By Diane Calabria
At this time of year, especially, we are inundated with messages to give. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) we are told. Retailers urge us to give (so they can meet their sales goals), charitable organizations urge us to give (money or volunteer time) so they can carry out their missions, employers ask their employees to “give 110% effort” so the company can prosper. Giving is part of living and essential for the spiritual seeker— it decreases selfishness—but is it always “more blessed?” Does this verse mean, by implication, that receiving is to be avoided?
The yogic view on giving and receiving counsels that both giving and receiving are essential for spiritual growth. The importance of giving is easy to understand. Receiving is just as important, but perhaps why is not as obvious. An episode in my life experience may shed some light.
Early one winter morning, I got up after a sleepless night, feeling depleted and frustrated. I was in the grip of chronic insomnia and was pretty grumpy about it. Nevertheless, I put on my coat, boots and mittens and stumbled outside into the darkness to greet the sun. I had read that seeing the sunrise was a good way to reset the body clock and defeat insomnia. An angry diatribe was running in my head, along the lines of “of all the stupid things I have to do, just to sleep! Why God, will you not let me sleep!?” I turned to the East. At that hour, only a glimmer of light filtered through the trees.
There was also Something Else.
The Something Else was so lovely, I stopped my internal rant mid-sentence. Soft, gentle energy waves that felt like tender caresses, emanating from the East, were washing over me and everything else. It felt like God sending impersonal love to all his Creation. Surprised, I tried to absorb the waves as much as I could. It was transformative and restorative. Gone was the bad mood.
It may be that these comforting waves happen every morning as the sun rises. Yogis do say that beneficial rays emanate from the East and that is why they recommend meditating early in the morning, facing East. I don’t know why I could feel it so clearly on that morning. The experience was so vivid and uplifting, it still inspires me now, a couple years later. On that morning, it was much better to receive than to give. (Especially since what I was “giving” was not very nice!)
Thank goodness my ego didn’t block me from receiving this experience. Maybe its usual vigilance was diminished due to insomnia. One of the ego’s many tricks is to make us believe we don’t deserve or don’t need any help from God. “I can do it all myself! I don’t need/want/deserve any help!” says the ego. The ego is similar to the Grinch that Stole Christmas—it steals our ability to receive the help that God is so willing to give. Loosening the grip of ego, and improving both ability to give and receive takes practice. A lot of practice. The whole spiritual path is, in a way, a long process of decreasing ego on the one hand, and increasing ability to give and receive on the other.
An old joke is apt here. “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “one bite at a time.” Daily meditation is an essential “how-to” in the big, one-day-at-a-time task of chipping away at ego and improving ability to give and receive.
You might wonder if I am arguing with Jesus (Acts 20:35) on the relative importance of giving versus receiving. Next month, Ralph will take a deeper look at the translation of that verse from the original Greek. Teaser: I think he will show no conflict between Jesus and the yoga masters.
Have a wonderful holiday season!