Really Getting Giving

I am not the “I” in sweet petunia
or your shrinking violet.
Even if I’m winking
there’s a violence to it.
Even though the “ing”
that’s in adoring me is selfish
I still am that “I”
that’s leading by example,
teaching what so few are knowing.
I must be the “I” in first
and that must be where I come
in order to become that “I”
in love with loving.
It’s what the poets and the prophets wrote,
I am loving what I must be loving
before I can be showing
how to take this art of taking,
turn it into what it is
and so, reveal it as the way
of going to the state of grace,
of really getting giving.

I was talking to a friend recently who is a professional caregiver and besides that, a person whose nature is to be giving of himself to others. He goes way above and beyond what most people might consider to be his “duty” and the people around him are always better off as a result of his care and attention.

Like most of us, though, he has his moments when the giving can start to feel like a bit of a trap and where the joy of giving can begin to shapeshift into a far more burdensome beast . . . the proverbial albatross . . . or the monkey on his back. Sometimes the fun goes out of it, and what’s left for him—as for many who seem wired to help take care of the rest of us—is the fatigue, the frustration . . . and the yearning for more fun or freedom.

So I asked The Team, partly on his behalf and partly because it just seemed like a good question: “How do we balance our generosity so that it doesn’t come to feel like a ball and chain? When is giving perhaps not such a good idea?’

The shortest answer to this question is, if we were the physical you, we wouldn’t do anything we didn’t really want to do, because when you do, you only create separation or disconnection from who You really are . . . you can tell by the irritation or frustration that you typically feel.

However, we also understand that you will insist that you have little to no choice sometimes about doing things that you really don’t want to do, that there are things you ‘must’ do. And we will at least give you that there are things you feel you must do, that if you don’t do them, you will end up feeling worse than if you choose to do something else.

You will list family responsibilities, job responsibilities, financial responsibilities . . . debts or obligations you feel that you owe . . . And when all that fails to convince us (and usually it does), then you’ll pull out what you think is your trump card in this situation . . . compassion. “But aren’t we ‘supposed’ to care about others?” “Isn’t a crucial part of being a worthy human, being one who is willing to take on and bear the burden of responsibility for those we love?” “If I don’t do it, no one will.”

You get yourselves so worked up about this topic that it gets pretty tough to turn you around enough to see the monkey you’ve strapped to your own back. It’s one of the rock and hard places that you most often find yourself struggling to get out of . . . but with no real clue how to free yourself that doesn’t involve some form of guilt or shame.

So what we would offer you in these circumstances is an invitation to reconsider your reasons for doing what you do. Whether you are giving to others because you want to or because you feel obligated to . . . you are still doing it, ultimately, to please yourself. Regardless of what you name as your motive, regardless of how altruistic or selfless or self-sacrificing the giving appears to be on the surface . . . find a way to make peace with the fact that your ultimate, bottom line reason for doing the giving, is that it feels good to you—or at least, feels better to you than not doing it.

Accept this selfishness as fact. Come to terms with it. Embrace it. Let go of your need to deny or argue with it. Understand that it’s okay to do the things you do because they make you feel good—or better. Understand that even the seemingly unselfish or self-sacrificing or heroic things you do are done for the way they make you feel.

Only when you really see and accept this, can you truly begin to approach the giving that you do from a perspective that is freeing rather than binding. When you understand that you are ultimately motivated by your desire to feel good, and that this is okay, then you can make your choices about what and when and how and to whom to give of yourself without stumbling all over what you think should be your motivations . . . You are then free to really see what you are giving for what it is . . . you are lining up with who You really are . . . and in the process, offering that true self to others in a way that is pure and clear and uncluttered by delusions or illusions about why you are doing what you do.

What is most ironic about the giving that so many of you do, is that you can miss entirely the real joy that is inherent in the process for you. For when you do give from a place of understanding why, when you offer your true self to another, understanding that it is ultimately for your benefit . . . because you ultimately have no control over how they will receive or be affected by your gift . . . then you are so much freer to enjoy the giving that you do. You are truly free to find in your acts of charity, in whatever you choose to share with another, the gem, the pearl, the seed, the satisfaction, the beauty, the thrill, the warmth, the sheer pleasure of having done what you wanted to do because you wanted to do it because you knew that doing it would feel good to you.

When you find yourself in that rock and a hard place . . . feeling stuck or trapped or pinned down into some form of giving and feeling the conflicting desire for freedom or fun or relaxation or adventure . . . Look at why you are where you are. . . look at why you are giving—or feeling like you should. Ask yourself, what am I getting out of this? Often you will have convinced yourself that there is no gain from your pain, but this is seldom if ever true.

Find your payoff. Recognize what comes to you as a result of your choice to give of yourself. But more important, really look for the sources of joy available to you in whatever form of giving you are engaged in. Connect those dots . . . and see how you have created this reality where you really do want to feel the good feelings that giving gives you . . . but you are not allowing yourself to.

Whatever bondage you think you’re in is never more than a choice or a series of choices you have made. You can begin immediately to see the freedom you have, no matter how locked into some pattern you think you may be. Ask yourself, what feels good to me about this? What could make it feel even better? Those questions will always take you in the direction of really, effectively giving to the only person whose response you have any control over whatsoever—yourself.

And when you are choosing to give joyfully and freely and without guilt or obligation to yourself . . . when you are giving that selfishly to you . . . it will be a much more joyful and appealing and compelling and helpful you who is giving whatever it is you are wanting to give to others.

The dyed-in-the-wool martyrs among us might turn up their noses at all this, but shifting the focus to what feels good about giving sounds like a better alternative than the too common burnout that I know often follows those who act on their altruistic impulses.

We seem to take such pleasure in our sacrifices sometimes, that it can take a real paradigm shift to get us to similarly admire our efforts on our own behalf—much less to acknowledge that our efforts on others’ behalf might have some self-serving ulterior motive.

It all gets kind of screwy unless we can, as directed here, just stop and admit that we like how it feels to do something nice for others. Maybe that’s a big “duh” for some, but for those who haven’t quite wrapped their heads around the idea yet . . . it’s worth your consideration.

Giving is great. The world loves a giver. And if we can remember that the giver loves to get as much as give, then I have a feeling we’ll all be better off. My friend the caregiver seemed to buy it—and that left me feeling like a real gift had been given to us both, and that we both felt, for the moment, complete.


About Dan

Published novelist, poet, essayist, copywriter, photographer and college educator. Visit me at

Posted on November 5, 2007, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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