The Practice of Giving
By Laura Duggan
To give to others who are in need is part of being alive. Even animals know how to be generous. Learning to overcome our fears around giving is not that hard.
Giving is natural… like the sun shines on everyone, every day, without being asked to do so, and without asking for thanks. Like the rose gives off its perfume to anyone who passes by… it’s the natural state. Giving is like that. Each of us has the capacity to give.
Generosity is a far cry from being a doormat or a martyr. The traditions define generosity as giving the right gift to the right person at the right time for the right reasons. The right person is one who is in need. The right gift can never make you less. The right time is always now. And the right reason is simply because there is no reason not to give.
The quality of giving is so universal, it appears in almost every spiritual tradition. It is also something that needs to be practiced.
It takes courage to be generous. We think of inviting friends over for a meal and feel fear enter us: “I don’t cook well enough; I don’t know what they like; they will be bored, etc.” But without being generous, we would remain alone. So courage is required to be generous. Courage to look the possibility of mistakes and failure in the face and say, I will do it anyway.
Usually we hold back out of fear—“There won’t be any left”… whether the “any” is love or money or time. Where is the fear really from? We are unplugged from the true source of generosity. When we are identified with our smallness, we see the world as a world of limitations. When we identify with the universal principles, there are no limits. We hold back when we think the possessions are ours, we are doing the giving. We forget there is nothing in this world that is not already God’s.
A 14th century Indian poet, Jnaneshwar, described a generous person like this:
“He acts in this world like water that pours itself out to save the life of dying plants…Just as water cannot flow on without filling a hole that lies in its path, he cannot pass by without refreshing a weary person he meets…Just as the purpose of water is to quench thirst, similarly, the purpose of his life is to help those in distress.”
Start small. If you find it hard to give, begin with this simple practice: offer yourself something from one hand to another. Feel how easy or hard it is to let go. And when it gets easy, offer that which you are passing, an apple, an orange, to someone else. Then see where it leads.