Bringing awareness to the art of giving and receiving can enrich both our own souls and those of others
I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage that it is more blessed to give than to receive, right? And while it certainly feels good to give, there is no joy in the giving unless there is a gracious receiver on the other end. Both giving and receiving, if done with love and joy and openness, can act as a salve to soothe a tired soul. So if you want your life to really flow and be easy, it’s best to learn how to do both graciously and happily.
Most of us have had our receiving wings clipped at an early age, especially women.
And we’ve been conditioned to go overboard in the giving department. We need balance here because without it, we are constantly stressed and drained.
Let’s just take the holiday season as an example. Holiday gift giving has become such a burden that we quite naturally associate the holidays with stress. This is ridiculous. The time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s should be characterized by taking stock of the past year and enjoying the real meaning of the holidays. Instead it has become an “Are you ready for Christmas?” frenzy. When I was working at the hospital, I used to have recurrent nightmares about having to go up to a store that’s open 24/7 to get my daughters their Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. During those days I over-gave gifts at Christmas because I felt guilty about spending so much time at work. Not exactly a balance between giving and receiving.
Now that we’re all adults, we’ve consciously curtailed obligatory holiday gift giving to relieve stress. And the relief is palpable. We focus on getting together, preparing meals, enjoying each other’s company, and choosing one gift for a Yankee swap. Always fun. It’s all about giving in a way that doesn’t cause stress and receiving the love of others.
You can make your life easier and create your own heaven on earth right here, right now, by learning how to balance giving and receiving. You can give and receive in a whole new way — a way that honors and values Self and protects you from those who take more than they give.
The Power of Giving
Let’s start our discussion with the power of giving, because few things in life are more satisfying than being able to give freely and from a full heart. This type of giving truly brings heaven to earth for everyone around you. And I’m not just talking about giving materially. Giving the gift of your time and your attention can be invaluable — to children, to animals, to other people. When my daughter had her first baby this past year, she was absolutely astounded by the graciousness of her friends who set up a meal train for her. She and her husband enjoyed a steady stream of homemade food left on their doorstep every day for several months. And those of us who made meals loved doing so. Giving of your time and attention to those in need — or just to give — feels fantastic when you do it healthfully.
I love hosting a good party to celebrate a milestone achievement or a birthday. And I have a particular knack for doing this in a way that brings people together. It’s what Alexandra Stoddard, the author of Living a Beautiful Life, calls a “free space” — meaning some skill or gift you have that is effortless and comes naturally. When we give from our “free spaces” it costs us nothing. It energizes us. We are giving from a full cup.
Gifts of your time and attention that are obligations and duties, on the other hand, drain you. We are often made to feel guilty when we don’t have the time or energy to volunteer or give our time and attention to a “worthy” cause. But our giving needs to include us. We need to give ourselves the resources to feel whole and replenished. Otherwise the well will eventually run dry. And we’ll end up feeling resentment. And perhaps become bitter.
To give healthfully, you need to truly get in touch with yourself.
Often we say yes to a request when we should say no because we don’t want to face the consequences of saying no. We’re worried that saying no will let someone down when we want to please them. Or perhaps we undervalue our time and energy and put the needs of others ahead of our own. Or we’re worried that others will think we’re selfish if we don’t say yes. Or perhaps we just forget that our needs actually do matter — and they matter just as much as the needs of the other person.
But we all have to say no sometimes if we are going to keep ourselves healthy. To do this, we have to set benign boundaries in our giving and then stop when we reach those boundaries. You can do this graciously by saying, “Thank you so much for asking me, but I must say no to your request at this time.” You also don’t owe anyone a long explanation. Just say, “I simply can’t.” As Dr. Mario Martinez explains, “A benign boundary is reached when you can calibrate between resentment (you did too much) and guilt (you did not do enough). This embodied middle way allows you to take care of yourself without ignoring the needs of others. It’s an action of what the Tibetan Buddhists call inclusive compassion: you are included in the compassionate act.” What a brilliant solution!
Healthy Giving Process
When you’ve been asked to give something — whether a material gift, money, a service, or your time — go through this process to make sure that you are giving from a healthy place.
The first thing to do is notice your very first reaction when you were asked to give. If your gut gives a clear heck yes!, then, by all means, give! Similarly, if your gut gives you a clear heck no!, then steer clear. If the answer doesn’t come immediately, however, you have to ask yourself some additional questions. In that case, simply say, “I’ll get back to you. I have to think about it.”
With uncertainty come questions. How does giving the gift make you feel? Does it fill you up in some way? Does it feel like an obligation? Why are you tempted to say yes? Why are you tempted to say no? When you think of giving the gift, do you feel tired and drained?
The important thing about all these questions is to see how the giving of the gift will really affect you.
Are the negatives associated with giving it greater than the positives? And remember to think in the long term here. It’s not simply about giving in this one instance. Constantly choosing the good of someone else over yourself will lead to poor health, which will be worse for everyone in the end. Honestly, unless you get that heck yes! in the beginning, the chances are pretty good that you should say no. Not always, but most of the time. Your gut knows what you need, and often the uncertainty you feel comes from your intellect butting in too quickly.
The Dark Side of Giving
While giving can be an amazing experience, there is also a dark side to it. Giving, in Western culture, is often where we place power. We get a lot of credit for giving, and so when we give on a regular basis, we can begin to look at ourselves as more important than those we give to. We can see this in families with a great deal of money.
The patriarch or matriarch holds all the power, and their children — and often their children’s children — are at their mercy. The children give away their power in hopes of one day receiving an inheritance. There are too many stories of fully capable adults who have remained in limbo throughout their lives, never developing their gifts and talents because they are simply waiting for wealth. But even after their death, the person who had the means to give holds power. Through a will, they still decide who gets what and how much.
When I was doing some financial planning a few years back, I read the book Beyond the Grave by Gerald and Jeffrey Condon. The stories of what happens in families around inheritance were both eye-opening and downright tragic. Solid, well-educated families split apart when one sibling got more than the other, whether that meant the care of the family dog or Mother’s engagement ring. I knew a woman who was utterly devastated by the fact that her sister got more of her deceased mother’s jewelry than she did — despite the fact that they both inherited a fortune!
So remember, the giver tends to be in the power position. If you are on the receiving end, it’s important to keep your power intact.
Don’t give yourself away in order to receive. And if you are always the giver, it’s important to remember that giving should not be a way to control people. It should be done with an open heart in order to spread joy and prosperity to all parties.
You Were Born to Receive
As you can see, giving can lift you up energetically as long as you do it healthfully. Receiving is the same. Sadly, many of us don’t know how to receive, even though we were fully dependent on it from the time we were growing in our mother’s womb, receiving nourishing blood from the placenta through the umbilical cord. When we were born, that cord kept sending us oxygen as we made the massive changes necessary in our lungs and heart to breathe on our own. After that, we received nourishment and comfort from our mother’s body, which acted as an external placenta.
We could live only if we received. For many of us, this ability has been lost. Knowing how to receive fully and joyfully must be consciously remembered in adulthood.
But receiving graciously works in every area of your life, energetically speaking. Let’s look at a physical example of this: Tighten your left fist as hard as you can. Tighten it until you can see the whitening of your knuckles from lack of circulation. Hold for the count of 10. As hard as you can. Now open your hand — palm up — and feel the circulation returning. Feels good, right? Your hand is now in the receiving mode. It’s receiving oxygen, glucose, immune cells, electrolytes, and everything else that is carried in the blood. That is the power of receiving.
While this was a physical example, the same good feeling comes when you receive in any manner.
Do you remember being a kid and being so excited for Christmas morning or your birthday that you could barely sleep? That’s the joy of receiving. These experiences were so pure. You hadn’t yet been talked out of feeling this joy so passionately. Chances are you were so young that your joy wasn’t tamped down by past experiences of feeling the crushing disappointment of not getting what you really wanted. And you hadn’t learned that receiving has to somehow be earned. Our ability to receive openheartedly can be ruined by many different things.
Over the years many of us have been taught to “not get our hopes up” lest we be disappointed. This misguided guidance is intended to protect us from pain, but it really stems from the unresolved pain of those who have taught us this. And the pattern can be generations deep. The end result is living in a bandwidth of “not too happy and not too sad.” A kind of middle ground free of downright sadness and disappointment but also free of amazing exuberance. We learn not to expect too much, and that becomes our daily reality. Over time, we end up believing that we don’t deserve to receive — and therefore, we don’t receive. As Amanda Owen writes in her book The Power of Receiving, “The only possible match for someone who doesn’t know how to receive is someone who doesn’t know how to give. Non-Receivers are drawn to non-Givers. In other words, the problem is not that you have been drawn to non-giving people, but that you are an inexperienced Receiver.”
Worse yet, many of us were taught that we don’t deserve to receive without giving something in return. As in “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” This gives us the message that we are unworthy just as we are, which is completely untrue. Over my years of medical practice, I’ve seen countless instances in which the only way a woman can receive support, attention, and care from her husband and children is when she is sick. So guess what happens? She has to keep manifesting illnesses (albeit unconsciously) in order to keep receiving the attention and care that she should have been receiving anyway — in health, not just in sickness. I’ve also had numerous patients come to the realization that as children they had to get sick in order to receive their mother’s attention. No wonder receiving can be so challenging! We’ve been taught that we have to earn it somehow. Through performing tasks that make us more worthy. Or through health problems or accidents. That’s right. Studies show that even accidents are very often preceded by anger or sadness — emotions that let us know that we have a need that isn’t being met. And so, given that often deep and unconscious programming about receiving, how can we begin to receive?
Thank goodness receiving is actually a learnable skill — and a very worthwhile one. Being able to receive leads to a much more fulfilling life with more delight and joy than you might imagine possible.
Getting started is super simple. All you have to do is accept all compliments. When someone says, “Oh, I love your dress,” your response should be “Thank you.” That’s it. Just thank you! Do not say, “I got it for five dollars at Goodwill.” That downgrades the compliment and devalues the gift you just received. Also, resist the urge to return the compliment by saying something like, “Oh! I like yours too.” You do not have to give something back when you are complimented.
By saying simply thank you, you have graciously received a compliment. You are slowly but surely getting on the path to being comfortable receiving.
An interesting thing will happen when you start to simply accept compliments. At first, you are apt to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. You are out of practice. So when you notice that you’re feeling uncomfortable, say to yourself, “I love you.” That uncomfortable part needs more love, not less.
Once you’re more comfortable receiving compliments — or even while you’re still working with compliments — you can move on to some more advanced receiving practices. For example, in her book Change Me Prayers, Tosha Silver notes that you can say a Change Me Prayer to help rewire your brain to be better at receiving. You can say: “Divine Beloved, please change me into one who is willing to receive. Please change me into someone who knows her own worth. Please change me into someone who gratefully receives all that you have to offer me. Please change me into someone who provides others with the delight of giving to me.”
In the box below, you’ll see one of my favorite receiving practices. And I’m sure you can come up with many of your own. Just remember, the more you practice receiving, the better you’ll get at it. And remember, the reason you have trouble receiving is because your inner child still believes he or she is not worthy of receiving. So just start by spending some time loving that part of you. Because that’s all he or she wants anyway.
Compliments from the Natural World
I did this exercise years ago while gazing out my hotel room at Mount Rainier near Seattle, Washington. I was trying to prepare myself to go downstairs into a group of strangers at a medical meeting. But you don’t have to have a mountain nearby to do it. Just think about a place in nature that you remember and love. All mountains, trees, and natural areas have big angelic presences associated with them.
Imagine that tree or mountain or flower speaking to you. It’s telling you how wonderful you are. Simply listen as it says:
You are beautiful.
You are intelligent.
You are delightful and charming.
You are worthy.
And you are irresistible.
You are healthy.
Now breathe in these statements. Receive them right into your heart. Into your essence. And when you feel full, go about your day. But notice what happens.
For me, I noticed that when I walked out of my hotel room into the medical meeting, I was treated differently. Better. I received far more positive attention than I had before.
While I don’t know that the circumstance I was in had changed a great deal, I do believe that because I flexed my receiving muscles (in the privacy of my own room) I was able to truly receive what had been there for me all along. I was astounded by this.
This excerpt is from Dr. Northrup’s book, Making Life Easy, A Simple Guide To A Divinely Inspired Life (Hay House, December 13, 2016).
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