Receive Generosity

Do you accept the gift?
The Practice:
Receive generosity.
Why?

Life gives to each one of us in so many ways.

For starters, there’s the bounty of the senses – including chocolate chip cookies, jasmine, sunsets, wind singing through pine trees, and just getting your back scratched.

What does life give you?

Consider the kindness of friends and family, made more tangible during a holiday season, but of course continuing throughout the year.

Or the giving of the people whose hard work is bound up in a single cup of coffee. Or all those people in days past who figured out how to make a stone ax – or a fire, edible grain, loom, vaccine, or computer. Or wrote plays and novels, made art or music. Developed mathematics and science, paths of psychological growth, and profound spiritual practices. A few people whose names you know, and tens of thousands – millions, really – whom you will never know: each day their contributions feed, clothe, transport, entertain, inspire, and heal us.

Consider the giving of the natural world, the sound of rain, sweep of sky and stars, and majesty of mountains. How does nature feed you?

How about your DNA? The moment of your conception presented you with the build-out instructions for becoming a human being, the hard-won fruits of 3.5 billion years of evolution.

You don’t earn these things. You can’t. They are just given.

The best you can do is to receive them. [Read more...]

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

What’s the most important thing?
The Practice:
Keep your eyes on the prize.
Why?

Have you heard this saying?

The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.

What are the most important things to you? In your life as a whole? During a particular interaction with someone? Right this minute?

The most important things often get pushed to the sidelines. Urgent crowds out important. Modern life is full of distracting clamor, from text messages and emails to window displays in the mall. Other people tug at you with their priorities – which may not be your own. And it can feel scary to admit what really matters to you, tell others, and go after it for real: the fearful voices whisper in the back of the mind: What if you fail?

But if you don’t make a sanctuary for what is important, it will get overrun by the bermuda grass of B and C priorities.

How?

Know your purpose in life. Write it down in one word, phrase, or sentence. Really. The first time someone suggested I do this, I thought they were a little nuts. But then I opened up to a kind of knowing of what matters most to me, and wrote it down. It’s OK if it changes, or if you don’t get the words just right at first. You can revise it later. Put it in positive terms and in the present tense; for example, “I am loving” is better than “I will stop getting so angry with people.” Say it out loud and see how it feels. Find words you connect with.

Keep your purpose close to your heart; it may feel sacred. If you speak of it, do so with self-respect, not self-doubt. And then every day, as soon as you remember, recommit to your life’s purpose: rename it to yourself and give yourself over to it again.

Clarify your priorities. Identify the key aims of your life these days in a word or phrase, such as: Health. Friendship. Finances. Learning new things. Career. Marriage. Spirituality. Having fun. Parenting. Creative expression. Exploring life. Service. Maybe break up one aim into two or three; for example, “finances” could become “breaking even,” “saving for retirement,” and “becoming affluent, even wealthy.”

Then do a little exercise as an experiment: rank these aims in order of importance, with no ties allowed. If you could attain only one aim, which would it be? That’s your highest priority. [Read more...]

Give No One Cause to Fear You

What puts people at ease?
The Practice:
Give no one cause to fear you.
Why?

We evolved to be afraid.

The ancient ancestors that were casual and blithely hopeful, underestimating the risks around them – predators, loss of food, aggression from others of their kind – did not pass on their genes. But the ones that were nervous were very successful – and we are their great-grandchildren, sitting atop the food chain.

Consequently, multiple hair-trigger systems in your brain continually scan for threats. At the least whiff of danger – which these days comes mainly in the form of social hazards like indifference, criticism, rejection, or disrespect – alarm bells start ringing. See a frown across a dinner table, hear a cold tone from a supervisor, get interrupted repeatedly, receive an indifferent shrug from a partner, watch your teenager turn her back and walk away . . . and your heart starts beating faster, stress hormones course through your veins, emotions well up, thoughts race, and the machinery of fighting, fleeing, freezing, or appeasing kicks into high gear.

The same thing happens in the other direction: when you send out any signal that others find even subtly threatening, their inner iguana gets going. That makes them suffer. Plus it prompts negative reactions from them, such as defensiveness, withdrawal, counter-attacks, grudges, dislike, or enlisting their allies against you.

Thus the kindness and the practical wisdom in the traditional saying, “Give no one cause to fear you.”

You can – and should – be direct, firm, and assertive. Without needing to fear you, others should expect that if they break their agreements with you or otherwise mistreat you, there will be consequences: you reserve the right to speak up, call a spade a spade, step back in the relationship if need be, take away the privileges of a misbehaving child or the job of a dishonest employee, and so on. But this is simply clarity. Rocks are hard; you don’t need to fear rocks to take their hardness into account: I know this as an aging rock climber!

Much of the time the fear – the anxiety, apprehension, unease – we trigger in others is mild, diffuse, in the background, maybe not even consciously experienced. But studies show that people can feel threatened by stimuli they’re not actually aware of. [Read more...]