I offer this story in the hope that generosity begins to take hold, one small act at a time, during this era of questioning and searching in our worldwide economic crisis.
No matter what one thinks of the new age lexicon that has made beautiful, simple concepts like abundance, gratitude, and prosperity into the war cry of the entitled, the fact is that there are two types of people in the world: those who are genuinely grateful for what they have and those who haven’t a clue about gratitude. And if we take just a moment to reflect on our own experience, we might be surprised to see how closely our attitudes and our circumstances line up. A recent experience illustrates.
In my work as a Spiritual Companion, I meet people from many walks of life. I listen to many and some folks come to me for readings. Most want advice about how to negotiate issues that threaten their security—financial livelihood, relationships and health.
A new client—I’ll call her Jane—recently contacted me for a reading. She described her situation as urgent and I agreed to see her on short notice. A beautiful, intelligent and articulate woman, her issue revolved around her job, a temporary position that had already run half its course. Although she worked in an exciting and challenging field, she complained of being unhappy, unheard and disrespected in her work. She also expressed concern about her precarious financial situation.
We discussed her fear about even being able to pay for my services. Regarding the lovely, sweet and capable figure before me, I saw no reason to worry about being paid, however. I told her that for now I would accept whatever payment she could afford. She agreed and we scheduled a reading for the next day.
We spent an hour and a half together, and afterwards Jane asked me if she could pay me the next day, which happened to be payday for her. I agreed and she went on her way. The following day arrived, and although she stopped by for a cup of tea, no payment was forthcoming.
I did, however, receive a check later that day. Another client, Sandra (also a pseudonym), a successful business woman, had sent me approximately the same amount as my normal fee for a reading. In a lovely note, she stated that there was no reason for the payment; she simply wanted to express her gratitude.
I couldn’t help notice the juxtaposition between the attitudes of Jane and Sandra.
Now I’m not going to use a magical New Age argument about causation that has me gazing into my crystal ball to determine the monetary flow around my business arrangements. I would like, however, to point out a number of observations
In the trio of players in my story, Jane has not yet discovered the secrets of generosity. Sandra has mastered them. I have lately noticed my own financial steamship turning in a positive direction while working with these principles.
In the Buddhist tradition that I follow, Greed–the idea that I cling to what I have or chase external things to make me happy—is a form of negative thinking that leads to suffering. Along with Anger, it is one of the most pressing problems of our times. Although the newspapers report daily on the greed of a few at the top of the financial food chain, when we truly examine our motives we can see that we all suffer from clinging and chasing behavior. In fact, since the economic downtown, every one of us can understand suffering from the kind of unhappiness that has us holding tightly to what we have. The economists even measure it in an index and report it on morning radio news programs.
What to do? Should we try harder to maintain our secure status in the world of work, real estate, retirement accounts? Should we spend less money in an attempt to protect our comfortable lifestyles? And what about the poor souls who have already lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings?
The answer we seek is simple, even while it rubs against the grain of everything we have practiced, everything we hear, and everything we have been enculturated to believe. The answer is to practice Faith.
By faith I mean, not religious blind faith, but rather faith in our own good thinking. This is faith in the innate human ability to program one’s actions with intentions that are basically good. While this is not something most of us were taught, economic times are ripe to try something as new and radical as this ancient Eastern idea.
Now, before you begin the rationalist eye roll and toss my argument into the dumpster labeled “Tired New Age Thought,” think this through: reacting to a perception of lack in one’s life, focusing on it, nurturing it, coddling it, surely keeps it alive. Our focused attention is essentially the computer program that runs this machine called the human body. Focusing on more positive thoughts of abundance, generosity and prosperity, consciously or unconsciously programs our thoughts to encourage prosperity-producing actions.
Back to my example above: who are the winners and losers in my story?
For myself, I performed an act of generosity when I offered Jane the reading, knowing that she has limited funds. I also exercised faith in my ability to make a living while occasionally offering my services gratis to those in need. Indeed, the money for my time and effort arrived from an unknown source. It took a second act of generosity to apply those funds to a person in need.
For Sandra, who has been working with these principles for some time, she has come to realize that when she feels gratitude and performs generosity, she consistently makes choices that bring her the financial success that she needs.
Put another way by the Tibetan teacher Tulku Lama Lobsang on a recent visit to Portland, “Thinking ‘give’ makes you happy because when you say it, you feel that you have it. Likewise, if I think ‘take’, it’s because I don’t have it.”
That’s how it feels. And how it feels is exactly how we program our unconscious.
Our third person, Jane, has unfortunately found herself in a difficult spiral. Unable to honor her agreement to pay me whatever she could afford for my services, there naturally occurred a rift or coolness in our acquaintance. No longer trusting her as a person who keeps her agreements, I am not inclined to offer her further services at this time. Instead, generously offering whatever was in her means, even if just a dollar, would have built good will between us. I would have had the chance to share with her the little miracle of the unknown benefactress who had paid her way. This could have further added to her faith that when we intend to help others, people naturally step in to contribute. Unable to see and understand the suffering that her own greed causes, she has missed an opportunity to step one foot out of a dire financial predicament. Luckily life will offer her many more opportunities.