Something Worth Giving

Every being on this earth is truly unique. No two people think, feel, or experience the world the same. Therefore it stands to reason that each person in the world also has something unique to offer, whether that be in the smaller scale of people in their lives, or society at large. Each form of giving is equally valuable and fulfilling. I think it comes naturally for us to want to give back to our family, friends, and community. There is an inherent satisfaction in being helpful to other beings. Giving of ourselves is not the hard part. The hard part is knowing what our own special offering is.

Creativity and inspiration come from the deeply held belief that we have something worthwhile to offer to the universe. Artists can often feel compelled beyond all reason to express this powerful urge from within. Even in my darkest hours, a part of my intensified creative energy in this state is a deep longing to reach out and share my personal suffering with others. The idea that my suffering could be a comfort to someone else or an acknowledgment that they are not alone, that someone else understands, is a beautiful driving force.

I think one of the many reasons I’ve been feeling so stuck and unmotivated is that deep down, I really don’t believe that I have anything worthwhile to give. This feeling hanging in the background of all I do makes me want to be as small as possible. I shrink away from the world, trying to get out of everyone’s way. The bitter taste of conceit turns my stomach when I contemplate creative efforts. Who am I to create? Who am I to take up space? Lately everything I do, everything I am, feels like an affront to the world rather than a gift. I am filled with shame by the perceived presumption that what I say, do, feel, or create should or even could matter to anyone else.

Somehow I’ve always been able to hold two contradictory believes in my heart simultaneously: Everyone matters. I do not matter. Everyone has a unique and valuable gift to offer. I have nothing to offer. Everyone deserves to be loved. I do not deserve love. Even though logically I realize both of these statements cannot be true, that doesn’t seem to affect my conviction toward either one.

Perhaps I still just haven’t determined what my unique gift is. Despite all of my varied talents and skills, there are always a lot of people that out perform me in any arena. Once again, I would never proclaim that you have to be “the best” at something in order for your work to be worthwhile, somehow I hold myself to a very different and unrealistic standard. Maybe it would behoove me to get some outside perspectives on this matter. I wonder what those closest to me would say is my special gift. What is my unique value in this world? What I am able to offer in a way that no one else can?

Then again, despite the value you perceive personally, there is beauty in the idea of giving regardless of the “worth” of whatever that may be. Sometimes it is even more moving when someone with little or nothing of value shares the small amount they do have. Part of me believes that it is only our role to give, not to determine the value of that gift. After all we can never truly tell how something may affect or benefit another person. It’s the thought that counts, right?

I may never be able to determine for what reason I matter in this world. But I have faith that there is a reason for all of this despite my limited ability to understand. Maybe it’s not my place to know but to learn how to continue being without that knowing. Maybe it’s my place to give what I have and not worry about whether or not anyone else “wants” it. It’s the intention that matters. It’s the energy behind our actions that determine their worth, not the physical manifestation of those actions. No matter what I have, I can choose to give it with love, and that’s more than enough. And if others happen to think it’s not enough, that is their obstacle to overcome, not mine.

An Attitude of Abundance

The heart that gives, gathers.

Lao Tzu

From the first memories of having my own money as a child, I remember being anxious about spending it on anything. I was even praised by my parents for always saving nearly the entire amount of Christmas and birthday money I would get. Especially because my sister was the exact opposite and would spend all of hers almost immediately. Even as a child there was a sense of safety knowing that I had this money tucked away.

That mindset of prudence and frugal spending has stayed with me into adulthood. Any time I spend more than $20, I get extremely nervous about it. You can imagine how hard the holiday season is for me. I do prefer to spend money on other people more than myself, but still I get anxious about this annual splurge every year. For some reason, this financial anxiety has been particularly pronounced this past week. However, when I hear my friends and coworkers talk about money, it makes me realize just how fortunate of a position I am in.

Even though I am still straddling the poverty line, I am doing much better than the majority of the people in my area. Part of that is due to the fact that other than a recent car loan, I have absolutely no debt. I don’t even own a credit card. My education was completely covered by a full academic scholarship, while my other college expenses were taken out of investments my uncle made for my sister and I when we were born. I even have some left over that I seldom think about. Since graduating I have had steady work, although always at an extremely low wage. I only had to pay for housing for a year or two before being given the option to move into my grandmother’s old house after she passed. Besides utilities, I really don’t have many fixed expenses, so I have been able to save a good bit. I have also always been extremely fortunate to not have any major medical expenses.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, despite constant money worries, I am doing incredibly well for myself comparatively. Even my middle aged coworkers all seem to be living paycheck to paycheck. I’ll hear them joke about only have $50 left until payday, hoping they’ll have enough money to fill up their car, or having to pay overdraft fees at their bank when their account was empty. Not once have I ever had to worry about these things. Not only that, I haven’t had to pay much attention when it comes to finances. I’ve always had the privilege of spending far less than I’m bringing in. I have my bills set to autopay and never have to worry that they will overdraw my account. I’ve never had to check my balance before making a purchase. Whenever I say I “can’t afford to do or buy something” it’s usually just that I can’t justify spending the money on whatever it is, not that I literally don’t have enough money. I hadn’t realized that wasn’t the case when other people say that.

With all of this in mind, I am trying to hold onto the energy of abundance that has always been a part of my life. I want to treat the holidays as an opportunity to celebrate that abundance and good fortune. I want to share this gift of abundance with everyone else in my life, especially those that are struggling. I truly believe the way to hold on to it is to spread it around. Happiness and generosity are far more important to me than some abstract number in a checking account. Besides, what’s the point of having a thousand dollars more if it brings me no sense of peace or security anyway?

Instead of continuing to anxiously look over my shoulder at all the big purchases I’ve made, I want those purchases to be a symbol of my many blessings. What a joy it is to be able to give to those I love! What a beautiful way to thank the universe for all that I have been given! The smiles and tender moments I will share with my friends and family are worth far more than what I’ve spent. I may not be able to afford a new house, grad school, or expensive furniture, jewelry, etc., but I can afford all of the things I need, most of the things I want, and the ability to be extremely generous towards the people that make my life worth living. And that’s more than I could have asked for. The more you give, the more you receive, undoubtedly.

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Sharing Yourself with Others

Yesterday was my favorite holiday, Independence Day. I love being able to spend a day with my friends and family in the sunshine, by the water, enjoying fresh fruit and BBQ food. I also always like the opportunity to drink around them as strange as that might sound. Being a generally reserved person, having a little alcohol at family gatherings gives me the courage to be more affectionate with everyone. The only problem with that is sometimes I’ll make promises that sober me isn’t brave enough to keep.

One of the things I always think about is spending more time with my family. My grandmother is over 90 years old, and although she’s SHOCKINGLY healthy and spry, I know I have limited time with her. I think a lot about all the time I spent with her growing up. There was a point I even considered her more of a mom than my actual mom. She would babysit my sister and I while my mom was at work and for a few hours after school every day. Even as a teenager I would often stop by her house before going home from school once I started driving. She was always there for me. I told her everything. She taught me so much and I cherish every memory I have with her.

I honestly don’t know when I started to drift away. Maybe it was once I started college and I wasn’t as close by anymore. For awhile I really didn’t have the time either, although I certainly still could have called. It just seemed like the crippling anxiety I carried with me all through my youth never applied to her. Then at some point, all of a sudden, it did. I became afraid to go see her, afraid I wouldn’t have anything to talk about, afraid I’d be bothering her. The longer I’ve let this anxious energy remain, the bigger it has become.

Now that I’m older I feel similarly about my Aunt. She is an amazing woman whom I love and admire so much. Before I never thought she really cared to be close with my sister and I, but over the last few years that’s changed. These past two presidential elections have really pushed her and her husband apart. It’s also really hurt her relationship with all of her boat club friends. I get the sense that she feels alone now. I want to reach out more and spend more time with her, but I get so anxious at the idea that I usually avoid the thought all together.

As I was sitting with my feet in the damp grass this morning, setting intentions for my day, a new thought struck me. Whenever I’m considering spending more time with friends or family, my main focus is on convincing myself that even though the thought makes me anxious, I will feel better overall. Embarrassingly, this morning was the first time I really considered the other person involved, other than feeling guilty for not following expected social conventions and possibly letting them down. The idea rang through my head that this time that I want to carve out for my friends and family is a gift to them. It is an act of love and compassion. Giving of myself to bring them happiness.

Of course my self-defeating inner voice immediately tried to tear down that idea. “No one cares whether or not they hear from you or spend time with you. You are insignificant,” it tells me. I am constantly afraid of bothering people with my presence. But once again I am merely focusing on myself and my own ego. The fear of feeling unwanted, facing rejection, or feeling like a burden has kept me from forming deeper bonds with all the people in my life. Deep down I know that isn’t true though. My grandmother would never feel burdened by being with me more often.

Not only that, but it helps to remind myself that even if I were an annoyance, so what? I truly believe that the closer we are able to live to the way our distant ancestors lived, the happier we will be. In the tribal communities that once made up humanity, and even in more recent times in small rural towns, every member of the group had value. I don’t have to be perfect to deserve love and quality time with the ones I love. No one expects me to be perfect, except me. There are plenty of people in the world that are more aggravating and problematic than me that are still loved and embraced by those around them. We are all flawed, imperfect beings, but that doesn’t disqualify us from having meaningful, important connections with one another.

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The Weight of Our Actions

I was watching some show the other day and there was a scene depicting a kid being bullied. This led me into a long reverie about when I was younger and all of the cruel acts I witnessed or was the target of in school. I particularly remember being made fun of one day for drawing anime in class. Even though this was a mild mockery and only happened one time, it led me to stop drawing for years. Back then I would have done anything to just not be noticed.

I began pondering the vast difference in experience between the two parties involved in bullying. To the bully, it is pretty meaningless. It seems like just a way to pass the time or have a laugh. It isn’t a significant moment in the bully’s life by any means. However, to the one being bullied, it can be a life-changing experience. It can change them forever. It cuts so deep. It leaves emotional, if not physical, scars. I doubt most bullies ever stop to consider this inequity of experience. While it may mean little to nothing to them if they were to just not pick on someone, the target of this attack could be spared so much anguish.

This lead me to thinking about how this might apply in other areas of life. As I don’t bully people, I wondered how I might still be able to use this insight myself. I started to consider all of the things that my mother would always pester me to do as a kid. Clean the cat’s litter box, put my shoes away, put my clothes in the hamper, wash the dishes. I get so frustrated with my past self for being so obstinate and inconsiderate. It would have taken me only a few minutes to do all of those things. I had plenty of free time. No job, school was always easy. I spent most of my time lounging around watching TV. Yet I couldn’t be bothered to do these tiny little things that would have meant so much to my poor, overworked, under-appreciated mother. I want to kick myself every time I think about it.

At the time, of course, I didn’t consider this at all. I was just thinking about myself. I started to wonder if there were still things like this that I overlook. Are there still tiny things that I could be doing that would mean the world to those around me? The answer is yes. Sometimes it’s just the gesture itself that counts.

Whenever I am at work and I go wash out my coffee mug, I will also wash any other stray dishes in our communal sink. And sometimes my coworkers repay the favor, washing my mug before I get the chance to. I don’t think any of us would be overly burdened by washing our own mug once a day, but it is still touching each time I find it already washed. There are small acts of love and consideration like this waiting for us everywhere.

Perhaps you just got a bonus at work and have extra cash so you leave a generous tip for your waitress even though she was struggling to provide good service because she was new. You might not think twice about this event, but the waitress may be moved to tears. You never can tell what small acts of kindness like this could mean to someone.

I hope to carry this out in my own life in the form of a game. Just a lighthearted excuse to be creative and find new ways that, with minimal effort, I can spread maximum kindness. It might look like cleaning the snow off of my neighbors car in the morning after I do mine. Perhaps it’s giving some undivided attention to my pets when I first get home instead of immediately getting distracted by something else. Maybe it’s making a point to leave positive reviews online when I truly enjoy a place or product. All of these things would be simple enough, and not be burdensome to me by any means. But it could make or break someone else’s day, month, or even year! Imagine what it would be like if we all took the time to find these little opportunities for spreading goodwill in our lives. Let’s all try to do at least one small thing like this every day. It’ll be fun.

The Heart That Gives, Gathers

I still remember giddily awaiting Christmas morning. Hardly being able to fall asleep. My eyes popping open at 4 in the morning, because that is technically Christmas. My sister and I would go wake my parents up at that ungodly hour. And to their credit, they were always good sports about it. They never got mad at us. Usually they’d actually drag themselves out of bed and let us start opening our presents even though the sun had yet to come up. I can’t say I would have reacted the same.

The strangest part is thinking that all that excitement was to receive gifts. Now that I’m older, I still have a sense of excitement for Christmas day, but the thought of what I’ll return home with is the last thing on my mind. I had heard as a child that it was a greater joy to give gifts to your loved ones than to be gifted things in return. But I had always thought that was just a thing adults said so we didn’t feel bad. I had no idea how true I would one day find that sentiment. Now being excited only to be given gifts is the side of the equation that seems absurd.

As I am about to give the gifts that I spent months gathering, making, and wrapping gingerly, I can’t help but be full of gratitude and love. Christmas is a wonderful reminder that even though it may seem counterintuitive, generosity leads to abundance. We spend so much of our lives saving and hoarding, being fearful that we will not have enough. Paradoxically, this draws that sense of “lacking” into our lives rather than keeping it at bay.

When we give and share what we have with others, the universe brings that same energy of abundance back to us. Christmas is a perfect example of that principle. We spend a lot of time and money before the holidays making sure we have just the right gifts for those we love. But are we not repaid for our money and effort tenfold by the joy we receive upon watching their happy faces light up? By their hugs and kisses? By the chance to share delicious hot food as we gather together in the cold?

The winter months seem like a time to hunker down, spend frugally, stay in, save up to survive. But what a beautiful holiday we have implanted right in the middle! A holiday that encourages us to go out, to spend time with our loved ones, to gorge ourselves on fancy foods, to give elaborate gifts. A reminder that we are all one. A reminder that because of this, our generosity will always find it’s way back around to us in some form or another. So we don’t need to be afraid. Give freely. Help others. Even when you may feel like you don’t have anything to spare. It’s always worth it.

Merry Christmas

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