At one moment last year I was feeling very low and always attacked by constant anxiety and insecurity. (These, you will see, are my most well-known enemies. I am an expert in anxiety and insecurity, let me tell you.) I was very unhappy with myself in many ways (they are not important) and I was having trouble stopping myself from getting stuck in a dark hole where all I could see was My problems with Myself.
One day when I was very fed up, I decided to give myself a rule: that every day I would find something nice, that I could do for someone else, or some small way that I could give somebody a gift.
I was tired of thinking about Myself, and worrying about Myself, and feeling bad about Myself. All my problems that I could see, were the result of being too self-centred. I wanted to think about others instead, and instead of keeping my mind busy with my troubles with myself, to think about what I could do to help other people.
This made quite an extraordinary difference in my life when I began to follow it as a rule. Generosity is a powerful thing, and as I have surely mentioned before, it often benefits even more the giver than it does the receiver.
Here is what I noticed in particular about generosity:
When I do something out of generosity rather than out of obligation, I never have to fight the slightest hint of unhappiness, laziness or resentment. An act of generosity cannot be a JOB, it cannot be WORK. Work and generosity are like oil and water, they don’t mix. When I do an act out of generosity it turns that task, whatever it is, into a true joy and removes all heaviness from it.
When I act out of generosity, the quality of my action is different compared to when I act out of obligation. When I do something because “it has to be done” or I feel obliged to do it, often I don’t pay it the same attention; I do it, but I am inclined to want to just Get it Over-with. When I do something out of generosity, as a gift, I want every detail to be as well-done as possible, and I am never tempted to cut corners or compromise on the quality of what I do for the sake of Getting It Over-with faster.
It’s surprisingly rare and difficult to perform an act of pure generosity, and although I always thought I was quite a generous person, most of my acts of generosity throughout my early life always had some selfishness mixed in. I always have been free and generous with my family, for example, but in that case I give to something, someone, that I consider mine, my own, an extension of myself. If they are hurt it is like hurting me. If they benefit I benefit too. I did give also to others to whom I had less of a connection, but to them I gave less, compared to my family. True and pure generosity would be to really give where there is no connection, no attachment, nothing of ME to benefit – but to remove from myself, only out of the joy of giving.
True generosity also means I don’t mind what the other person thinks of my effort on their behalf. I do my best, and if they don’t like or don’t want the food I made, or are not happy with whatever task I do or whatever I make for them, so be it, I am not offended. An act of true generosity has no strings attached, and is not concerned about results. I don’t do it to be thanked, or to receive a “well done” or “bravo” – then it would not be a gift, but an exchange, a barter for something I want.
If I am looking for something in return from the person to whom I address my generosity, even if it is just their appreciation, then my generosity is not really pure but has some little selfishness mixed into it. (That doesn’t mean it’s bad; it is still much better than not giving at all.)
In many tiny ways, generosity along with general care and consideration for one another is woven into the fabric of our lives in this community. It is probably most obvious when it comes to meals: we have habits of giving and sharing, such as that anyone who goes to take seconds at the table should always offer some to others first; even when pouring themselves water or tea most people will offer it to others at the table before pouring it for themselves. Whenever we have any item of food that is in some way special or limited in quantity, it goes without saying that we will keep enough aside so that everyone gets a chance to take some, and in general we try to think of the others, to help one another as best we can and to give and share freely of what we have.
This is so normal to me now that I forget that many people, perhaps most people, do not have this habit, and I am surprised when I see that most people who come to stay with us are not like us, and will usually go and get their own things without thinking of sharing anything with others.
I realise how wonderful it is to be in a community full of people who care for one another in such a way, and that I am fortunate. The main point I want to make, though, is not that it is good to have such people around oneself – although that is indeed wonderful – but that generosity is most powerful for the one who practices it.
Adding just one act of generosity into each one of my days was one of the best medicines I found for my general dis-ease. Later I started attempting to re-make every single act I did into an act of generosity for somebody; even if it was just a “job” I thought about who would benefit from it, and some way that the act, instead of being a Job, could be a gift for somebody. I wanted (and still I want) the main material work of my life to consist of giving gifts to good people, and I recommend generosity more than anything else as the best medicine for almost all forms of anxiety and depression.