Guest articles >
by: Rick Hanson
Life gives to each one of us in so many ways.
For starters, there’s the bounty of the senses – including chocolate chip
cookies, jasmine, sunsets, wind singing through pine trees, and just getting
your back scratched.
What does life give you?
Consider the kindness of friends and family, made more tangible during a
holiday season, but of course continuing throughout the year.
Or the giving of the people whose hard work is bound up in a single cup of
coffee. Or all those people in days past who figured out how to make a stone ax
– or a fire, edible grain, loom, vaccine, or computer. Or wrote plays and
novels, made art or music. Developed mathematics and science, paths of
psychological growth, and profound spiritual practices. A few people whose names
you know, and tens of thousands – millions, really – whom you will never know:
each day their contributions feed, clothe, transport, entertain, inspire, and
Consider the giving of the natural world, the sound of rain, sweep of sky and
stars, and majesty of mountains. How does nature feed you?
How about your DNA? The moment of your conception presented you with the
build-out instructions for becoming a human being, the hard-won fruits of 3.5
billion years of evolution.
You don’t earn these things. You can’t. They are just given.
The best you can do is to receive them. That helps fill your own cup, which
is good for both you and others. It keeps the circle of giving going; when
someone deflects or resists one of your own gifts, how inclined are you to give
again? It draws you into deep sense of connection with life.
And if nothing else, it’s simply polite!
Start with something a friend has recently given to you, such as a smile, an
encouraging word, or simply some attention. Then open to feeling given to.
Notice any reluctance here, such as thoughts of unworthiness, or a background
fear of dependence, or the idea that if you receive then you will owe the other
person something. Try to open past that reluctance to accepting what’s offered,
to taking it in – and enjoy the pleasures of this. Let it sink in that receiving
generosity is good.
Next pick something from nature. For example, open to the giving folded into
an ordinary apple, including the cleverness and persistence it took, across
hundreds of generations, to gradually breed something delicious from its sour
and bitter wild precursors. See if you can taste their work in its rich
sweetness. Open even more broadly to the nurturing benevolence in the whole web
Then try something unliving, perhaps something with no apparent value, like a
bit of sand. Yet in that single grain are echoes of the Big Bang – the gift that
there is something at all rather than nothing. Who knows what deeper, perhaps
transcendental gifts underlie the blazing bubbling emergence of our universe?
Take a breath, and enjoy receiving trillions of atoms of oxygen – most of
them the gifts of an exploding star.
Consider some of the intangibles flowing toward you from others, including
good will, fondness, respect, and love. See if you can drink deeply from the
stream coming from one person; as you recognize something positive being offered
to you, try to experience it in a felt way in your body and emotions. Then see
if you can do the same with other people. If you can, include your parents and
other family members, friends, and key acquaintances.
Try to stretch yourself further. Recall a recent interaction that was a mixed
bag for you, some good in it but also some bad. Focus on whatever was accurate
or useful in what the other person communicated, and try to receive that as a
valuable offering. Open your mind to the good that is implicit or down deep in
the other person, even if you don’t like the way it has come out.
Keep listening, touching, tasting, smelling, and looking for other
overflowing generosity coming your way.
So many gifts.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and Huffington Post, and he is the author of the best-selling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. He writes a weekly newsletter - Just One Thing - that suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.
Published here on: 30-Dec-12