when we feel that if we give, there will be less for us. Giving in the face of these feelings reveals to us that the sense of separateness is based in ignorance; when we practice generosity, we see that we all depend on one another. Generosity is the natural response of the awakened heart.
It is also the practice that awakens the heart and loosens the bonds of selfishness.The point isn't so much what we give or how much we give. The point is that we loosen our habit of clinging. Even the smallest gesture of generosity begins an evolution toward true letting go, and our rigid patterns of relating to others begin to change. At a recent family gathering, I realized I was harboring irritation with one of my relatives over a past political conversation that had grown heated. When I consciously allowed myself to let go of my irritation, I felt lighter, more open, and my interaction with this person became filled with a sense of ease and joy. My sense of self and the polarization and opposition dissolved into a pure letting go.
Ironically, "giving" to strangers sometimes feels easier because we have fewer attachments to them than we have to family. We can relate to those we don't know without baggage, free of obligation. But with those closest to us, our feelings are more complicated. We feel obligation and expectation, and we can fall into taking them for granted, whether we see them every morning or just on holidays. What a wonderful opportunity to notice where we hold back and shut down, and where we're still clinging!
Ease your holiday stress this season by taking delight in the very act of giving, with no expectation of return. By practicing true generosity, you can come to see that there is no separation between the one who gives and the one who receives. In giving, one receives; and in receiving, one also gives. Is it possible to find the place in which there is no sense of giver, receiver, or gift, but simply giving and loving?
Personal Story: How Giving Provides Abundance
In 2006 Cami Walker was suffering from recently diagnosed multiple sclerosis when her spiritual teacher challenged her to give a gift every day for 29 days. The gifts could be anything—a pretty shell to a child building a sandcastle, money to a person on the street, a word of cheer to a friend—as long as they were given with consciousness and intention. This experience of reaching out to others, which Walker chronicles in her book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life, resulted in what she describes as a fundamental shift in her mind-set, imbuing her with a deep sense of freedom and joy that affected her experience of her illness.
"It turned my life around completely," says Walker. "I now see I am a small part of a much greater whole, rather than the self-contained, deserted island I felt like before." Walker, who is in her 18th consecutive cycle of giving a gift a day, founded 29 Gifts so that others could undertake the giving challenge as part of a community. "Yoga teaches us that we're not here to live in a vacuum," Walker says. "We're here to be of service to each other and have a common experience.