The practice of generosity.
On a yoga retreat in Mexico, I mentioned in passing to my teacher that I liked the sweatshirt she was wearing. It was soft and grey, with short sleeves (totally my style!) and I asked her where she got it. “You know what,” she replied, “You should just have it Diane, here take it.” Peeling it off her lithe frame, she offered it to me.
“No, I couldn’t possibly,” I stammered. The entire table of lunching ladies was listening. I couldn’t have them think I just begged for the shirt off her back…and then TOOK it. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “No, absolutely not, I can’t take your sweatshirt. That’s ridiculous. I am perfectly capable of buying my own.”
Unfazed, she continued, “That’s not the point. It’s no big deal, I have others like it and if you really want it, you should have it.” I was dumbfounded. I mean I did like it, and she seemed to be sincerely offering it. Then she dropped the wisdom on me, adding, “Please. By refusing, you are actually denying me the opportunity to practice generosity. If you take it, you are allowing me this opportunity to grow my practice.”
She had a point. Framed in the context of helping her practice generosity instead of fulfilling my covetous need, it made sense. It didn’t seem selfish, rather, it seemed selfish not to accept. “Are you sure?” I asked.
“100%. Just promise me, that you, will do the same for someone else. Pay it forward.”
Touched by her generosity, her non-attachment, openness and kindness, I awkwardly accepted. In that small exchange, she demonstrated qualities I was looking to cultivate more in myself, but hadn’t recognized the opportunities to practice. I vowed to pay it forward.
In the next year, I became more aware of those opportunities. When a friend asked me where I got my hiking bag, I gave it to her, telling her the story of my teacher’s sweatshirt, using the exact phrase, “By refusing to take it from me, you are denying me the opportunity to practice generosity.” She couldn’t refuse.
Another time, my friend, talented writer, Jenny from The Suburban Jungle visited and really liked my grey straw fedora, one of my favorite hats. She wanted to find one exactly like it. We went shopping and couldn’t. As I dropped her at the airport, I handed her the hat. Telling her the same story, with the same powerful phrase, she accepted. It made me feel energized to grow my practice of generosity by giving one of my beloved possessions away.
She left with the perfect hat to take to summer camp, but I was left with so much more. A stronger connection to her, a sense of pride for growing my awareness and the feeling that it can be better to give than to receive. Now whenever someone asks me where I got something, I try to at least consider offering it to them. If I can spare it or replace it, it’s theirs. It’s really fun to see how surprised people are when you do that. Plus it’s a great way to keep your closet clean. 😉
When she got home, Jenny shared with me how the hat exchange had sparked her thinking and awareness and how she was affected by such a small gesture. It was more than a hat, it was paying it forward, connecting us and opening up a whole new level of conversation, and for that I’m truly grateful.
How do you practice generosity?
P.S. For the record, just don’t come around and start asking me where I got my favorite boots. Those suckers are staying with me. And they probably wouldn’t fit you anyway.