Friday, December 11, 2009

The Art of Giving

By Amy Phillips-Gary

The letters from wonderful organizations that benefit communities across the globe, homeless people and animals in my city and the environment stuff my mailbox lately. Invitations to volunteer my time or donate money are abundant.

In addition to this is the list of gifts I'm in the process of purchasing for family members. Trips to various stores and online shopping are part of my already busy day.

There is no doubt about why December is often called the “Season of Giving.”

I think that giving is a wonderful act. It can be a beautiful way to reach out and connect with another being. The exchange that happens when a gift (in material or non-material form) is given from the heart and received with openness and gratitude is one of the most powerful moments a person can experience.

But, as you might already know, giving can also feel like a drain. The prospect of giving can dredge up old feelings and beliefs that might link to a lack mindset or other issues.

A ton of “shoulds,” worries, guilt and competitiveness can easily attach to the act of giving...and strip away that powerful sharing and exchange that's possible.

I remember well the first time I gave my husband H (short for Henry) a gift just about 17 years ago. We'd only been dating for a month or so and he'd been across the country for about half that time. But it was clear to me that he and our burgeoning relationship felt right; and so, when his birthday arrived, I decided to give him a gift.

After arriving back to my apartment from picking him up at the airport, I presented H with wrapped up wind chimes that I'd found at a little shop.

Well, let me clarify that... I just about threw the gift onto his lap and then fled the room!

I absolutely wanted to give this special guy in my life a gift and to honor his birthday. But I pretty much obliterated the potential for connection and celebration in that moment by not staying present for the exchange.

While you may never have thrown your gift at the recipient and ran from the room, you may not often practice the kind of giving that will encourage the sharing and experience you'd like.

Give mindfully.
It doesn't matter whether you surprise those for whom you are buying or doing or you receive a list of what they'd like, you can still be mindful about your giving.

Tune in to the person who will be receiving your gift and pull up in your mind what you appreciate about him or her. This awareness can guide you.

If this is someone who you feel obligated to give to, this might prove challenging. You could ask yourself if you are really willing to give at this time. If your answer is “no,” perhaps the consequences will be uncomfortable, but your sense of integrity will remain intact.

If your answer is “yes,” return to your image of this person and find one thing that you can appreciate about him or her. From those feelings of appreciation, proceed with the giving.

This can make a huge difference!

Remember, you always get to choose what, how much and whether you will give at all in a particular situation. Stay open to the multitude of possibilities that are available to you.

Give freely.
From this attitude of openness and mindfulness, you can give freely. This means no strings attached.

This can also be a challenge.

I know that, from time to time, I am one who falls into the trap of “keeping score.” I give to another person and, even though I don't like to admit it, a part of me notices whether I receive a comparable gift from the one to whom I gave.

I am usually able to quell this urge to compare and compete, but it is present.

If you also have a tendency to give with “strings” or with expectations of a return of some sort, be aware of it. These thoughts will stand in the way of your giving experience.

After realizing that you are “keeping score,” breathe and be gentle with yourself. This habit will only grow if you use it as an excuse to criticize yourself.

Instead, shift your focus back to your intention. Is it your intention to give the gift in order to enrich this other person's life? Were you wanting to honor this person or symbolically demonstrate that you care about him or her through your action or present?

Continue to return to your primary intent, whatever that might be. Chances are, it relates to sharing a connection.

Give joyfully.
Gift-giving is potentially a joyful, exuberant and celebratory act-- if you let it.

Allow yourself to join in with the anticipation that the other person might be feeling wondering what is wrapped up in this brightly-colored package. Feel the sense of hope and support that people in a faraway country might be experiencing as they benefit from the medical supplies, trees or other aids that your donation helped provide.

Dive in with joy to the act of giving


  1. A wonderful message to hear at this time of the year.

  2. The image of you throwing a gift onto H's lap and running out of the room made me LOL! I love you!!!