...as I was contemplating my birthday this year... I went to Trader Joe’s before the Snowpocalypse. But, the more interesting thing was...
I began to notice that I was thinking differently than I had in the past. I noticed that I was moving away from an old perspective that was largely ‘receiving focused’ - salespeople call this human tendency WIIFM (what's in it for me). Trust me, no one knows more about automatic/unconscious human tendencies than commissioned salespeople. Let me explain...
High-level salespeople, just like psychologists, study the social human being who has been influenced by culture to think in a certain way and along certain lines. They do this to know how best to sell you things (salespeople, not psychologists… well sometimes them, too). They already have a good idea of how you will react to certain stimuli because they know how you were taught to think and what you were taught to think. The really good salespeople (and psychologists) know this.
Mostly, when we stop to evaluate our lives, we think about: what we have/have done, and we're grateful; what we've been through, and we're grateful that we made it to the other side; and, what we still want to have/do, and we’re hopeful. All of this rumination comes from a WIIFM, or receiving orientation. As I considered this, I wondered about something that I had taken for granted – what’s the opposite side to this perspective? What orientation is the opposite pole? The answer came clearly enough: giving.
My Zen teacher, Ron, the man who helped administer my 1st 5 Buddhist precepts, died on my birthday this year. He taught me immense lessons in giving like this one: what do you give to a man on death row for the past 17 years who is scheduled to die tomorrow? Your presence. Lessons in giving like this obvious one: gifts are never about the things; gifts are about the transformative freedom in giving. During one of the most intense periods of my life, he visited me and showed me what helping someone really means & how to find beauty wherever you happen to be. He showed me how to give without restraint. And... I had forgotten those lessons until somewhere around Thursday night when it became painfully clear that a giving orientation is the only way that makes sense to me anymore for ensuring that I live a full life.
“This year,” I decided quietly to myself in Trader Joe's,” I don't want to only give thanks for what I have on my birthday, I don't want to only ask myself for what am I grateful and what I have learned... I want to ask some new questions. I want to know, from myself, what else do I have to give? What more can I give that I am not giving already? What am I not giving at all that I need to bring forward?”
These questions sit poles apart from the WIIFM way of life that we’ve all been taught unawares. Of course, it’s great to give thanks for what you have, but I find it ever so much more expansive to also give thanks for what you have left to give. See, these two apparent opposites, are actually two sides of the same coin, so you don’t get rid of one in exchange for the other – you accept them both and simply choose.
As I'm entering a period of life that no one ever told me about - when your friends, family, and teachers start fading into an eternal background while you prepare to emerge as one amongst the next generation of elders - I realize that death is not to be feared, or pitied, but is to be prepared for as a natural, beautiful part of life. And with this, I'm asking myself about how I want to leave this world and if I'm preparing.
To prepare fully, I realize that the things of this life, whatever I've accumulated, will take care of themselves. Putting those things in order mostly takes mere paperwork and thoughtful bits of time. Yet, what can't take care of itself, what needs my full presence every single day is what I (and every one of us) emerged from the eternal background into the brilliant foreground of this world with - gifts, talents, seeing this world in ways that no one else can see, touching this world in ways that no one else can.
So... as I contemplate another year on Earth, as a dear friend now contemplates outside of space and time, I ask myself, what do I have left to give & when will I give it? All that I accumulate will be left right here. But, when I give, I am changed, & that change will always and ever be a part of me.
I want to leave this world empty, spent, completed (for this go 'round). So, I've got to give... more. Much more. And... be grateful that I have more to give. Give more of what, you ask? I’ve got to give more of Me; you’ve got to give more of You.
Another of the things I learned during the time that Ron helped me to remember how to always look for beauty, was that you always have something to give. I had forgotten that I knew that, too, until Thursday night at Trader Joe’s.
Before Ron entered this story, I was preparing this post in my mind on Saturday, as a sort of gift of words to the interwebs. Ron’s passing made it much clearer that if it is a gift, then I need to give it. So here it is.
My friends, tell me, what do you have left to give, and when will you give it?