Sunday, August 19, 2012

Observations on Mindful Giving

I'm just more than halfway through my 29 days of Giving with intention and design. For a couple of days now, I've been trying to find the time to jot down some of the impressions that this experience has made on me.

Overall, I truly enjoy this deliberate attention to giving. What I've found is that I give quite frequently and easily in my life anyway. There have only been a few days where I have even had to put much effort into the act of generosity. In fact, I've sort of disqualified certain types of giving, just because I do them so habitually. Giving to my daughters and to my husband, particularly along the lines of specially cooked meals, caring chores, and small objects, are an almost daily experience. Yes, it technically is giving if I make a stack of pancakes or run to a special store to pick up a graphing notebook, but it is so much a part of my normal life that it seems like it doesn't count. So I've only written about it the few times that I gave with extra attention to the giving. Likewise with my friends. I tend to give some portion of time to my friends almost every day. That's great, and I've been pleased to see just how easily I do connect with others in my life.

One part of the challenge was to pay attention to what type of giving felt the most difficult to me. As I've said, I find most types of giving fairly easy. I really don't mind giving money. Even in larger amounts of $10 or $20, or even higher, I usually feel pretty comfortable handing money over to someone who needs it. And I'm constantly giving people stuff. I love to buy things that I think people will like or enjoy. If there's something in my home that I no longer use, I'm delighted to give it to someone else. I do have some material things that I have emotional attachment to, of course. I might not so easily hand over my wedding ring, say, or the first toy I bought my daughter. But money and stuff is usually no problem

I'm also pretty comfortable giving time. My time is truly my most precious possession. I am very aware of that. I only have so much of it, and it tends to be spoken for. It also, along with my skills, is the main thing I can sell to make money and support my family. Nonetheless, I have a well-engrained practice of giving my time and attention to people who ask for it. I automatically re-shuffle my tasks and make space to chat with friends, host playdates, have dinners and meet friends for lunch or coffee if they need some connection. And my daughters get my full attention whenever they request it. This works well for me, as it really nourishes relationships and brings the benfits of solid friendships to my life.

I've only found two things that I really don't enjoy giving. One is talking on the phone. The other is giving to the homeless. Both of these types of giving are more conflicted for me. They bring up mixed emotions that dilute the pure impetus of the generosity. Talking on the phone is something that I associate with difficult parts of my past. It also feels very draining to me. That doesn't mean I never like talking on the phone. Sometimes I do. Sometimes the immediate voice-to-voice connection with a friend is great. But usually, I find that communicating by phone takes a big chunk of time, often more thatn I can free up. It tends  to be physically uncomfortable to me, and I get bored that I am unable to do other chores or work while talking, yet I am not getting that same level of connection that I would get in face to face conversation. It's like a limbo land, to me. I much prefer setting aside a chunk of time to meet, where at least I get the benefit of going out somewhere interesting, and dressing up, driving, and eating something unusual. The phone just saps my energy.

Same thing with giving to the homeless. I usually don't feel right giving money to people that may be helping them to hurt themselves. And I don't like the somewhat compulsory feel of being asked for money. There's a whole range of factors that come into play. Do I feel safe or threatened? Do I feel harrassed? Often the homeless ask is an interruption of what I was doing, either conversing or working, and I don't like that. But I don't like the small, petty, insecure feelings that I get when I say no either. So the whole situation sets me up to feel awkward. There are more emotional layers to it for me as well. I've had several friends who were on the edge of terrible homelessness, so when I see itenerant people I tend to feel a lot of sympathy. But mixed with that sympathy is an awareness, even an anger almost, that these people have had some degree of choice in getting to the postion they are in. And then I just feel so much anger that as a culture and whole society that we don't have a better way of helping those who struggle with mental illness, or addiction, or both, and that they have to be reduced to wandering, begging, and scraping by. Mixed with that is still some class prejudice and feelings of ego. So that whole potent, nonresolved set of feeling tends to come up. Although I often will give money to the homeless, still I feel less than good about the giving transaction.

My reflections so far: I don't do well with those two types of giving; otherwise, I find the practice to be delightful and invigorating. It's a challenge to see how many new ways of giving and different recipients I can come up with.

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