If, by giving up a lesser happiness,
One could experience greater happiness,
A wise person would renounce the lesser
To behold the greater.
(Dhammapada 290 – tr. Fronsdal)
The holiday season is a traditional time to reflect on giving. Some of the most heartwarming stories shared in this time of year are about people finding creative ways to help others, sometimes anonymously. There is an art to giving freely and with joy. To some people this comes quite naturally, while others of us must focus on the little feeling of generosity that we have, and encourage it to grow.
Let’s start with the most challenging (in my opinion) relationships, those closest to home. With family members and other significant people in our lives, we tend to have set patterns of interaction. It could be that all of your intimate relationships are characterized by kindness and generosity (ahem), but let’s assume that at least one or two could use some improvement. Look for defensiveness, chronic irritation or some similar clue. What is it about the other person you keep wishing would be different, in spite of all available evidence?
Some years ago in a workplace training, those participating were asked how we would act if we accepted our boss exactly as he was. I thought about it long and hard, and it dawned on me that I had no idea how I would act, since I didn’t accept the boss just as he was. I was invested in criticizing him, in objecting to his actions and motives, in wishing that he was more mature and less neurotic. It was humbling. How could things go well when I was carrying around this wall of objections? And yet, I was so committed to my internal picture of the situation, I couldn’t imagine letting it go. I struggled to imagine how real forgiveness and acceptance were possible.
The situation didn’t automatically resolve, but I made some progress in seeing my boss as another human being who was doing the best he could. I still had trouble staying positive, but I was able to let go of a lot of the drama surrounding my narrative. I was able to relax a little and accept some things that were clearly not going to change; and I saw that it wasn’t about ME, it was one part of a much larger picture involving many people.
So there’s the challenge: is there someone in your life now who would benefit from a greater degree of understanding and acceptance by you? If yes, this would be a beautiful gift indeed. More on this next time.