So, we have heard the word “generosity” floating about in pretty much every arena of our “life holistic” (Career, Family, Relationships, Actions, Economic, Health, Spirituality, etc…). But what does it really mean?
If you’re like me, the actual action of it [generosity] always came with a side dish of anxiety. Although, I haven’t always been as aware of that fully carbed side dish as I am now. The cause was actually much deeper than I thought and it’s taken some time to really overcome something that was ingrained very early into my psyche. I have committed to a continuous practice of awareness of overcoming it.
So, I’ll give you my answer here and then I’ll tell my story. Generosity is giving in all categories of your life with absolutely no expectations of a return. That’s right NONE. Ok… I’m sure we get that on an intellectual level, but how far into your heart does it go? That answer won’t be clear until we put the concept into practice and initiate a huge degree of self awareness in each action of generosity- until it becomes “true generosity”- oops… see there I go. Even by calling it “true” ignores the fact that generosity is just that, generosity, and requires no adjective. In other words generosity is simply “generosity” and warrants no descriptor of rank nor embodies a level system.
Here are some major bullet points and some personal approaches that I have taken to really “go there” in my actions of generosity.
Generosity is Love. One of my favorite bible versus is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 . Now, before your stop reading this, it is not a Bible lesson, although, I do have an appreciation for literature no matter where it comes from. You can ask my opinions about religion in comments below. For the sake of this post I am only connecting the literature and message of the scripture. In this verse it describes love in its full essence, as best as words can describe something otherwise intangible. The verse states:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”.
To this end we begin to acknowledge that love is generosity given with absolutely no collateral, sense of ownership, entitlement or otherwise expectation of return. Imagine a world where this was the common ground. Flow, abundance, and peace of mind would become the norm.
- Acknowledge: My experiences demanded of me that I look at scarcity, lack, ownership, entitlement, or deserving. I knew that I could make more money, have more resources, and have the “big picture ideal” for my life. But something was holding me back. It was something that resided in my chest, not my mind, it was something deep rooted. I had read all of the “things”, meditated, and sought an even deeper understanding of myself. I’d always considered myself generous, and many of my peers would describe as such. However, I knew there was something missing. I had the wisdom, the experience, the aptitude for changing lives. I also had the resources to acquire grander results. I also battled with anxiety throughout my life. The anxiety was worse in my early 20’s and it would rear it’s ugly head when I was not being fully authentic or not being proactive toward my dreams- among those dreams were traveling the world and becoming a highly respected actor and filmmaker. Once I had achieved some levels of that success the anxiety dissipated. However, not fully distinguished. In the past two years I’ve looked deeper at “generosity” and my relationship with it. I had thought of myself as a huge giver on sets no matter my title, and I was. I also considered myself generous in my personal and professional relationships, and for the most part I was. It wasn’t until I really looked at the nuts and bolts of my daily life and actions that I began to see where the anxiety and scarcity mindset / heart-set lived. In my domestic relationship I would, albeit unconsciously, keep track of how many times I did the dishes and get gradually more frustrated with every time I cooked or shopped for groceries. I was holding on to something- collateral. That is a small example of where I was holding on to ownership or expectations. But it is in that small example that I was able to identify where I was holding on to being “owed” something; then, with that small acknowledgement, was able to grow. I was able to see a similar pattern in the bigger picture of my life. This awareness also opened my perspective in that while it may be true that I was doing more of the kitchen stuff, my partner was busy setting up the Wi-Fi, organizing the camping gear, laundry, you name it. Honestly, my partner is one of the most generous people I know, but it’s difficult to see that when we’re shutting ourselves off “keeping score.”
Source: The next step, was to look at where this feeling of scarcity came from. I soon discovered that elements of this awareness were also the key to unlocking my flow, abundance, and a sense of joy while in generosity; That awareness, would lead to a great deal of freedom and relief of stress. I acknowledged that my habit of keeping score came from my childhood. I had an older brother that would frequently take advantage of the fact that he was bigger than me and could pretty much take what ever he wanted at no recourse. I developed a practice of “keeping score”, “keeping count”, and maintaining ownership. Doing so, I created a since of “lack”, “never enough”, or a fear of “being taken for granted”. As a kid, I had to fight for my turn to sit in the front seat of the car. I had to remember who did the dishes and keep mental documentation. I had to keep inventory of my socks (if he wore my clothes then they would get stretched out). Then on a bigger scale, my family was resigned to a great deal of “feast or famine”. Bankruptcies, uncertain markets, and a lot of moving from house to house created the emergence of a belief system that said “everything is temporary” and “everything goes away”. This belief system would later be amplified at the passing of my father in 2007. Now, you might be thinking that these weren’t that tragic of situations, save the latter. I did leave out the many bloody noses and all out violent brawls between my brother and I. I also left out the moments where I saw the worry and stress on my dad’s face, not knowing where our next meal was coming from, as he reached into his pocket for his very last $20 dollar bill so that I could go out with my friends after our high school theater performance… Miraculously, we never went hungry and my mom was a magician with the occasional empty cupboards. While these, compared to many childhood stories may seem pale and vanilla, it was for me, a very impressionable experience. An experience that created a belief system of scarcity that lived deep down in my chest and at the core of my life’s establishing years.
- Moment to moment shifts: Once I was able to acknowledge the source of my deep rooted fear, unconscious / conscious scarcity, and feelings of impermanence, I was able to adjust each time these feelings would emerge. I am grateful to have sourced a very loving, and generous partner in life. I look around me and am grateful for my many blessings. My friends, colleagues, and immediate relationships includes really great people. My home environment is beautiful, harmonious, and filled with joy. Still, these moment-to-moment shifts are required for me daily. These shifts require me to acknowledge those feelings of scarcity, when I feel like, “I’m doing/ giving more than someone else,” or that I may be taken for granted by giving. It also requires me to love that part of myself, and be grateful that I have sourced a life, friends, colleagues and an environment that I can TRUST. This trust, open communication, and flow of abundance has shown me that permanence does exist. Permanence exists in each and ever moment. Tennessee Williams said that “Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.” Few truer statements exist, and yet, each of those moments are permanent and honestly, that’s all we truly have for certain.
- Let go of the idea that “You Deserve it”: This is a tough one. Especially considering that (In the United States, particularly) we live in a society based on the idea that hard work deserves to be rewarded and that there should (expectations) be some sort of direct return on that “generosity,” “work,” or “contribution”. That, because of this hard work, diligence, or even through inheritance, nepotism, position of power, or any other mechanism we feel that we “deserve it”. I prefer to say, “I GET TO HAVE THAT” or “I AM GRATEFUL TO HAVE THIS EXPERIENCE”.
- Questions you may now be asking: How do I prevent being taken for granted or giving too much of myself without a return? So the answers to these questions are woven within this blog post. However I’ll support you in a bit of clarity (Additionally, you may comment with a question below). The answer to the first question is that YOU WILL NOT BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED EVER. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE. Why? Because the act of generosity requires no return of that contribution. Additionally, if you have “expectations” of a direct return you are possibly missing out on the return from another source or another possibility currently unseen in your periphery. When all of us live in this sort of “free flow” of generosity, inevitably, our personal and social abundance begins to flow.
- Generosity with self: So this is the moment all questions get to be fully answered. I encourage you to ask yourself, as you question anything in this blog post, is the question based on fear? What if I give and get nothing? What if I contribute and I don’t get rewarded? These questions are based on scarcity, fear, and a lack of trust. The question I would give you in return is: Where in my life have I been betrayed, “taken for granted,” or had to “keep score” of my contributions? You may have to go back pretty far. This belief system wherever it came from, for me, has held me back until very recently. I still get to acknowledge the thoughts when they show up, I get to love and nurture the feelings, I get to acknowledge them and then let them pass. Generosity with self comes into play when you feel intuitively that you need a break, you need rest, you need to treat yourself, you need to honor yourself, you need a retreat. Honor this: Communicate with your employer, partner, employees, family etc… and simply say “I GET TO HAVE A BREAK” “I GET TO HAVE A RETREAT”. There is gratitude in that statement, “I GET TO”. If we were to say, ” I DESERVE IT” that means that others might not deserve it or perhaps that only until now did YOU deserve it. This is not the case. When we are generous with ourselves we rejuvenate, and we are therefore available to give generously to others.
- Why Is It Important?: When we hold on to collateral, a sense of ownership, or that Idea of “deserving” / “entitlement” we carry a very unfortunate weight on our shoulders. These expectations of a direct return can cause dismay, disappointment, and sever otherwise beautiful relationships or disband what might have been incredible creative projects. The idea of “deserving” could mean that “other people don’t deserve it”. We also might begin to hate ourselves, or hate our job, or other people. We might find ourselves resenting or living a life in which we compare ourselves with others. However, when we are generous a certain flow begins to occur, that flow is abundance. It took a while for me. In fact, I remember being at the Oscars in 2016 walking the red carpet and being asked to do interviews all over the world. Some of my thoughts were, “I’ve worked so hard to get here,” “I’ve worked my ass off-” surely my recurring series regular is going to appear in front of me and I can just chill out a bit. I had gotten a little frustrated that I had to audition for certain roles, or “Why don’t they just google me”. Well, while much of that may have been true, the frustration came because I thought I had done all the necessary work. I thought that considering I had devoted 20 years of my life as a professional actor, certainly, I deserve the next level. I became disinterested in the process. I became resentful of pay reductions or even to the degree of being “Insulted” when asked if I could spare my time to assist someone on their passion project. All of those feelings were heavy weights to carry. Now, I approach each request with openness. I say NO more often than I ever have, but now that “NO” comes with, ” Well, I cannot contribute this or that, but what I can do is connect you with someone for whom this would be an incredible opportunity.” By saying “no” and also offering a possible solution for the person requesting the favor/ contribution, I maintain generosity with myself and also generosity toward others. When I see that EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE, I no longer live in scarcity or fear, that “If I contribute here I will sacrifice there.” Everything is possible.
- What will ultimately occur: You’ll eventually find yourself surrounded by like-minded and like-hearted people. These people will elevate you, support your vision, and empower your process. Why? Because you are being source. Who you are, being in this process, ultimately will call in those who believe the same way. Perhaps, you may lose some friends or colleagues that weren’t healthy for you in the first place. What you will gain is a new found freedom, an elevating support network, an ability to communicate your needs, wants, and desires. What you may end up with, is living a completely “needless” life. Meaning you won’t “need” anything like respect, appreciation, validation, etc.. However, you may want for things and that is ok. To want or have desire is relevant to a full life. The jeopardy is when we think we “deserve it” or we hold “expectations”. Additionally, your environment will seem to clear and your life will begin to flow.
Here are are some steps to consider when navigating through generosity:
- Try giving time, solicited advise, money, gestures of service or affection, etc. See where you might be holding on to any idea or feeling of I need to have a return on that, they owe me, or I deserve that.
- Acknowledge in each action of generosity what might arise for you.
- Imagine others in the world and in your proximity smiling, feeling gratitude, and being in the essence of joy.
- Ask yourself, “Where do I get to be generous in my life?” Is it with yourself, your relationship, your work, your vision? Begin to approach each act of generosity without expectations of a return and keep an eye for just how this process creates a flow of abundance in your life; see how much pressure is lifted from your shoulders. I assure you generosity will appear in the most unlikely of places and perhaps from the most unlikely of contributors.
Please comment below if you have questions, awareness’s, or when you try it… let me know what your experience is like.