True Happiness: Giving from the Heart

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Training and  discuss the second training: True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

This training has always moved me deeply by drawing a straight line from giving and generosity to happiness itself. The picture above shows my daughter’s joy at receiving a Hanukkah gift. It is easy to see how this kind of giving brings me joy, too.  But this doesn’t mean that giving is always easy for me. I can struggle with a desire to hoard my time and resources, for fear that I will run out.

Through mindfulness practice I have come to a greater understanding of how this kind of clinging causes suffering. I have realized that giving is an important way to let go of these burdens of attachment. Generosity is as an essential mindfulness practice, but it can also be challenging one.

Our culture encourages us to amass resources and hold on to them. It can be difficult to loosen our grip on what we have. But by giving freely, we can begin to lessen our attachment to the very idea of “me” and “mine.”

Gina Sharp, founder of the New York Insight Meditation Center describes this process: “The heart of generosity—giving, sharing, and caring for others—breaks this cycle of attachment and the resultant suffering. Through generosity, we let go of self-centeredness and our mind/hearts open into loving-kindness, compassion, and tenderness.”

I notice that it much easier it is for me to give to my daughter — in whom I can see myself, and whose response I can anticipate — than it is to give to strangers. I perceive strangers as both more separate from me, and also more unpredictable. It is easy to get caught in concerns about how a gift might be received. I can worry whether my gift might really have any value for the other person, or if they will react as I expect.

But I know that giving from the heart means letting go of this attachment to the outcome of generosity and worry about whether I will have enough left for myself. Sharon Salzberg says that “The movement of the heart in practicing generosity mirrors the movement of the heart that lets go inside…If we cultivate a generous heart, then more and more we can unconditionally allow things to be the way they are.”

I believe that the Second Training is encouraging us to see generosity as not just something that benefits others, but as an opportunity to move beyond fear and attachment to experience the happiness of giving from the heart.

In advance of our Dharma sharing on the Second Training, I invite you consider the following questions:

What helps you practice giving from the heart?

When is it hard to give?

Does giving freely help to loosen your attachments?

What is the relationship between giving and happiness in your life?

What do you have to give?

I hope you will join us.

An excerpt on generosity by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.

Warmest wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson

Generosity by Thich Nhat Hanh
From Touching Peace

We may have the capacity of being generous, but we must also develop specific ways to express our generosity. Time is more than money. Time is for bringing joy and happiness to other people and thus to ourselves. There are three kinds of gifts—the gift of material resources, the gift of helping people rely on themselves, and the gift of non-fear. Helping people not be destroyed by fear is the greatest gift of all. This mindfulness training teaches us the very deep practice of sharing time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need and truly reflects the bodhisattva ideal of compassion.

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