The Gift of Giving
by David McCarthy
Giving is about connection. At its best, it is an expression
of genuine respect, caring, affection, and indeed love.
This time of year is often called “the season of giving.” A gift sincerely given and graciously received is a beautiful thing. So how come it often feels like an obligation and, frankly, a pain in the neck? Well, there’s the obvious possibility that we simply don’t want to spend the money, or more likely, take the time to go out and get something. But for most of us, our resistance is more complex. Why give something that the person doesn’t really need? What do they need, anyway? Do you really even know the person well enough to decide what’s going to make them happy, whether they need it or not? We might feel that the gift is just about the gesture of giving, fulfilling some social expectation and not much else. All of which points out that we might need to try to sort out the feelings that arise around this subject, and that is pretty much a personal thing.
But what we can say more generally is this: there’s a certain cultural momentum, so to speak, around the holidays, which comes from a good place—whatever your belief system. But there’s a gift, and then there’s a thoughtful gift. The time given to thinking through or doing a bit of research on what would really resonate with someone is a direct expression of generosity—one that deepens the connection between you. There’s a lot to be said for the gift that just jumps out at you any time and feels right, especially for someone really close.
A lot of people these days are giving gifts to charitable causes in the name of a recipient. Nice idea, and just about any nonprofit organization will work out the details with you. But this kind of gift is going to be a real clunker if the person doesn’t truly support the organization and want to contribute. If you want to give something tangible, I guarantee that giving something hand crafted and locally made is going to feel good. Our Hudson Valley region has such an amazing wealth of craftspeople. Maybe you have a mutual friend who’s a potter and whose work you both admire. Of course, the epitome of locally made and hand crafted is something you made yourself.
Eventually the idea comes into focus that we could take the whole practice of generosity to a deeper level psychologically. Giving is about connection. At its best, it is an expression of genuine respect, caring, affection, and indeed love. It has always been considered a root spiritual virtue by all traditions. It is a practice that is both an expression of wisdom and a means to develop it. But to do so, we need to get an insight into why we have resistance to generosity—despite the fact that it’s really part of our nature to give.
Even with those better instincts, generosity is a bit of a threat to the ego, dear friends, and ego is way more complicated than that simple Scrooge mentality of “I don’t want to give so I have more for myself.” We invent lots of strategies to keep ego happy while acting out the social ritual of giving. It feels good. People will like us. Good for business. Keep the kids quiet. It’s good karma. When even these strategies start to wear thin, the whole thing feels pretty tiresome.
Eventually we see that our materialism is psychological; it goes beyond the materialism of “stuff”. It starts with the sharp, mind-created duality between self and other. We take situations that are fluid, luminous, and intangible, and make them heavy and solid.
In that context, generosity itself can be seen as a great gift. Seen insightfully, it’s an opportunity to loosen our habitual solidification of the giver, the gift, and the recipient. The wisdom that sees through the heavy duality of self and other is a very clear form of love—because what is love but the recognition of non-duality? So it comes back to love, to connection. And that’s the gift.
If you contemplate it in this way, when it comes down to that burning question of what to get for that certain someone, there’s a clear way forward. The gift begins with the space and freedom to find the gift that expresses the real connection you feel, and we complete it by giving in the spirit of wisdom.