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.
Why Can't We Receive?
There are many reasons why we don't fully receive gifts, favors, and compliments—ranging from feelings of guilt or insecurity ("I don't deserve it") to entitlement ("I have it coming to me, so what's the big deal?") to the fear that we don't have the wherewithal to reciprocate, or the sneaking suspicion that the gift has hidden strings.
Another reason why we don't receive help is because on a subconscious level, it can make us feel inferior to the giver. Our culture tells us that the one who gives is in the power position, while the one who receives is making a tacit confession of neediness. Even when we're truly in need, our ego will often resist the discomfort of receiving.
One of our biggest problems with receiving has to do with the holes in our bucket. If you try to hold water in a container with a hole in it, the water will leak. In the same way, when you feel chronically needy, or deprived, or when you're careless about taking care of what you have, it can be hard either to hold onto or to feel happy in the gifts you are being given. We might want desperately to feel loved, or offered a thoughtful gift, or lent a helping hand, but the love and help that comes our way never feels like enough love, or the right kind of love. Someone praises us for being smart and we wonder why they don't appreciate our good looks. Your lover gives you a book and you wonder why he didn't realize that you wanted a sweater.
So, what can we do to become better receivers? There are a few core practices that can help you fully receive, take in, and assimilate whatever gifts your loved ones—and the universe—are offering to you.
1) Cultivate presence. When you're feeling rushed, distracted, or preoccupied, you are much less capable of fully receiving a gift. So when someone offers you something—a kind word, a present, a favor—begin by noticing your state of mind. If you're feeling distracted, resistant, or disconnected from them, try a yogic practice for bringing your energies into the present moment: take a deep breath and notice where it lands in your body, then feel the inner sensations of the breath meeting your inner body.
Another practice for cultivating presence is to the work with these Five Recognitions of Perfection. It's very simple. You say to yourself:
This is the perfect time. Right now.
This is the perfect place. Right here.
This is the perfect person.
What they are giving me is the perfect gift.
I am the perfect person to receive it.
The first three thoughts will help you enter the moment. The last two will help you create an internal environment that will help you hold the gift with appreciation.
2) Let go of judgment or expectation. Often, when someone offers us a gift, our mind judges, evaluates, and summarily approves or rejects it even before we've taken it in. This is what Indra did with the garland. It's what my friend Ellen did recently when her boyfriend, on her birthday, came over and washed all the dishes in her sink. To him, it was a loving offering. Her reaction was, "Thanks, and you should be doing this every time I cook for you instead of always letting me cook and wash dishes." To which he replied, "I would, but you're so compulsive about having the dishes clean five minutes after the meal that you don't give me a chance." And then they were off on an argument that lasted for half an hour.