When to Give and When Not to Give

by Dr Angel Adams and Dr Patricia Papciak

“To keep a lamp burning, we have to put oil in it.”
-Mother Teresa

Burning oil lamp

What does generosity mean to you? We all love someone who is a generous person and are repelled by someone who is selfish or stingy. Often a person’s giving nature has little to do with anything of material value but more to do with their attitude and generosity of spirit. We feel the generosity of others when they come to us with a relaxed presence. Their facial expressions and body language make us feel valued and comfortable just being with them. When they speak, there is a gentle quality that relaxes the psychological barriers between people. It is easy to be around this kind of person, easy to open up and we often desire to be more like them.

Having been on a recent trip to Thailand, I learned that Theravada Buddhism is the predominant spiritual following in this country. Theravada Buddhism upholds the ideals of compassion, acts of mercy, kindness, and the cultivation of generosity through constructive actions for the benefit of others. I had the pleasure of being around many people who were generous, had beautiful smiles, and when they caught your eye, they bowed with hands in the praying position at their heart. This reminded me of the ancient blessing Namaste. The gesture is an acknowledgement of the other and Namaste literally means “I bow to the soul or divine in you.” Thich Nhat Hahn says it means, “I bow to the Buddha in you”. The gesture is a symbol of gratitude and respect toward others and demonstrates that we wish to live from the heart.

Generosity is expressed in many ways and arrives in all shapes and sizes. We commonly think of a financial gift as a way we can express our generosity, but we can also be generous with our time by giving it to help others. We can be generous with our enthusiasm, our experiences, and our expertise. We can be generous by being open minded when we listen to another’s perspective, and make them feel respected and understood. We can give them our ear for comfort. We can give them our presence and laughter for companionship. We can give them our love for their well-being. This generosity of spirit is an outlook that benefits ourselves, but also benefits our family, our friends, and even the man selling the “Big Issue” on the street or the waitress in the café.

“You might be thinking that you are already overwhelmed, burnt out and there are too many people that take from you already, and you don’t have the time or energy to give any more”

At Stanford University School of Medicine there exists the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Their mission is to “Undertake a rigorous study of neural, mental and social bases of compassion and altruistic behaviour and to explore ways in which compassion and altruism can be cultivated within an individual as well as within society. We desire to empower people to live richer, more meaningful lives characterized by generosity of thought and action—in essence to lead compassionate lives”.

Allan Luks, a researcher and the author The Healing Power of Doing Good, studied 3,000 people and coined the term: “Helpers High,” a phenomenon resulting from giving to others on a regular basis which results in sensations of warmth, greater energy and a euphoric feeling; and has long term effects such as increased self worth and reduced signs of stress. Let this be our new way of living, we’ll be smiling a lot more. Wouldn’t it be a miraculous and an earth-changing occurrence if people gave up substance abuse and got high on cultivating generosity.

A sunflower

We all know the saying, “it is better to give than receive”, which has become a Christmas cliché, and then usually forgotten for the rest of the year. The original phrase came from The Kings James bible verse, where the Apostle Paul states: It is more blessed to give than to receive. If we really look deeper at the word blessed, we might interpret this as meaning that we are blessed when we give. This can provide a valuable insight into the human condition and a principle to live by throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

You might be thinking that you are already overwhelmed, burnt out and there are so many people that take from you already, that you have no more time or energy to give any more. Maybe you don’t feel appreciated or that others take advantage of your giving. So what is going on here given the facts that were just stated above about how generosity has uplifting, joyous and transforming effects?

You may need to look deeper at your motives for giving. Have you been giving out of habit or for the wrong reasons? Perhaps your giving is to please others (including your children) so they will like you? Perhaps you give because you are anxious, insecure, or lack confidence? This is mindless giving, not mindful giving. Mindless giving is not based on generosity but based on self-doubt and fear. In order to feel the joy that arises from the spirit of true giving, you must give from that inner place, the divine, the Buddha if you will.

Dr Jon Kabat Zinn states that generosity is an inward giving, a feeling state, an inner state of willingness to share your own being with the world in which you trust and honour your instincts. You can be generous by being joyful and bringing that ever-needed sense of your undivided attention and presence into your relationships.

Perhaps you need to give less. Perhaps you need to give in a different way to different people, and perhaps most of all you need to give to yourself first for a while. A person who feels that they have no more to give has not been sustained within himself or herself. One must be replenished on a regular basis in order to feel fulfilled internally and capable of sharing that generous spirit with others.


© (CC) “Un Flower” by nateOne

Parents who have a child with special needs know how much it can be draining, as it feels like you are always on, always giving, always working towards improving the situation. More then ever, you need rest, rejuvenation and renewal on a daily basis. It is only by caring for yourself and being generous to yourself that you will feel like you are giving to your family and others from a place of abundance rather than a place of deprivation. Developing a magnanimous spirit will calm your doubts and fears and give you the strength to be generous with others. It will allow you to forgive others when they don’t act fairly, behave unkindly, or are down right rude. So what can you do to help yourself develop that spirit of generosity?

Tips for Making Yourself a Priority!

  1. Get in contact with your friends. Be proactive. Don’t wait around. Plan a lunch or a walking date at least once a week.
  2. Call on that someone you feel safe to talk to, to share not only what you are going through, but brain storm solutions to get out of that sense of depletion. Stay connected to family and talk on the phone regularly with people who make you feel good about you! A true friend is one who helps you to be your most noble self.
  3. Read inspirational books or listen to tapes. Dr Mercola’s website is great for a boost and this link gives an overview of the EFT, (a tapping exercise). You can do this when you feel depleted.
  4. Make time to sew, draw, paint, write in a journal, and do crafts, not with your eyes set on an end result so much as the creative flow you feel in the process.
  5. Go outdoors every day for at least 30 minutes. Exercise is one of the most important things you can do. Walk, hike, run, and dance whenever possible. Look around at the great beauty that surrounds you, and really take it inside so it is there when you need it.
  6. Practice meditation to get in touch with your true self. Even if you just become aware of your breathing, this will help you see how precious the present moment is, instead of regretting the past or worrying about the future.
  7. Delegate to others. Let others love you, help you, and support you.

Self-nurturing, or generosity to yourself, is not selfish, irresponsible, or lazy. It is healthy, relaxing, and essential. It is the key to rejuvenation and it is soul reviving. You need to be healthy, fit, and a role model to your child. Self-nurturing prevents further stress. Your child will see you, their parent as strong, loving, healthy, supportive and resilient. They need to see their parent who can deal well with stress. They need to see their parent as their rock and one who has strong values. They will see you as their best role model even when life is not perfect and you are not at your best. This is being generous. This development of your own spirit is what will allow you to be generous with others. Rather than exhausting your resources, you need to start replenishing; such is the power of yourself by giving to you first.

We end this article with an inspirational thought from animal lore, which is that the buffalo is considered to be a symbol of abundance. This wonderful semi-prehistoric looking creature still roams wild in some places. This photo was photographed on Catalina Island by my husband off the west coast of California. The buffalo still roam wild on the island. In the summer they hide from the guests and tourists that visit the island, but in the winter they can be seen grazing casually by the shore.

Buffalo by a lake

Copyright George Papciak 2010

The buffalo was a sacred animal to the American Indians, but also a source of sustenance and plenty. American Indian tribes were great at recycling and used the skins of these animals to create clothing, some tools and the teepees they lived in. They also used the buffalo for meat. They ate the meat both fresh and dried in times of need. The buffalo was often referred to as a Great Spirit and honoured for all it represented in the livelihood of the native people of America.

Today the buffalo is still honoured as a symbol of abundance. Steven Farmer writes in his book discussing the Power Animal Oracle Cards, that “. . . you will always have enough, so give away any surplus willingly and enthusiastically. Whenever you do give something away, do so out of love, from your heart, rather than from a sense of martyrdom or to gain others’ approval. . . In this way you will experience a deep satisfaction and heartfelt sense of connectedness to others in your family and community, and quite naturally feel immensely grateful for all that life gives to you.”

You don’t have to be everything to everyone to feel like you are enough. You are whole and divine just the way you are with your strengths and your imperfections. Keep learning to fill your well to overflowing, fuel your lamp so your light can shine, and be enough for yourself. Then you can give from that place of abundance and fullness, instead of running on empty.

This article is inspired and dedicated to my mother, Ellen Adams, who has lived her entire life in the true essence of magnanimity.

If this article has been helpful to you, or if you wish to share your own insights on generosity, please post a comment below:

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