Generous — How can I be more like this?

I suppose it takes one to know one, but I admit giving my money away does not come easy to me. It never seems to occur to me to buy an unplanned gift for someone to mark a special occasion. Some of us are a bit stingy and penny-pinching whereas others seem to be naturally generous. generousMaybe you differ from others in the extent you give to people begging in the street or in whether you make out monthly direct-debits to deserving causes. So if you are a bit like me just how do you learn to become more generous?

How generous are you?

The first step I’ve discovered is to privately acknowledge the deficiency of spontaneous generosity of spirit in myself. I don’t just mean donating money. The definition of generosity is broader. It can be defined as the desire to make others’ lives easier or more pleasant. Mowing next door neighbour’s lawn when he or she is ill. Offering to look after someone’s pets when they are away on holiday.

This leads to considering the way we do what we already are doing – whether it is domestic chores, visiting relatives, working at the office or factory floor. Some might view such activity as a time-filling grind whereas others may see it as useful service. For you is it boring toil or an opportunity to be constructively helpful?

Considering the benefits of being generous

Do you assume you have no power to positively affect the world around you? Yet even a small act of kindness like waiting to hold a door open may mean a lot for someone who is elderly or disabled. Arguably, a degree of self-absorption hinders us from noticing what others need. If so we could look for the potential benefits we can create. What the results might be if one performed allotted tasks in more of a spirit of generosity.

Thinking about self-sacrifice if generous

Giving can feel more like a hardship than an opportunity. Yet spiritual teachers say that giving doesn’t really entail sacrifice because you get more back than you put in e.g. a sense of usefulness, an uplift in mood, receiving thanks and appreciation.

Questioning one’s motivation to be generous

Sometimes people behave generously for self-centred reasons. However just because some people behave hypocritically does not mean everybody does. Psychological research shows that humans do sometimes genuinely want to help for the sake of others.  So, why not challenge the cynical view that people always help others in order to feel good about themselves.

Being more focused

You might write down two things you can give or do for three people you know. This entails thinking about genuine needs you are capable of meeting within your own means and time constraints and where you are not taking away from someone their responsibility to help themselves. For example I would suggest you think carefully before handing over money to someone you know. Being too generous might cause future difficulty in the relationship. If the person is asking you for money you might question what the cash is really for. An obvious example is money that is likely to be wasted on frivolous things.  Consider not only the intention about paying you back but how realistic he or she is about getting into a position to do so. Generosity is no use unless it is wise generosity.

Also I would like to add something about not forcing yourself into being generous. You could still be sensitive to and act on any kind impulses you have, albeit fleeting ones.

Working on your blocks

One block to watch out for I think is a grudging feeling when doing something helpful. It is all too easy for any weak inclination to help to be hindered by a penny pinching desire to get things for ourselves or by irritation with the other person who needs help. Buddhists talk about attachment to one’s material possessions which can only result in unhappiness.

Not depending on a generous nature

Religious people feel self-reliance isn’t powerful enough. This would mean not depending on your own strength to change yourself. The alternative is to seek help from whatever you believe to be the spiritual source of love. For many Christians this will be what they see as the divine human face of God. For others it will be some higher power greater than one’s own limitations.

Noticing the results of being generous

As you start to give more of yourself to people, you will probably find that others are doing more things for you. What goes around, comes around. Others may start to see you as a better person.

The spiritual philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg, suggests that after death, if not in this life, we will be gifted with wisdom and joy. But this only happens if during life in the world one tries to live according to one’s spiritual beliefs and exercise a charitable attitude to others.

“Give to others, and God will give to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

How to approach death?

There is a cliché which says that there are only two things of which we can be certain in this life, that we are born and that we will die. Yet death is an aspect of life with which it is perhaps difficult to feel at ease. There may be many reasons for that, and I should like to consider some of them here, and at the same time to see if we might have a way of looking at the subject positively.

Fear and Loss
For many people, death is linked with fear, although that fear may have many parts. For example, we may be afraid of illness which leads to death, perhaps loss of strength, mobility, even speech and the ability to communicate in some instances. Death may be connected with loss in various ways in our minds, perhaps because we know that there are many things which we value in this life which we cannot take with us. That may include physical objects, but it may just as easily be relationships with people, hobbies about which we are passionate, treasured pets, abilities which we feel we have and many things which generally make  life worth living. Sometimes it may not be our own death which we fear, but that of those around us, to whom we are close. That may bring up not just a sense of loss in the present, but we may find past memories returning too. It may even be that what we remember are things which we might have said but didn’t, help that we thought about offering but somehow failed to do.

The Final Countdown
All of this can bring us to what I believe to be one of the key features when we contemplate death: because it has such a sense of finality, death forces us to think about opportunities, including lost opportunities. If we believe that there is nothing beyond death, that sense will be sharpened, and it would be surprising not to think then of what might have been. If there is no feeling of what might be beyond death then the tendency will be to focus on what might have been. That may tend to drag us down if we feel that there were opportunities we have made not just to our own lives but the lives of others also.

There is something about death which involves a weighing up of things, and that is perhaps something else which causes fear in us. The threat of death, our own or that of someone close to us, may force us to look at some aspects of ourselves or our relationship with another person which are not necessarily comfortable. That can include our sense of finding it difficult to know how we will cope without someone close to us. Entering into these thoughts offers an opportunity in itself. Many people have no chance to prepare for their own death or someone else’s and it happens suddenly and without warning. Even today, when medical science has achieved great levels of sophistication and progress, this does still occur. Some people advocate living the whole of life aware of our own mortality for this reason. It sharpens our sense of what it is to be alive and we experience life more fully with this awareness.

A Bigger Picture
I have talked little so far about what difference a belief in life continuing after death may make. That may depend greatly on exactly what is believed, but it surely makes a difference not just to how we approach death but to how we live life as a whole. If we believe that something of us lives on after death, it may help to release us somewhat from the burden of finality which we sometimes carry when facing death. If someone close to us dies we may think about our need to release them and to help them in whatever way we can to make the transition between this life and the next. That may not take away the feeling of loss, nor indeed the physical suffering and pain which may be present, but it gives us a larger picture. It is so easy to see death as everything collapsing or shrinking down to a single point like the small dot gradually disappearing after a television set has been switched off. That is what our physical perception sees, especially if we are confronted with this process over a long period.

A spiritual view of death is very different. I have already talked about opportunities, and death is a gateway which leads to many new opportunities. It may be a very narrow gateway, so much so that while we are on this side we cannot see through and even seem to be looking at the proverbial brick wall.

Swedenborg, Death and Angels
Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century scientist, wrote at length in the later part of his life about spiritual experiences and insights which he was given. One of these was to have an experience of what dying might be like. One of the things which he says is that when we die we are accompanied by angels. This is said to be true of the whole of our life, but the angels present around the time of death have the special function of easing this transition. For some people, as they near death they seem not only to drift in and out of another world, but they even seem to experience that world as populated by beings with whom they feel comfortable. For others there may not seem to be this unearthly beneficent presence, but it may instead be that they are not consciously aware of it. This may also act as a comfort to us if we experience the approaching death of someone; to focus on what the angels are doing to aid both the person dying and those of us who will be left behind.

Death is a powerful, mysterious and at times bewildering event to witness. It may not always seem to offer us an opportunity for spiritual insight or growth, but it is my belief that in one way or another it will always do.

Copyright 2012 David Lomax