“Will you ever bring a better gift for the world than the breathing respect that you carry wherever you go right now?”
Generosity. It’s a word with a beautiful rhythm that glides off the tongue. Even saying it feels like an offering.
Generosity flows naturally from a full and open heart. In those moments when we are free of mental traps and emotional triggers, when we are deeply peaceful, generosity effortlessly tumbles out of us and spreads in all directions. We just cannot help expressing love in every word and gesture.
But somehow, in this love fest, we exclude ourselves. This is an error in understanding. In our minds, we separate ourselves from the whole. In our hearts, we feel selfish and undeserving when we pay attention to what we need. Our inner world is mean and harsh. These are conditioned tendencies – not unadulterated truth – that result in needless suffering.
The Value of Exploring Habits
Odd as it may sound, I am not advocating that you start taking better care of yourself. As regular readers of this blog know, my only interest is in telling the truth about what is actually real. When mental patterns undermine our happiness and drive us to run ourselves to exhaustion, we are being called to peer into these habits, to see what they are actually made of.
Whether or not our behavior changes is a side effect, although the outcome is likely to be greater happiness and better self-care. But these changes emerge easily from the abundance of an open heart and not from another item on the to-do list.
How We Hurt Ourselves
Asking how we can be more generous toward ourselves is helpful. Ultimately, however, we need to untangle the programming that prompts us to deplete and deprive ourselves. Do any of these resonate with you?
- I attack myself in my thoughts.
- I judge myself for what I feel or what I do (or don’t do).
- I shame myself.
- I force myself to stay busy.
- I pressure myself to be different than I am.
- I feel undeserving.
- I place expectations on myself.
- I ignore my basic needs.
These are clearly not indicative of the inner life that reflects generosity.
We learn unsupportive habits when we are young. They serve a purpose – to motivate and protect us. Take “I shame myself” as an example. For some people, the goal of this thought is to motivate them to take actions that will win the approval of others. And if they are approved of, they will feel loved and happy. Self-criticism can protect us from taking a risk that might lead to failure.
Chained to Habits
Our need for these habits may have expired years ago, yet we continue to be constrained by them. I’ve heard about how baby elephants are trained not to wander. First, they are chained to a large tree, and they learn that they cannot escape the chain. Over time, they are switched to a smaller chain and tree, eventually needing only a string around their neck tied to a thin branch. Of course, the elephants could walk away, but the conditioning is so ingrained that it becomes their reality.
Just like elephants, we become imprisoned by our habits – until we make the choice to investigate them. We find that what seemed real virtually dissolves under scrutiny. And what is revealed is a supremely generous heart waiting patiently for the space to overflow.
When we understand our habits and how they affect us, they soften their grip. The compulsion to act them out diminishes. We begin to experiment by taking steps out of our comfort zone. We open with wonder to newfound freedom and revel in the possibility to be moved by a heart that wishes us happiness, health, and well being.
As we begin to listen to our needs and desires, we discover the people, activities, and environments we are drawn to and those we prefer to avoid. We become sensitive to ourselves and move through our outmoded patterns so we can act from love. Kindness flows; compassion flourishes. We blow the ceiling off our capacity for pleasure and good feeling. We are willing to:
- Take care of our bodies
- Forgive ourselves and others
- Stop the fight with our emotions
And we are tremendously gentle with the residue that remains from our habits.
Our nature is generosity, and our conditioning stems the flow. When these conditioned patterns are seen through to their root, we recognize that we are included in the whole – we are part of life. There is no separation between self and other, and generosity is unleashed – everywhere.