Are You a Beast of Burden?

Giving can be more than donating money, more than volunteering time and expertise. Giving can be a way of living.

Here's my epiphany:

I can "bestow blessings" at any time just through how I interact with others.

At the heart of it all is free will. When it comes to "have-to"s, consciousness can change everything. What I choose to characterize as a burden will always weigh me down. What I see as a chosen responsibility will teach me, make me stronger and often bring me joy.

Free will is also the key when I'm the beneficiary of a gift or I receive help from some one.

If I feel I have an obligation to repay generosity, I have chained myself to a transactional way of living. But simple gratitude allows me to acknowledge and still respond in whatever way feels appropriate. Of course, I can do something nice in return, but there is no sense of owing, no sense of a debt to be cleared.

In these days of seeking accountability from donors and grantees, from managers and staff, from teachers and students, from parents and children -- I think it's worth remembering this:

A gift with strings is not really a gift. It's a deal, a contract, an exchange.

Of course, deals are good things - they form the foundation of our economy and our society. In philanthropy, donated money is exchanged for social and environmental impact. That's a good deal.

But most of our lives, we live as philanthropists of the spirit. And here, in the kitchens and hallways and backyards and parks and sidewalks and cafes of our lives, we share with other human beings in ways that often do not benefit from a "deal" mentality. Here, moment to moment, we have many opportunities to choose to give freely - to "bestow blessings" - and to say no to transactional behavior that leaves us resentful or beholden.

That's why I love the quote at the beginning of this post. It reminds me that I make my life as I make my every-day choices in life. And the most important choice stems from whether I see my days on this earth as filled with burden management or opportunities to give and be grateful.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Messages from the Ancestors, Wisdom for the Way is a book published by two friends from Santa Barbara, California, Dr. David Cumes, a Stanford-trained urologist and shaman from South Africa, and Maryellen Kelley, a retired educator. Both received all the wise sayings in this marvelous little book via dreams.

Cross-posted at "Thinking Philanthropy."