7 Ways to Practice Generosity
Fear can lead us to live lives of self-absorption, in which we covet blessings instead of conferring them on others. We find we can’t let go, we assume the worst, we feel insecure, we act without thinking—or perhaps we do not act enough. It is hardly surprising that amid the pressure of day-to-day life and under the yoke of a fearful culture many of us struggle to open our hearts and be generous.
But as the wise Stephen Mitchell has reminded me, if we can only trust that ultimately the universe is kind, we will be released from the fear of scarcity that drives us. We will be able to live with gratitude and extend that gratitude outward in the service of others. Consciously practicing the Habit of Generosity will help us live our lives in the spirit of loving abundance.
- Make a list of five things for which you are grateful today. You may have some previous experience with such a gratitude list; this time notice the change in yourself—in your energy field—as you write. See if you can feel your fearful self actually shifting to your loving self. Notice that all of those items on your list were gifts to you from some other hand. Consider yourself as a Sea of Galilee with the joyful responsibility of sharing with others what you have received from others.
- Take an inventory of the relationships in which you are afraid. Has a coworker consistently belittled you in the office? Is a parent disapproving of your life choices? Do you have a friend you have hurt or disappointed, or vice versa? Experiment with visiting one of these individuals—this can be in your mind initially, until the courage comes whenever possible and/or practical for you to see this person face to face. Before the visit, take some time to think in peace. Adopt an attitude that you are going merely to bless this person, to express the kindness of the universe to him or her. Notice how your fear subsides.
- The next time you are in a meeting—whether a formal meeting or sharing a meal with a friend—end with a moment in which everyone can express their appreciations and their regrets. At All Saints Church, we train every committee chair to end meetings this way; this is a chance to acknowledge the kind and generous acts of another, or to acknowledge our own failures to act in such a manner. Once sufficient space is given, which at first can seem quite uncomfortable, almost every time someone will have noticed a moment of kindness contained in another’s remark or concern. That in turn gives rise to someone else mentioning another moment in the meeting that meant something to him or her. In short order the energy in the room has existentially changed. You may find you leave your meeting to deal with your next responsibilities with a different outlook. Each person becomes more aware of something sacred in the world and in life. You may never call it the Beloved, but you carry a different vibrational frequency out of that encounter.
- Consider how much money you currently give away every year. Compare it proportionally to your annual household income. Stretch yourself to give away a larger percentage; you could start with 10 percent of your spending money. Be aware of the effect that this giving has on your fear quotient. My experience is that with every percentage point I give approaching 10 percent of my total income and then beyond, the less clenched and fearful I am about money, and the more careful I am in budgeting the rest. Those of us throughout the world who give 10 percent or more know that the remaining 90 percent goes much farther as a result of having given the 10 percent away.
- Perhaps you are deeply in debt or your budget just barely meets your needs, and you find giving away money causes too much anxiety for you to do so with equanimity. But we all do have the capacity to give, even if it is only a little. Each small effort at financial generosity brings you closer to leaving behind your fear of scarcity. Even when money is tight we have a tendency to buy lattes, grab a T-shirt that is on sale, rent a car we may not actually need. Work toward incrementally eliminating these small purchases and putting that money aside instead, for a cause that moves you. In this way, you are taking small but important steps toward shrugging off the sometimes crippling anxiety that has taken root in our modern society regarding money and material goods.
- Small kindnesses can have enormous impact on how others feel. Instead of limiting your outreach to special times of year like holidays or birthdays, reach out to family, friends, or even strangers randomly to let them know you are thinking of them and are sending love their way. It might be just a quick text or voice mail. It might be a card or the gift of a visit. Perhaps it is the gift of a smile; I am amazed at how my day changes when I smile and speak to strangers. First, their face almost always responds by mirroring my smile; they look like the person they want to look like—a person who is loved. Second, my own day changes when realizing that strangers can be generous to one another and feel a kinship simply by greeting one another with a smile. I believe this simple act also reduces the overall amount of stress in the world.
- All of the remarkably generous, generative, affluent people I have ever known were profoundly grateful. Gratitude is the key to being affluent. Think of the people in your past or present to whom you are grateful. Perhaps it is the elementary school teacher who helped you conquer your fear of talking in front of the class. It could be your own child, who makes you laugh every day. It may be a spouse who is always in your corner, or a parent who nurtured and guided you— even when you were at your most difficult as a teenager. Let this lead you to think of creative ways you might give back to your community. You could attend a class at your local public school and give a talk about your career choice. You could donate supplies to a day-care center. You could serve dinner at a battered women’s shelter or visit the elderly at a retirement home. This allows kindness to continue unobstructed, in and out like healing waters, and contributes to the wellness of the universe. In the words of the German theologian Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”