The Art of Giving

Originally posted at theamorist.com

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you” ~ John Bunyan

Whether it is a handful of change or a lifetime of devotion, the act of selfless giving is the most important action one can take. At its core, giving is the ultimate form of spiritual practice.

For ages, religions and spiritual groups have honored the art of giving. In India, the word seva, or selfless service, is expanded by the phrase, “Manav seva Prabhu seva,” meaning service to mankind is service to God. By carrying out seva, one is giving his or herself to the universe by offering time, money or prayer. In Christianity and Judaism, the concept of tithing, or an offering of 10 percent of one’s time or money represents spiritual giving. And in non-spiritual circles the common concept of donation represents the art of giving. In each case, the idea behind selfless service is that one will be covered (be it spiritually, financially, or consciously) by giving up something important.

Giving doesn’t have to look like this.

It is sometimes difficult to see that true wealth and prosperity—be it fiscal or spiritual—begins with the relinquishment of such objects. The other day I was speaking to a friend about his financial problems and I suggested he donate some of his money to a cause he felt strongly about. He retorted, “How can I become rich if I give all of my money away?”

This question is the boundary that separates those who are prosperous from those who are not.

First, a prosperous person is not determined by how much money he or she has, but rather their state of mind. In the case of my friend, he believed he was too poor to give. His financial insecurity stopped him from creating a prosperous mindset. People who attune themselves with the vibration of prosperity receive money and success after they have aligned themselves with that specific frequency. Only for a select few does it work the other way.

Second, giving is ultimately a question of faith, for there is no tangible promise or guaranteed return from giving a gift. There is no proof of gain other than the conviction that you are doing the right thing. This challenge is often daunting to those with empty pockets. Yet the saying holds true: “You only get what you give”.

It can look like this.

Of course, there are some clauses. Obviously, selfless giving is an act that requires no desire for reciprocity. To truly give is to surrender to the relationship of commerce and instead initiate one of complete compassion. Intention plays an important role in this process, as one who gives just to receive is not truly giving. It is only through selflessness that the act of giving will create true prosperity.

On Saturdays I teach a donation-based yoga class. In this class I begin with a story about why we offer these classes. I end the story with, “I ask that you donate what you can, but I recognize that the greatest donation you can make is simply being here.” Most students find this welcoming, but I see it as the true donation.

Each individual has given and hour and a half of their (prime Saturday afternoon) time to spend working on themselves, elevating their consciousness. As they leave the class calmer, happier, and relaxed, they raise the consciousness of all they come into contact with. By coming to class, they have donated themselves to selfless service. In that action, they uplift their own consciousness.

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” ~ James Heller

We often think of donation and giving as something that has to be measured by numbers and fiscal value. Many times the most important gifts are not those carrying a hefty price tag, but rather the ones that come from within: the homemade meal, a hand-sketched picture, a daily spiritual practice or a few kind words. The opportunity to give is never dependent on income.

We all have something to worth giving.

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My Creative Process

I never know where the inspiration for my next blog post is going to come from. Every time I sit down to write, I have a brief moment of fleeting panic. A voice I have recognize as my self-animosity chimes in a few defeating words that usually sound like: “You won’t think of anything good to write. Nothing you will write will help anyone. You can’t figure this out. Blah blah blah…”

At this point, I have learned to listen to my inner voices. I recognize that they exist, I identify what they are saying, but I do so from a neutral stance where I am detached from their wants and desires. By acknowledging the voice, I understand what it is I truly want (and what I do not) and can act accordingly.

The next step in creating a meaningful blog post is silence. This is probably my most difficult stage of the creative process. I often try to push through this stage with thunderous brainstorming and cunning wit. I try to force ideas out of my consciousness. I know that they are in there and that I have access to them, but I am entering the wrong key in the correct lock.

Wouldn’t want to live here.

This process is like building a house without a foundation. Whatever ideas I forcibly gather will not stand up to the winds and gravity of my self-criticism. Much like the house pictured above, my ideas will crumble. I may even formulate a topic worth writing an entire anthology over, but it will lack the luster of its origin. It will be separated from the area from which all creativity spawns.

In this creative space, the secrets of the universe are whispered. All information can be heard in this space. Yet much of the time we are talking (or thinking) so loudly that we cannot pick up on this quiet voice. Silence is an essential part of the creation process.

After being silent, I find that ideas begin to grow. It is subtle, palatable feeling, like hanging static electricity just before lightening strikes. The smallest movement occurs and my thought is guided by something other than myself. It is here that the next challenge occurs: letting this motion take its course.

I seem to be obsessed with weather today.

In order to let a creative thought manifest, it must develop on its own. There are certainly stages where I can manipulate, personalize and expand on its creation, but in its first established moments in the physical real estate of my brain, I find that if I tamper with its progress, it never matures to its fullest potential.

In gardening, when sprouting seedlings, it is most beneficial for the new plant to remain in its seedling habitat until it has reached a stage of maturation where it can physically sustain a transfer to a larger pot. If one moves the seedling too soon, the stress of the unnatural process will harm—if not destroy—its growth. This is parallel to the birth of a creative process.

“Let me grow!”

After allowing a firm stability, creativity will hand itself over to its environment. In the case of this blog, I am now harboring the creative potentiality that was given to me from the source of creation. I can now play with it as I like, typing this word or that word. Yet, even in this process, I am subject to creative severance.

The moment I attempt to claim this beautiful creative process as my own, I begin to lose it. As I begin to take stock in the idea that these concepts and words sprang from my thoughts, the flow of their existence begins to clog.

As many spiritual teachers have told their students, the wisdom from their mind is but an extension of the greater mind. Serving as a channel, rather than the “source” is the best way to transmit creativity. A mother is not her child, but the vehicle that brings it into this world.

Be the channel.

The last stage in my creative process is being grateful. I have not always been capable of accessing creativity. There were many times when anger, addiction and fear limited my ability to know creation as I know it today. I also realize that tomorrow never holds any promises. Yet more than all of these things, the actual process of creation keeps me in awe, and for this I am eternally grateful.

Giving thanks brings forth not only more opportunity but also a deeper understanding of my place in this world. It humbles me, carves out a deeper capacity for silence and ushers in a self-less attitude.

Creation is truly sublime.

Thank you.

Wisdom of the Chinese Massage Parlor

I wasn’t sure if it was the pincer-like grip piercing my tender neck or the intrusive finger smuggling its way deep into my chest cavity, but for some reason I had the crystal clear epiphany that maybe going to Chinatown massage parlors wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.

After a friend and I had spent a long day walking around Manhattan, we were in need of some deep relaxation. After pondering the all-mighty midday nap, we opted for the more interactive idea of getting a massage.  We decided to take a stroll into Chinatown. We were dually warned, but I must have blocked it out, because when our dear referrer told us about this joint all my mind heard was: massage.

Yep, definitely not a Chinese massage.

The place was what you would expect for a $25 half-hour back rub beating. Having really no idea what I was getting into, I decided to just go with the flow. The very small, very nice Chinese lady who would deceive me in so many ways, spoke to me in sputtered English. I did what any confused, extremely naive client would do: I agreed. In retrospect, that was probably the moment I signed my name in blood.

She started out rough. And for the next 30 minutes, it was this roughness I would so desperately yearn. She dug, pulled, pinch, prodded, shocked, twisted, pummeled, gouged, kneed, passed gas (quite unashamedly), and repeated all of these things more times than I care to remember. In the midst of this, my body and mind were all over the place. My hands clutched the metal legs of the massage table so hard that the table shook. I was breathing like a madman. I must of sounded like a crazed sadomasochist. At one point, I literally thought I was going to cry.

Not quite a Chinese massage

I had no control whatsoever. I realized at this moment I could either count the milliseconds until sweet, glorious freedom or just surrender to the torture. And although I found it almost impossible to let my body go completely limp, I did begin to loosen up. This by no means helped the pain; it only allowed her more room to plunge deeper into my body. I think she touched parts of my skeleton that have never been and will never be touched again. She was a crafty one, that sweet, little lady.

There are many times in life when pain, suffering and basically a complete loss of control can create adverse reactions that limit our ability to learn from our experiences. When I was on the table, I could have chosen to get up, but I understood that my emotional reactions and physical urges (as well as the entire karmic event of me actually getting this massage) were trying to tell me something. As I settled into my state of being (tortured), I was able to re-examine the situation.

A Chinese massage.

Utilizing a new perspective, I came to other conclusions. The massage was teaching me a lesson in surrendering, sacrifice, respect and humility. It also gave me the inspiration to write this blog post. I am sure that physically I will be better off—it’s just that I might not recognize it until next year.

All jokes aside, how many times have you found yourself in an undesired situation? In that moment, how much of your energy is put towards avoiding or trying to stop that situation? How often are you present during these times? In these valuable moments, we exert so much effort in running away that we often miss what is right in front of our eyes. And worse, when we don’t realize the entirety of the situation, we tend to repeat it until we do.

Surrender to the moment, good or bad.

I’ve written about the wisdom of pain before, but this post is about recognizing your reaction to it so that you may be in a position to learn from it. The first step in approaching anything—be it a relationship, a lecture, a business meeting or a massage from hell—is the ability to listen. When we can listen with all the senses, with the inner ear, we can accept the lessons given to us without having to repeat them.

And I can tell you in all certainty that I will not be getting a Chinese massages any time soon.

Just Give Up.

“There is nothing that you can do about life, nothing that you cannot do.” ~Alan Watts

These days, I find it incredibly challenging to stay away from the words of Alan Watts. I’ll find myself drifting from his wisdom only to be drawn right back. Most recently, I heard a clip of him talking about giving up, surrendering. It hit me in such a way that, despite a previous blog post on this same topic, I’ve decided to write another.

Our society is based strongly in polarities. Everything is separated into black and white, positive and negative, good and bad. These distinctions create a moral rubric for which we measure our successes and our failures. In these judgements we react emotionally. Often times this cycle is self-perpetuated in the sense that once it begins it continues to unfold. This emotional economy (if you will) is a system based on the fallacious concept of control.

We humans like the idea of control. It brings us security, comfort and degrees of happiness. It allows our lives a tolerability that would otherwise not exist. Control gives us a metric to measure the value of our lives. As mentioned previously, it is the leverage for which the system of the emotional economy is based upon. Without a sense of control, we would have nothing to claim as our own, stripping away our self-proclaimed ideas of value, leaving our emotions quite detached. Yet, this is not how life is.

Instead, control is key. Those who have it are set and those that do not are left out to dry. Being out of control is the height of societal stigmata. Those who are unable to control themselves, their finances or their future are cast out as psychotic, criminal or irresponsible. It would therefore stand that to willingly relinquish control would seem to be of the highest social treason.

However, this is the exact point Alan Watts is arguing against. In the song above, he talks about the moments in one’s life when control must be given up, when the pain of holding on is far too unbearable. These moments are usually extreme ones of life and death, inordinate amounts of stress or those spent in complete agony. He argues that in relinquishing the desire to control, the person is freed from the circumstance and experiences absolute effortlessness; a moment of enlightenment attained through surrender.

And dance we will.

These experiences do not have to be once in a life time moments. They are in fact a part of my daily life. Whenever I am under stress I realize it is because I am holding on to something that is not actually occurring. My expectation is not being fulfilled. I stub my toe on the bed and get angry because I did not want this to happen. I have lost control over my toe. This scenario can be played out in a million ways: traffic, school, work, yoga, meditation, cooking, eating, sports, singing, art.

Whenever we feel stress, it is because we are holding on to our personal idea of how the world should be.

To overcome this stress I simply give up. I let go of my expectations and let the reality of what’s happening occur without the friction I impose on it. Once I let the river flow in the direction it wants to go, I find that my life has become much easier. We are not in the business of building dams, we are in the pastime of sailing downstream. Riding the current is much more lucrative. It is pleasant. And although we feel that we have relinquished control, we have actually aligned with the highest form of control: that of the divine Self.

"Stop weaving and watch how the pattern improves." ~Rumi

Security, true happiness and bliss are all consequences of giving up our personal ideas of how things should be. Once we attune to the pattern that has existed for all eternity, we become enlightened.