“That was a great class, Claire”, a student remarks. Do I accept the compliment, or do I brush it aside? I have a good friend who regularly reminds me to receive and accept compliments. When a positive remark vaporizes without grace she pulls me up, “Let’s try that again, shall we?” Practising the art of receiving a gift, whether material or otherwise, enriches our life and fosters grace. To live in harmony we must balance both the giving and receiving, as like yin and yang they go together, and happen in relationship to each other. I give to you, you receive. You give to me, I receive.
We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give
~ Winston S. Churchill
I’m prompted to delve into the subject of giving and receiving as…. it’s Christmas! Our big annual shindig of ritualised giving and receiving. Personally, Christmas is a challenging time as I struggle with societal and family expectations, and the insane mass consumption that drives it. Is Christmas a sacred time of giving and receiving for you? Do you look forward to it, or does it fill you with fear and trepidation? It is a complex time for all of us, and worth pondering on, but for the point of this article I’m taking Christmas out of the equation.
To the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower,
the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.
~ Kahlil Gibran
Let’s look through yogic eyes at the art and heart of giving and receiving.
To live in tune with the natural ebb and flow of life is to foster effortless giving and receiving; to be a vessel for the dynamic exchange of energy circulating around and through us. This life energy is freely available and unlimited. To receive it requires opening your hands and heart with faith, trust and humility. Faith that you don’t need to stockpile. Trust that you can safely open to receive and give. Humility to accept that you are not in control of the big picture, and that the big picture is way bigger than you.
Give without expectation and receive with reckless abandon.
~ Colleen Mariotti
To give freely is to give without expectation or agenda. With an open, steady, full heart. When your needs are met and your cup is full, a gift does not deplete you, nor take anything from you. But if you give out of obligation or duty, always putting your needs behind others, then your cup will feel empty and lacking. You will give with an agenda and have expectations that the receiver will be obliged to reciprocate. We all know people with a tendency towards martyrdom. The irony is that their bitterness and controlling expectations actively pushes others away. Result? Sadly, their cup is never filled.
And receiving? Most of us are well schooled in the merits of giving, but perhaps not so familiar with the art of receiving? I’m talking about truly, deeply receiving. There are of course times when it is wise and appropriate to graciously decline gifts; for example when you perceive a hidden agenda, or it feels like a bribe or manipulation. When I contemplate my own discomfort with the gift of a compliment, I am drawn to look more deeply into the reasons behind refusal and inability to receive. What lies behind refusal? Are you embarrassed? Perhaps you feel to accept a gift means you are weak, or if you accept you are then indebted to the giver? Does it make you feel vulnerable or exposed? Does it challenge your sense of control?
We can practise accepting gifts. We can work towards letting the gift, the offering, land right in the heart of us, and feel its gooey, mushy, loving generosity. Staying present and grounded as we receive. To receive with love and fullness is a deep honouring of the giver. The more we can receive with love, the more we will give with love.
Each of us is a lake of love, yet strangely enough, we are all thirsty.
~ Swami Kripalu
We can do a simple health check on our individual giving and receiving fluidity by observing our breath. Each breath is a natural act of giving and receiving. For our lungs to function fully, nourishing every cell of the body, we must be open to receive the in breath, and then relaxed to allow the out breath to release. No pushing, no pulling, no holding, no constriction. Take a moment to observe your breath right now. Listen to the flow of your breath and identify if you are more comfortable with the in or the out? Is one half longer? Which one flows more naturally? Which half has more ease? If there is tension in the in breath then perhaps receiving is more challenging for you? Or the opposite. If there is less ease in the out breath then perhaps giving is challenging? Gently reflect on your findings. If you are comfortable, perhaps ponder a little on the nature-nurture origins of your observations. What are your family messages around giving and receiving? We have plenty? We don’t have enough? Don’t be greedy? Don’t ask for what you need? Take whatever you can? Put other’s needs first?… And what life experiences have shaped your attitudes around giving and receiving?
You can work with the breath to help cultivate your ability to give and receive. Effortless breath equals effortless giving and receiving. Sitting or lying quietly, observe the breath, and gently feel into any resistance. Soften and relax, and invite the breath to be more natural and without control. Listen for any subtle struggle within the breath, and give that struggle some loving and compassionate attention. Then when the breath is more relaxed, you can begin to practise lengthening and deepening both the in and the out, or choose to work with the half that you find challenging.
All yoga practices work with our ability to give and receive. Yoga is a gift, yoga is receiving. Its whole purpose is to bring us into alignment with our true nature. When we live in our true nature we are in tune with the natural order of things, the abundant flow. When we hold on physically, mentally, or emotionally, it causes blockages and stagnation. When we are reckless with our energies, unaware of boundaries, we leave ourselves vulnerable, wide open and groundless. When we obstruct the natural flow of life, we can’t feel, hear, see, taste, or smell what we need or don’t need, what is the right action to take, and most importantly how to give and receive love.
Giving yourself some loving attention
is not selfish. It is sensible.
~ Penelope Quest
If you feel loved and cherished,
even if it is only by yourself,
then you will have more love
to give to others, too.