Generosity gives us meaning, purpose; it is the song of our soul that our heart is open and knows how to love. Because one can only ever truly love, if they are of generous heart and generous spirit, of open palms to hold the hand of another, and of listening ear for comfort and understanding.
As a society, and humanity, we have a bit of a non-sensical relationship to generosity. We hold generosity as a highly positive attribute, value and even a virtue; and yet we also tend to often celebrate individuals, such as politicians, celebrities, influencers or businessmen, who exemplify its opposite. And often times, the ladder to success in Western cultures is almost taught as a selfish and self-centered pathway.
There is just a little bit too much greed and selfishness in our world; but this only serves the long term path towards the closed-off heart, and inability to nurture and sustain a healthy, emotionally fulfilling relationship. We live in a world where we can have free access to many things online, including spiritual knowledge and wisdom, education, and even entertainment – just look at social media, it’s a bit of a circus of entertainment, and all for free. And while having free access to learning on various topics online, from philosophy to mathematics to mysticism, which is of course is amazing and a gift, we have also become subtlely accumstomed to just take, take, take, and not give much in turn, which then numbs us into a bit of ingratitude, and becomes a detriment to our soul growth. And that’s something to reflect on.
The truth is that generosity costs us something; and it asks us to truly open up, giving to another not only when it’s convenient of us do so, nor in the way we want to, or expect to be given in turn, but rather, it asks us to give to another in the way they need.
And what this means is that we need to pay attention, to be selfless, to truly listen and make the effort to understand another. One might argue that it is much harder to give, and to be of generous spirit, than not to be. But it is precisely in the fact that it costs us, time and effort, and all else, including an open heart and open spirit, that generosity blesses us with giving us back meaning.
Unfortunately in our modern world people just don’t know how to give, how to support and they usually only take. This is why their inner lives feel so empty, and why they feel purposeless. To feel more purposeful, you need to be able to contribute to someone’s life. When we choose to direct our life towards meaning, we become generous.
Giving is actually one of the spiritual gifts in the Christian tradition, and is considered central to Buddhism also. I call the gift of giving as the gift of the generous heart and spirit.
Generosity of heart and spirit opens us in a way similar to love, and it truly becomes our bridge to love, wisdom and spiritual maturity. I once knew a very rich man, who kept saying how depressed he was because he didn’t know his purpose, and was asking, “what is my purpose, what are my spiritual gifts?” I only gently offered him to do something for another person, just one thing. He didn’t have to go and donate thousands to charity, he didn’t have to volunteer in a soup kitchen if he didn’t want to, but just: do something to make someone else’s day better. Well, he didn’t do anything.
People forget, but the thing is that our purpose forms when we begin to be less selfish, and open up to love to contribute to others. It’s not in the money necessarily, it’s in the little things we do for one another when no one is watching. It’s in speaking kindly of another when they aren’t there and can’t thank you; it’s in our holding hand, supporting hand, listening ear. It’s in our smile when we pass a stranger, and when we help an elderly with their bags. It’s in the kind of person we choose to be when we have the ability to give to another – not only when it’s convenient to us, not only when we’ll get a return, not only give to them in the way we want to – but truly, really, give to them in the way they need to be given.
The sad truth is that very few people know how to give in our world. We’ve become a society of taking, taking, taking – and expecting things for free, and demanding to take more and more and more, without giving anything to those who so selflessly give to us so much. This constant over taking only numbs people and their spirits, and hardens their hearts. As for those who know how to give, well, they are the lucky ones, for their hearts are filled with joy and love. And that’s the real richness of this life.
Generosity is something that helps us understand the condition of our heart, and what is keeping us from giving to others more. It isn’t about “how much we give”, or what we give, it is about our own capacity to be open, willing and humble. Because at the essence of generosity, or what happens when we are generous is that we deepen in our experience to and of love.
There is a story in the old scriptures when a rich man asked Jesus Christ how to gain eternal life, the answer he received was to give all his money to the poor. But this teaching wasn’t implying that money was evil; because money is important for our spiritual lives and our human experience. We see this in how Buddhist monks collect alms and are supported by their communities; and even on a mundane level, money is something that allows us to learn about value, discern greed, and sustain our works of love. We live in an interdependent world, and we are all here to support one another.
The reason though, why in the example Jesus told the man to give it all away, was because the obstacles for this man’s growth and emotional fulfillment was that his heart was closed off. He had been attaching to something external and material for his source of happiness, which will not give him what he was truly seeking. He had to learn to open his palms, and shift his eyes towards meaning, which comes through generosity. He had to learn to love, with open heart, open mind, open hands.
When our heart center is developed, we are more generous, kind, open, giving, compassionate, loving, and thus, more spiritually mature. And when our heart center is not, we are selfish, critical, arrogant, greedy, emotionally closed off, and thus closed off to all else of higher understanding and wisdom.
So in this situation, what Christ helped this man do is transform on an inner level something was that holding him back – and through the portal of generosity he transformed it.
Generosity isn’t something to be done so that we gain a place in “heaven” nor is it to gain “salvation” – it is our souls that need the freedom that generosity gives us. It is about the condition of our heart.
Generosity creates an openness to receive, and to love. Whether it is opening the door for others, treating our family to a nice dinner, buying flowers, donating to a charity, volunteering, or smiling to strangers on our path to gift them our kindness – generosity opens us to experiencing more love and wellbeing, aligning us to what truly matters, rather than shifting our eyes away from it through temporary pleasures or instant gratification. The language of love and of our heart is joy – so let that guide you.
Our greatest gift is a life of meaning. And it is only through our own generosity that we can receive it.
For more of my writings, browse through my Art of Love.
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Cover art by Jozef Israëls, Children of the Sea, 1872, via Wikimedia Commons.