We hear a lot these days about "empowerment," people looking to find someone or something to help them realize their inner strength, or reach their hidden potential. But I would like to suggest a simpler and more immediate way, a sort of short cut to empowerment: rather than looking outside yourself to find something, look inside yourself and give something -- make an offering. In Greek and Hindu traditions, offerings to the Gods were a direct way of showing gratitude, of giving thanks. Of course this traditional sort of offering is not really possible or practical nowadays, living in a fast-paced, modern society where there are few temples, and even fewer who maintain genuine belief in the Gods. So this leaves us with a question: where, and to whom, do we offer our thanks?
Let me tell you a little story to illustrate my belief in the power -- and empowerment -- of a more modern sort of offering. My mother once wore a beautiful pearl necklace out to dinner with some friends. During the meal, a woman my mother had just met admired her necklace, and paid her a compliment. Instantly, without a second thought, my mother unhooked the necklace and placed it in the woman's hands, saying, "Here, it is now yours." Amazed, the woman reluctantly took the necklace, stammering that she wished she knew how she could repay my mother -- asking what she could give her in return. My mother turned to her and said, "it's not a trade, it's an offering!" When my mother came back home, my sister and I asked her why she gave the necklace away. "My darlings," she said, "there is no explanation for such a thing. It is in the spirit of offering in the moment." This concept has had a profound impact on me ever since I heard it as a little girl. In a world that is so used to trading, to exchange -- I'll give you this and you give me that--we have lost one of the most precious free gifts, and means to empowerment, the gift of making an unprompted offering. This sort of offering is not a planned, wrapped gift, but a spontaneous offering, without a box, without a bow, and without the expectation of something in return.
Many of us today feel that we are lacking something -- especially in these difficult times, where so many have lost the basic comforts of life. It becomes very easy to focus on what we don't have, or how much the people next to us do have. It's natural to become preoccupied with things like securing a position, making more money, and acquiring more things -- even becoming resentful about the inequalities that exist in our society. But rather than dwell on these disparities and become disconnected and withdrawn, what if we were to tap into an internal well of offering, and instantly strike a new source of wealth?
Where can you make such offerings, you might ask? Anywhere. Offer a smile or a friendly gesture to those who seem upset or down, offer your empathy and wisdom to friends and co-workers who are experiencing difficulties, or to anyone who might need it, offer a compliment to the person next to you on the bus, offer to talk so someone at an event or party who doesn't know anybody, offer to help someone on a plane struggling to fit bags in the overhead compartment, offer your time with no expectation of repayment.
I experienced a lovely moment of offering in Manhattan just the other day. It was raining heavily as I was coming out of a meeting; looking for a taxi, I noticed there was already a lady waiting for one. After a little while, with no taxi in view, she turned to me and said, "Would you like to share the next taxi that comes?" "I'd be delighted," I replied, and within seconds someone got out of the taxi in front of us, and we got in. We ended up having the most wonderful conversation and connection. When the cab stopped to drop me off first, I went to pay my share, and she refused to take any money.
I was telling a friend of mine that I was writing about offering, and she shared a wonderful experience of how a well-timed, generous offering deeply affected her: after a sudden break-up and weeks of stressful apartment hunting, my friend finally found a place and quickly moved in--only then to notice that the new bed she had bought was badly damaged. Frustrated and overwhelmed, she mentioned this situation to her new landlord. To her great surprise, her landlord immediately offered to drive her to the store to exchange the broken furniture, even offering to take her grocery shopping. When she thanked her landlord profusely, asking how she could make it up to her, she replied, "Don't even think of it. I was happy to help -- this is just how I like to do things."
Offering to those you know and love is easy, but offering to those we don't know can ultimately be even more rewarding. The Greeks are notorious for immediately offering food to anyone who enters their home, and my mother was certainly no exception; whenever someone visited our home, whether it was a dear friend or the FedEx man, the first thing out of her mouth was always, "what can I offer you?" This tradition of offering was deeply ingrained in my mother, and she always extended the same warmth and generosity to strangers that she showed towards family and friends. And remember, these offerings don't need to be material: offer your goodness, offer your knowledge, offer your humor -- and, above all, offer with your heart. It is only when we genuinely offer with our hearts that our hearts unbind. It is then that the illusion of separateness is shattered, and our hearts experience oneness and connection.
So I am issuing us all a little challenge: Find some way to be a generous offerer today. Be generous with your heart! The more we spontaneously give, the more connected and enriched we will feel. What if we use each other as our living temples, and put our best offering foot forward to see what direction life points us? I believe that if we live in a state of offering -- even if we think we have nothing to offer -- life blesses us and we feel more at peace with who we are and what we have. Would you share your stories of offering with us? Let us know how your experiences of offering, or being offered to, have affected your lives. As we allow ourselves to reach out unconditionally, our hearts unbind, and our lives will be blessed.
Agapi's book "Unbinding the Heart" will come out February 1, 2012. Join the conversation on the Unbinding the Heart Facebook page or visit the Unbinding the Heart website.