There’s a lesson I love in A Course in Miracles. “To give and receive are one in truth”. It’s so beautiful, just repeating it brings me joy. It’s so blatantly and obviously true, and yet this truth gets so easily lost and dismissed in daily life.
In daily life we often start to feel very much the opposite – that I must receive before I can give. How often have we found ourselves in these mental calculations – that we shouldn’t give a gift to a friend who we know won’t give one back – how easy it is to fall into the pattern of making our decisions based on what we think we will get from it or where it will get us?
And yet many teachings say that we should give whatever we can and love without asking for anything in return. Giving is a practice we can engage in at every single moment in our lives. Think about it, sometimes our most profound gifts are the simplest, and everyone has them to give: a smile, a nod, a hug, a word of praise.
The Importance of Gratitude
We don’t need to do, wait for or receive anything in order to give – and through giving we receive an automatic benefit. What benefit? The feeling of love that is felt when sharing of ourselves unconditionally. It’s the feeling we get when we let another customer get ahead of us in line, when we say good morning and good night to our family and friends, when we write a thank you note or express gratitude for what we have; it feels good and it’s good for our health too. The positive feeling that results is all that we need to benefit from our giving, because “giving and receiving are one in truth”.
I learned a lot about giving love unconditionally when my daughter was born with a disability. I felt anger about the disadvantages she would face in life and about the challenges that we would face as a family in order to care for her. I found myself willing to give only with the belief that she should be other than the way she was. A good friend reminded me that I need only love her truly, without asking that she doing anything in return or be different in any way, and once I was able to do that I found myself to be the recipient of that unconditional love, and I no longer found her disability to be such a threat after all.
As I threw myself wholeheartedly into my daughter’s care, working to help her meet her full potential, caring for myself fell away. When we become giving it is easy to fall into the trap of not taking care of ourselves. In these times, it is helpful to remember that our compassion and generosity should be as much for ourselves as for others. Giving doesn’t mean we donate our life savings or spend so much time on others that we can’t care for our own needs. What giving looks like is different for each one of us. In my case, I’ve learned over the years to give of myself to others but also to myself. It’s all the same in the end.
Recently I was rifling through some old notebooks and I came across a purple flyer. I had stuck it in my notebook nearly two years ago, when we visited Saint Jerome’s Cathedral in Southern France on summer vacation. It was a perfect reminder for me, because I was torn about making a difficult decision that would affect my family, and I had forgotten that giving and receiving are one in truth. On the flyer’s back cover was an excerpt from Saint Francis’ prayer:
“May I not seek comfort but give comfort, not to be understood but to understand, not to be loved but to love. Because it is when one gives that one receives, when one forgets oneself that one finds oneself, when one forgives that one obtains forgiveness and in dying that one lives for Eternal Life.”
I love the feel of this prayer, it’s simplicity and message. This is what gratitude is all about. Everything I give, I receive…even to the point of Eternal Life! It’s powerful. Whenever I feel guilt or shame I only need give compassion and forgiveness in order to feel it myself as well. Whatever we give, comes back to us; the acts of giving and receiving are really one, part of a single process. In my personal experience, when I really pay attention to the details of my life, I can see this to be true.
Try it, slow down and pay attention to how you feel when you give unconditionally of yourself. What have you learned about gratitude, giving and receiving in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts.