As I wrote in my very first blog post, one of the things I focused on last year was giving. I wanted generosity to be a guiding principle in my decision-making and actions. “When given a choice,” I would think to myself, “choose the generous option.”
Lately, however, I’ve realized that a less obvious, but maybe even bigger struggle for me sometimes, is to receive. Accepting gifts (compliments, time, energy, opportunities) from friends, family, strangers, the universe can be difficult at times – at least, without a bit of guilt, and a bit of anxiety that whispers: “Okay, but now you owe them something. Better return the favor quick before they think you’re selfish and ungrateful.”
I need to remember that there is generosity in the act of receiving, as well as in giving. I like it when people receive what I give – graciously, with no guilt or pressure on themselves to return in kind.
Receiving takes trust; it requires a release of control and leap of faith. It is a gift returned to the giver.
And just to clarify, I’m talking about receiving, not taking. You take what is owed to you. You take your portion. Taking involves action – sometimes deserved and sometimes welcome, but sometimes not.
Receiving, on the other hand, simply requires acceptance – an embrace of what already is.
One of several meditations I work with uses the image of breathing in green light and breathing out blue (or whatever soothing/energizing colors come to me on that particular day). This seems right: to breathe in and also breathe out; to accept and to give, in an organic cycle.
I’ve also used a metaphor for many years in my artistic practice: I remind myself that I need to “breathe in” as much as I “breathe out” – meaning, I need to take time to find inspiration (a word that fittingly has the root “to breathe”) in order to have the “breath” to create. I need to take time to wander, explore, play, love, cry, savor, laugh, look, listen, smell, touch and taste – not just paint, write, perform, direct, teach, and create, create, create.
I need to take things IN so that I have something to feed my creative OUTput.
Prime the pump.
So I was surprised to realize recently that as I practiced my breathe-in-green, breathe-out-blue meditation, I was having trouble with the breathing IN part. I had plenty of breath for the exhale. But I was depleting myself of resources because the inhale wasn’t coming naturally. I kept losing focus. While I was easily able to envision the blue light I wanted to send back out to the world around me, “breathing in” felt academic; theoretical.
The catch was: if I couldn’t find the inhale, I was going to run out of exhale.
If we only inhale (take in, take in take in), we eventually burst and everything comes out in an aggressive, out-of-control, overwhelmed sigh. Or we faint. However, if we only exhale (make, create, focus on others), we will eventually start metaphorically hyperventilating, and have nothing left to give.
Neither is healthy.
Receiving is the “inhale” to generosity’s “exhale.” One is not possible without the other. Receiving keeps the cycle of life, art and love going.
To take it further, receiving doesn’t even ask us to be “grateful.” Being grateful implies work; there’s a certain amount of pressure – or at least responsibility – in being grateful. “Be grateful for what you have” can feel like a directive aimed at creating guilt and denial of the fullness of life.
Receiving, on the other hand, asks nothing other than openness. It asks that I look around, and notice, acknowledge, and accept what is already being given; to simply bask in what is.
An inhale to energize the next exhale.
A gift, to which my only obligation is to say: “Yes.”