Inside Yoga 254 (17/12/2018)
What does Christmas mean to you? In politics one should never ask a question without knowing the answer. Perhaps I should not have asked the question about Christmas, because the festive season means so many things to so many people?! Yet, perhaps I can simplify the intention of Christmas in one word: generosity.
Leaving aside the story of a little boy born on Christmas day who was gave his name to a religion the festive season is about giving. But then again, Christ’s birth was a gift to humanity from God according to Christian belief. So before I go off down the line of religious explanations, let’s just consider that every faith has a day celebrating generosity and leave it at that.
During the years that I spent in Asia listening to Buddhist and yoga teachers they would talk about generosity as a skill to be developed, and importantly they stressed that what is actually harder is to be able to on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity.
For many people being given a gift is an uncomfortable feeling and can make some feel stressed and even angry. Leaving aside the thoughts that “I don’t need XYZ” and its “such a waste and will only go in the bin” (recycling bin hopefully), many people feel uncomfortable with getting a present because they do not feel worthy of a gift, and they might not be aware that this is the case, but buried deep down in their subconscious they might not feel worthy of being given something.
Like any relationship in life, there is some give and take (substitute this word for “receive” in this context!), and learning this will help us. If we see ourselves like a flowing river, which has a source (a gift from the earth to start flowing), and as it flows there is a continuous exchange as the land gives it water (for example, run-off from rain) and it gives the land around life in return, the river is all about exchange, likewise, when it comes to generosity we learn to enjoy both giving and receiving.
Like a huge river would not hold onto all that it has, the act of generosity being the most important feature not the size of the gift (before we get greedy or competitive).
Generosity is an important feature of life because it expresses a fundamental aspect of our interdependence and our need for one another. According to the 2015 World Happiness report, Richard Davidson and Brianna Schuyler explain that one of the strongest predictors of well-being worldwide is the quality of our relationships. Generous, pro-social behaviour seems to strengthen these relationships across cultures. Generosity is even associated with better health and longer life expectancy. (Source: “Book of Joy”, by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams).
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says it is by giving that we receive. This might be giving time and energy as well as something physical, but if we become closed in on ourselves we tend be miserable. He explains giving helps because: “you gave and it then seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you.”
The Archbishop uses an interesting analogy for generosity: “there is a very good example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”
A thought for this festive time, whatever you do for Christmas enjoy it.
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