What Is Mine To Give? Exploring Mindful Giving

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Dear Still Water friends,

The fifth of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing states:

Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy and material resources with those who are in need..

I recently came into some money from the sale of property I inherited. For someone like me who grew up in a blue collar family, it felt like a lot of money. Then, after paying off some debt, I was left with a dilemma. How should I use this money to help others? As I’ve been thinking about it I have broken it the question down into categories of need.

  1. Family members who are living in poverty or struggling financially.
  2. Organizations that help to others in need.
  3. Spiritual communities I am connected with.
  4. Non profit organizations like PBS whose services I benefit from.
  5. Every Go Fund Me I come across on social media.

The money happened to come a short time before Christmas, so I had a great time being a generous Santa to family members and a few others. It felt good to be generous.

After giving those gifts, I have been somewhat paralyzed as to how much I should hold onto for my own future and how much I should give to others. I don’t know about you, but over the years I have given to many organizations and fund raisers. When my kids were in school I was always raising money for something. As a youth education director for a church we did a lot of asking for funds for activities and causes. My email inbox and my home mail box are inundated every day with letters from organizations I have contributed to in the past, as well as new ones, asking me for my help. The needs of the world are endless.

What should I give and who should I give it to?

At the core of my being I believe in generosity. I’ve experienced the benefits of having an open heart and trusting in the Universe to provide for me. For a long time I have been aware that I have more than enough conditions to be happy. I do my best to give of my time and resources where I can. At times of great tragedy and need in my life, people I didn’t even know came forward and shared with me. I know how it feels to be in need and then, by some miracle, have those needs met. It feels really awesome. How do I now take the abundance I have received and share it?

In For A Future To Be Possible, Jack Kornfield writes:

Traditionally there are described three kinds of giving, and we are encouraged to begin developing generosity at whatever level we find it arising in our heart. At first we find tentative giving. This is where we take an object and think “Well, I’m probably not going to use this anyway. Maybe I should give it away. No, I should save it for next year. No I’ll give it away.” Even this level is positive. It creates some joy for us and it helps someone else. It’s a sharing and connecting.

The next level of generosity to discover is friendly giving. It’s like relating to a brother or sister.

“Please share what I have; enjoy this as I do.” Sharing openly of our time, our energy, the things we have, feels even better. It’s lovely to do. The fact is that we do not need a lot of possessions to be happy. It is our relationship to this changing life that determines our happiness or sorrow. Happiness comes from he heart.

The third level of giving is kingly or queenly giving. It’s where we take something- our time or energy or an object that is the best we have- and give it to someone happily and say, “Please, would you enjoy this too.“ We give to the other person and take our joy in that sharing. This level of giving is a beautiful thing to learn.

As we start to learn to be more generous, to give more of our time, our energy, our goods, our money, we can  find a way to do it not just to fit a self image or please an external authority, but because it is a source of genuine happiness in our lives. Of course this doesn’t mean giving everything away. That would be excessive, because we have to be compassionate and care for ourselves as well. Yet to understand the power of practicing this kind of openness is very special. It is a privilege to be able to bring this generosity into our lives.

So I’m wondering, is generosity something you struggle with as I do? How do we mindfully determine what and to whom we give? Do you have a magic formula?

Below is an excerpt about generosity from Two Treasures: Buddhist Teachings on Awakening and True Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh.

I am looking forward to being with you on Thursday to discuss this important topic.



Practicing Generosity
From Two Treasures: Buddhist Teachings on Awakening and True Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh

Every person, no matter what their wealth, is equally capable of practicing generosity. Some people think that they can practice generosity only if they are wealthy. This isn’t true. Some people who are very wealthy do practice generosity, but many only do charity with the aim of gaining merit, profiting, or pleasing others. People whose lives are grounded in compassion are seldom rich because they share whatever they have with others. They are not willing to enrich their lives financially at the cost of others’ poverty. Many people misunderstand the Buddhist expression ‘practicing generosity’ to mean casually giving five or ten cents to a beggar on the street if we happen to have it in our pockets.

The practice of generosity is more beautiful than that. It is both modest and grand. Practicing generosity means continually acting in a way that will help equalize the difference between the wealthy and the impoverished. Whatever we do to ease human suffering and create social justice can be considered practicing generosity. That is not to say that we must become active in any political system. To engage in partisan political action that leads to a power struggle among opposing parties and causes death and destruction is not what we mean by practicing generosity.

How can a person practicing ‘knowing how to feel satisfied with few possessions’ also practice generosity? It is by living simply. Almost everyone who spends his or her life serving and helping others, sacrificing themselves for the sake of humanity, lives simply. If they live their lives worrying about making money and gaining merit, how can they practice generosity? Mahatma Gandhi lived a very simple life; nevertheless his merit helping humanity and saving human beings was immeasurable. There are thousands of people among us who live very simply, while being very helpful to many, many others. They do not have as great a reputation as Gandhi, but their merit is no less than his. It is enough for us just to be a little more attentive and aware of the presence of people like these. They do not practice generosity by giving money that they do not possess, but rather by giving their time, energy, love, and care — their entire lives.

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