I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity. I think that truly happy people know that their happiness comes from getting outside of themselves and swimming with the other humans in the sea of humanity.
I do not tend toward generosity. I say that sadly and certainly not with pride. I close myself off from people. It’s some sort of defense mechanism that I developed as a young ‘un and the intensity waxes and wanes with the situation. I’m working on changing that.
I think that in our culture, we equate generosity with philanthropy or financial donations or support. If you give money, you’re generous. That may be true…or it may not. There are plenty of folks who hand out bills or write checks that lack true generosity.
What I’m talking about, we’ll call generosity of spirit.
In a nutshell, generosity of spirit means that you greet pretty much everyone and every situation with an open heart. You cut them some slack. You realize that we all struggle together on this big blue marble. Generosity of spirit means you soften when you see people’s pain, rather than judge them with a “well, you made your bed, now lay in it”.
Generosity of spirit requires empathy and the realization that underneath people’s bad or annoying (i.e. human) behavior, there is a soul that needs nurturing, just like you do. That we all share 99.9% of our DNA and that as humans, we thrive on kindness and compassion from our compadres instead of the much easier, criticism and impatience.
There are cultures around the world (many of which as proud Americans, we make fun of as soft or poor or ‘third world’) where generosity is prized above all else. Where you are expected to love your neighbor and see to their comfort and happiness and in turn, you bless yourself. American values stress rugged individualism, making our own way, taking care of #1. Which could be the reason why EVERYONE complains that nobody is very nice anymore. Are you nice? Are you generous? All the time? Me, neither.
But, I’m professionally successful and financially well-off and I have two nice houses and a couple of cars and lots of stuff. I should be ecstatic! I’m not.
I’m working on opening up my heart to people, ideas, nature, compassion and the love that I believe underscores life on earth. That also means opening up to pain, grief, jealousy, envy, hate, anger and all of the things that lead to our suffering and struggling as we make our way. Embracing the good stuff, while recognizing and allowing the bad, is the way to awaken to our short and finite time on earth. Our culture does not help us on this path….at all.
It’s a process for me and I slip up and backslide everyday. Some situations prompt me to old behavior where I close down, curl up into my little protective ball of ‘me’ and ignore the needs of those around me. I snap or bark or toss out a stinging, smart-ass remark, when I should smile and listen and encourage. Two steps forward, one step back. The key is not to hate myself for my shortcomings. To practice the same generosity toward myself that I want to project to others.
I wish you well, I wish you freedom from suffering. May you live a life of ease and peace.
My brain has been like a confused GPS unit all week. I thought that I was prepared for this kind of situation. Why do I meditate? Why do I study? Why have I spent so much time reminding myself to live in this moment and that life is all about change and evolution? That was all supposed to help me cope with the inevitable course alterations that are required of a functioning human.
I’ve spent the better part of the past year preparing for a transition in our lives. Emotionally, financially, physically; the whole package. I did this knowing that it all might not play out the way I was anticipating. The whole point of a mindfulness practice is to remind ourselves that all we know is this particular moment. All we really know is that life changes randomly despite our best-laid plans.
So, when a ‘recalibration’ became necessary, why did it freak me out? Because old habits are so very ingrained in all of us. I hate that. Enlightenment is extremely hard work when your brain is so damned stubborn.
I want what I want, NOW. I cannot stand uncertainty. I need to have firm plans. I am dangling and swinging in the wind. ARGH!
So, as I sat on my meditation cushion this morning, it suddenly hit me: I’ll be fine. With whatever transpires. I planned for one scenario, but I’m open and ready to embrace the other one that has suddenly appeared. Either one will be great.
The funny thing about my current angst is that I’ve always been a glass half-full type when it comes to how my life has played out. Things typically work out just fine. Yes, there are challenges, but we adapt. We recalibrate. I must keep reminding myself that it all unfolds as it will. I can only respond in a healthy and flexible way.
I was listening to a podcast the other day from some talks at a Buddhist retreat center and a couple of concepts jumped up and stuck in my brain like post-it notes. “Respond, rather than react” and “pay attention; don’t cling”. Allow yourself the time to ponder and assess your new circumstance and then don’t hang onto the old one and expect it to change. Don’t cling to the pre-conceptions or the ‘what ifs’ that can clog up our brains and cause us such suffering and pain.
I’m marching toward a fork in the road and either path is fine. Either path will contain joy, pain, challenges, peace, happiness, tragedy, growth. Because that’s life.
Happiness is elusive to me. What is it? How do you recognize it? How do you nurture it? It appears that the more we get, the less happy we are. Read the numerous happiness surveys that are published every year. The land of milk and honey is full of the fat and UNhappy.
My understanding of happiness is beginning to evolve, which is a good thing, since I’ve spent the last few years feeling like I’d never grasp it. I think I was was fairly happy as a kid; most of my memories are of good times. I think I was happy in college and I was happy when I met and married my husband. Obviously, there were times of unhappiness and disappointment in my life, but that’s normal, right? I’m currently in a phase where I’m feeling restless, but not necessarily unhappy.
What fascinates me are people who unequivocally say, “yeah, I’m happy”. Period. No buts, disclaimers, back-peddling or guilt. Women in particular, seem to have trouble embracing the concept of happiness or contentment. Admitting or submitting to that, means we’re not working on ourselves and EVERYONE has work to do on themselves, don’t they? Nobody is perfect and to proclaim your happiness means that you are somehow better than your imperfect sister friends. Or maybe that’s just my bias.
We did a quick segment on our radio show, asking people to tell us their favorite way to waste time. One woman called and said, taking a nap. I replied that in my opinion, if you’re tired, you should sleep. She replied “well, my mother always said napping is a waste of time. Think of all the other more productive things you could be doing”.
Ah, yes…..the “my mother said” syndrome. We’ve all fallen back on that one, haven’t we ladies? The idea that ‘productive’ overrides filling your soul or doing something just because you want to. Happiness isn’t an all or nothing proposition. It’s a series of little epiphanies; of living in the moment.
It’s recognizing what you’re feeling, while you’re feeling it. That feeling could be joy, it could be contentment, it could be orgasmic, it could be surrender, or clarity but in that moment, what you’re feeling is happiness. Feel it, remember it, catalog it and internalize it. Happiness doesn’t necessarily explode, but rather, it seeps and sprinkles.
Work on being open to it. A nice nap is a great start.
I have a great life. I love my job, I love where I live and I love the freedom that I have. It’s taken me a long time to be able to say these things and to openly admit that I am good and that my life is good. You’re not supposed to proclaim your happiness too loudly or you might hurt someone else’s feelings, you see. It can be considered selfish or proud or arrogant or even in the more popular parlance of the day, “offensive”. You’re bragging if you’re happy and successful.
Well, enough of that. I have been working a long time, personally and professionally to arrive at this place, where I can openly proclaim satisfaction and gratitude and it feels great! Let me be clear, my life is not perfect, but it’s pretty doggone workable. I can look back and see all of the right and not so right decisions I’ve made over the years and I’m happy to be able to accept them and live with them. It wasn’t that way for a long time.
For instance, my husband and I are childless by choice. We decided early in our marriage that we would not have children. In fact, we were so sure that he had a vasectomy in his mid-30s. Over time I started to feel little pangs of regret, guilt and yes, even some anger over this decision. It ate at me for a few years and I must admit, I blamed my husband. HE was the one who didn’t want kids, even though I had stated my feelings very clearly and even encouraged him to get the ‘snip-snip’, so that I could stop taking birth control pills.
As I approached my mid-40s and past any kind of normal child-bearing age, I began to accept that we would not have children. Oh, I know; there’s adoption, vasectomy reversal, medical intervention, but the fact that we didn’t explore any of those solutions shows me that we had made the right decision all along. I struggled with feelings of inadequacy as a woman because I didn’t have kids; it’s an ugly truth, but other women were the most brutal in letting me know that I was sorely lacking as a ‘real woman’, since I was childless. I’ll never be a member of ‘the club’ of motherhood and I’ll admit that it has caused me a great deal of pain over the years.
But, I’m officially over it. I’ve watched a couple of our friends succumb to life threatening illnesses over the past few months and I’ve been smacked right in the middle of the forehead with this message: quit wasting time. Quit wasting time on regrets of what could have been, what you should have done, how you could have done things differently. None of it matters. I am who, what and where I am and that’s the bottom line. Being childless has allowed us to build a stable financial foundation; I have been able to build a career that I love and my husband was able to basically retire from his business several years ago. We live in a place that is beautiful, where we can enjoy all of the outdoor activities that we love. We have friends and family that we love. I am here, now and I am grateful.