Have you bought your Christmas gifts yet? This time of year is so all-consuming! For those who celebrate Christmas, there are all the preparations—the Christmas cards and gifts, the lights and decorations, and plans for holiday meals and get-togethers. And in much of the Western world, people who don’t celebrate Christmas have to deal with constantly watching those who do.
Intruding into nearly everyone’s lives is the increasing commercialization of Christmas. Displays in the stores are set up earlier and earlier every year. Christmas advertising pervades the Internet, where more and more people are spending more and more of their time. For many, this season also brings the pressure of work deadlines as we near the year’s end.
So I appreciate this opportunity as I write to you to reflect on all this. And in so doing, to see if we can filter out the distractions long enough to reflect on what truly means something to you and to me in the middle of all this activity.
I find the deepest parts of my soul called homeward as I enter this time of year. I don’t believe that this experience has very much to do with the commercial or even the religious aspects of the holiday. The hollowness of the music piped into the parking lot at our local mall, the neighbor’s illuminated cross—it all stands in stark contrast to the inner pull I feel. What I believe is that what we feel internally at this time of year originates from a reality that transcends anything made by human beings.
In the northern hemisphere, we are approaching the winter solstice—the shortest day and the deepest night. Some argue that the date upon which we celebrate Jesus’s birth was adjusted to correlate with pagan holidays that celebrated the solstice. However it came to pass, there is a confluence of these two events—an extreme point in our orbit around the sun and a sense of the closeness of the heavens celebrated in the Christmas story. While I understand that there is a human dimension to both these realities, I find it easy to feel the wonder of what isn’t born of the human world. I believe it is this that our hearts cry out for in December every year.
This brings me to my theme: The Art of Giving and Receiving. What does it even mean, to give, or to receive? At one level, it is an exchange of stuff. But if that was all it was, it would be more like a transaction than anything else. For giving and receiving to mean something, it has to relate to an exchange at a heart level. It has to involve the soul and the spirit. The physical gifts that really mean something engage these levels of our experience. And then there are the gifts which we receive that aren’t a physical gift at all. The love of someone you love. A favor someone does for you for no apparent reason. And then the gift of life we know every moment we walk the planet.
Giving and receiving are about the opportunity we have for a deep exchange with other people and with the unseen source that gives us life. Sometimes I notice that this flow is blocked with another person. Today I asked a friend, “Are you still mad at me?” They looked at me funny and said no. And then they asked me if I was mad at them. It was an odd conversation. But for me, there was a reason for it. I sensed that the deeper exchange that I could share with my friend was blocked. The flow wasn’t flowing like it could. So perhaps an odd question helped clear the block and let the current that nourishes our hearts and souls flow.
It’s more difficult to discern what’s happening to our connection with the unseen source of life and all Creation that is within us. If that gets blocked, there is no one to talk to directly about it—at least, no one who will speak back to you anyplace other than in your own mind and heart.
So what is the art of opening up that deep exchange that we long for, particularly at this time of year?
It’s said that it is better to give than to receive. And who would argue with that? But someone who hasn’t received deeply cannot give deeply. They may be able to fabricate an act of apparent generosity. But if a person hasn’t received a gift deeply in their own soul, they do not have it to give. So I believe that the Art of Giving and Receiving begins with receiving.
Receiving is not the same as getting. So to truly receive, it doesn’t help to try to get someone else to give you something. At least that’s what I’ve found. In the exchange we have with other people, there is something hugely unsatisfying about manipulating other people to give you what you want.
Here are the steps I’ve learned in the Art of Giving and Receiving:
- Open Fully
You receive when you open fully to take in what is already coming your way: All the physical things that come from Creation—food, shelter, the beauty of nature and the warmth of home. All the love that comes to you from other people. The life that animates your physical body and your whole human experience. And the love the Universe gives you that melts your heart and nourishes your soul.
- Become Conscious
I notice how easy it seems to be to lose consciousness of the gifts you are receiving. It can help to write a list of what you receive. Try writing your list in three categories according to the source from which you receive the gift:
* Creation (from the natural world and from your physical circumstances)
* The Invisible Source of Creation (God)
Part of the process of receiving is gratitude—appreciation for what you are receiving. Cherishing what you are receiving. Cherishing, even adoring the source of the gift—the person, the circumstance, or the very source of life. In the yearly calendar, Thanksgiving precedes the gift giving of Christmas. Maybe that reveals a truth. Take your list of what you are receiving and cherish the gift and its source. Explore your opportunities to express your appreciation to whoever is the source of the gift.
When you have opened fully, become conscious of receiving, and appreciated what you have received, the generosity that leads to true giving comes easily and naturally. You feel full with what you have received and ready to give.
I’ve seldom found that pressing people to give helps very much. If a person hasn’t fully received it will be very difficult for them to give. Of course, they may have received at some time in the past, forgotten about it and then been blocked in their giving. So if you are miserable, there is wisdom in the admonition, Do something for somebody quick!
When we are participating in this kind of deep exchange, we are engaging in the flow of a reality that isn’t manmade. Yes, people may be involved. But the real gifts that come through other people originate from a place deep within them that is not only a product of their humanity. The gifts that have real meaning—love, care, insight, understanding and wisdom—come because we, as human beings, have become instruments for the spirit of Creation which is of cosmic proportions.
Are you ready for that kind of exchange in your life? If you are, you are ready to practice the Art of Giving and Receiving. I hope you have received a gift in reading this article. You may now be poised to enter this season in a way that lets you share deeply with the people in your life and with the Universe itself. And if you are not ready to do that, try reading this again. Track the words. But more importantly, track the gift you have to receive from a reality that transcends who you are and who I am as human beings. And see what happens from there.