By Patricia Spadaro (Article from Watkins’ Mind Body Spirit magazine, issue 32, Winter 2012-13
“A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return.” – The Bhagavad Gita
In the details of our days, it’s easy to lose the meaning behind the moments. It’s easy to forget the truth that giving, at its essence, is a creative activity of the heart.
Today, more than ever, we are showered with media messages vying to convince us that gift-giving is all about buying more and buying bigger. Yet take a moment and think about the times in your life when you felt most happy, joyful, or at peace. Were those moments defined by how much money someone spent on you? Or was it the attention and appreciation you received or the intimacy and connection you experienced that made you feel exuberant and alive?
The best gifts aren’t necessarily the biggest or most expensive ones. Better than bigger is the gift of the heart.
One of the most significant gifts we can give in this busy, modern time of ours is our time. With so many issues vying for our attention, we can find ourselves in a constant tug-of-war. How many times have you found yourself trying to talk or listen to those who need you while you are also driving, answering the phone, text messaging, cooking dinner, watching TV, or sifting through a stack of mail? When that happens, we’re only half there. Yet it’s impossible to give fully to others—or receive fully from them—unless we are giving our full attention.
The sages of East and West understood the gift of focused attention—of being mindful and fully present in the moment. The Christian monastic Basil of Caesarea, for instance, said, “You cannot succeed in loving God or your neighbor . . . if your mind is perpetually distracted.” A famous Zen master put it this way: “When walking, just walk. When sitting, just sit. But above all, don’t wobble!”
Tips for Transformational Giving
The gift of your time and undiluted attention can work magic in any relationship, whether at home, at work, or at play—and it can turn holidays and celebrations into feasts of the heart. Here are some simple and effective tools you can use to create more authentic and intimate connections with anyone as you practice giving wisely, creatively, and from the heart.
1. Give your full attention. Honor the people in your life by drawing a circle around your conversations with them. Do what it takes to sustain the circuit of energy between you and the person you are with. Simply turning off the TV or phone and looking directly into someone’s eyes as you listen or share can transform a situation. It shows that you care enough to be completely present.
Try this: Look at your most important (or problematical) relationships and ask yourself: What can I do to create a quality, focused connection with the people in my life? What can I stop doing to ensure that I am fully present and engaged in my interactions?
2. Be creative with your gifts. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be a good giver. It’s your inner gifts, the ones that touch another, heart to heart, that are your most precious offerings.
Try this: As a gift for Christmas, birthdays, or other holidays, consider spending quality time with loved ones doing something fun or meaningful rather than purchasing a gift they may not need or even want. If you have more than one child or sibling in your family, think about giving him or her a one-on-one date just with you. The possibilities are endless.
3. Try a new twist on an old tradition. During the holidays, getting in touch with loved ones and friends is a precious ritual. But it’s also an opportunity to put the spirit of the season into practice by opening your heart to someone you find annoying, aloof, or antagonistic.
Try this: Instead of sending obligatory Christmas or holiday cards to a growing list of family, friends, and associates, send your heartfelt wishes to those you do NOT get along with well. One year, I sent Christmas cards to a few co-workers I just couldn’t get close to for some reason. It helped me open my heart, and they were genuinely surprised and grateful. Reaching out to those you have a challenging relationship with is a great way to give more than lip service to the holiday message of joy and goodwill.
4. Give unexpected gifts. The most touching and meaningful gifts are often the ones that come unexpectedly, not just on birthdays or anniversaries or holidays. “It is well to give when asked,” wrote the poet Kahlil Gibran, “but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.”
Try this: Appreciate another’s heart and give spontaneously—perhaps a bunch of flowers to celebrate a project well done, a special book to thank a neighbor for his kindness, or a beautiful card with a personal message to cheer up a troubled friend.
5. Ask compassionate questions. It’s not always easy to open your heart and give when the person you are with is like a caged tiger ready to pounce. “What’s wrong with her?” we mutter, instead of realizing that grumbles, complaints, and angry outbursts can be SOS calls for support. People need the gift of your heart the most when they seem to deserve it the least.
Try this: When someone in your life is pushing your buttons, try to catch yourself before you criticize or ask condescendingly, “What’s the matter with you?” Ask more helpful questions, such as “Why are you hurting and what can I do to help you right now?” You can’t solve others’ problems for them, but you can provide a safe space that invites them to understand what they are feeling and to articulate their needs. Opening your heart and asking compassionate questions honors others and honors your relationship with them. What better gift can you give?
HONOR YOURSELF: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving by Patricia Spadaro, published by Three Wings Press, paperback (240 pages) – Available from Watkins Books. Patricia Spadaro is the author of the award-winning book Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving, an inspiring guide to giving your best gifts by learning to honor your own needs, celebrate your unique voice, let go of painful endings, and give with your heart. Patricia has also coauthored