I received the following thoughts the other day in response to my post about giving. It struck me as being so much how we are. Just a few days previously I’d sent a birthday card to a fellow monastic. Days later I asked, Err, did you get the card I sent you? It was a funny card and I wanted to share the laugh, live. But I think I was the only one who saw the fun it it! Ah well. So read on here and see your own humanity in the way we give tokens like cards and presents. They forge human links and indeed we are looking for some form of feedback. Is it wrong to expect or want something back? Acknowledgment? Personally I don’t think there is a wrong or right. We all know when we are clinging and then clinging to the clinging etc. Painful, human and forgivable. Forgive and forget – eventually.
Your post on giving and generosity has had me thinking a lot about this. I guess it’s one of the themes of my life at present and I wonder how it all really works. We are told to give without any expectation of anything back. We are told to let go. To give what we give freely. Which all sounds very convincing. And yet I seem to find it almost impossible to do, it seems.
I buy a birthday card for a friend. I take a long, long time looking for something that seems appropriate and that I think will give her pleasure. I wince a little at the cost. The card I have chosen is, to me, a thing of great beauty and I would like to have it myself, so I think that she too will appreciate it. In giving it, I am expecting the gift to be acknowledged. To get a thank you, at least. I’m hoping for something more. A shared appreciation of the beauty of the card, a moment of communication, a recognition of relationship perhaps, a glow of affection. However it’s not that way.
What I get is nothing. The giving of the card goes unremarked. I see it on display with the few others she has received. It is not mentioned. I am sad for the card because it is so lovely. Because I now have no idea whether or not it was liked, I have no idea either what would be appropriate next year. I have no evidence on which to base any future decisions about cards. Maybe next year I don’t send one. Maybe I take less time to choose. Maybe I try a different style of card.
I look at my disappointment and try to see all my complicated motivations in this, and to let go, let go, let go. I know it’s not supposed to be good to label feelings as negative, or bad, so I try to let go of simply feelings without categorising. If she’d thanked me, seemed pleased or touched, I suppose it would have been good to let go of any more pleasant feelings I may have too. Give without expectation. I wonder if this is really possible.
I look at other aspects of my life. Care work. I’ve recently had some tough cases – my two worst case scenarios I suppose: patients covered in faeces, and someone whom I found in trouble when I arrived in the morning, who had had a mild heart attack, collapsed and unable to move. Ambulances, the works. High adrenalin. I think in these cases it is easier to give without expectation. And perhaps it is actually because I am not asking anything from the relationship, have no needs or expectations of the people. But the fact is of course that they are generally extremely grateful and appreciative of my care. I know I do it well and I love the feeling that in this context I seem able to offer the best of myself. (Probably need to let that go too.)
Perhaps, in giving, what we generally need and like is simply some sort of response. Maybe this is feedback. If you don’t tell me you like this or that, how do I know whether to keep on doing it? I have been in situations, like the author in the article but on a smaller scale, where somehow my generosity has turned sour and become a burden to the receiver. I struggled too as the receiver of my sister’s generosity, which always seemed to come with such strings attached that I would almost rather not have had it. And yet how to turn it down? That relationship went badly wrong too in the giving, the receiving, the inequalities.
How hard it is to be genuinely generous and open-handed, and not somehow keep some tally in one’s head as to how generous one has been and how much one is owed in kind, whatever that kind may be.
And how true is it that we rise to the occasion, jump in and do what we can. The other day I came across two young lambs in the road and stopped to catch them and return them over the hedge to their mother. I was proud of myself. Glad that I stopped and didn’t just skirt around them leaving them to run about distressed. And I’ve mentioned the incident to several others. It feels good to do good things and others share that when they hear about animal rescue incidents. We are moved for example to see the abused bears from the circus being released into better circumstances. Something visceral going on in us when we witness generosity.
We all know when we are clinging. And then clinging to the clinging! Painful, human and forgivable. We can forgive and forget. Our human feelings, pleasant and laudable or shameful and embarrassing are passing – always passing.
Let things pass, and they will.
Thank you to my correspondent for writing.