But if the gift is appropriate—and genuine—then the question becomes, "Can you take it in?" Because, of course, it doesn't matter how many favors and gifts you receive from other people and the universe. What really matters is how much you can receive and assimilate. Think about it: when your digestive system won't assimilate food, you don't receive nourishment, no matter how much you eat or how many supplements you take. In the same way, when you can't or won't receive the love and support that a real gift represents, you never quite feel nourished by life.

And, there's an obvious corollary: if you can't fully receive the ways that other people give you love and support, you'll probably have a hard time receiving the subtle help that is being offered to you from the cosmos itself.

The Failed Exchange
An extreme example of the consequences of not receiving a gift is described in the Puranas, the sacred mythological texts of India. Durvasa, a particularly irascible sage, finds a garland that he recognizes as the material embodiment of auspiciousness itself. But when he offers it to Indra, the king of the gods, Indra takes the garland carelessly and flings it over the head of his elephant. Durvasa is so insulted by Indra's inability to take in [receive?] the offering that he declares that from henceforth, good fortune will depart from Indra's worlds. And, voila, his worlds turn dim and grey. Things come out all right in the end, of course, but not without some superhuman effort on the part of gods and titans.

Durvasa isn't just being touchy: his reaction points to a truth about the way the cosmos works. When we aren't able to receive a genuine and heartfelt gift, we subtly upset the balance of the cosmos. One of the core Vedic understandings about life is that it is based on exchange—the dynamic interaction of giving and receiving. In the Bhagavad Gita (a classic yogic text), the interdependence between human beings, the natural world, and the invisible world of spirit is captured in the image of the cosmic sacrifice. In the sacrifice, the earth receives the rain, and crops grow. Moisture evaporates from the earth and is received by the atmosphere. Similarly, as humans, we receive gifts of food, shelter, knowledge, and all sorts of other forms of support from the earth, from our parents and ancestors, from the accumulated wisdom and technology of our culture, and from our fellow humans. We carry these gifts in our genes, and they carry unspoken obligations—most often through all the ways we "pay it forward," helping others materially, energetically, or by sharing our own gifts, skills, and support.

But if others don't receive our offerings, there's no true exchange. That means we can't give our gifts, or, on a deeper level, repay our implicit obligations. Any teacher knows that without a receptive student, she can't really teach. A friend can't share intimacy with you if you're not able to be present for it. Even a philanthropist needs an appropriate receiver for his wealth. Whatever gift you want to give is essentially fruitless—like a seed that doesn't germinate and sprout—when it's not fully received, and you can sense that, even on a very subtle level. You might wonder if there was something wrong with the gift. You might feel frustrated or hurt, like my friend Dylan when I "rejected" his compliment. If you're energetically sensitive, you will feel the person's hesitancy or resistance to receiving as a subtle wall, a literal block in the flow between you and that person.