Have you noticed that when it comes to “life lessons,” when you forget one, that somehow you get a sort of cosmic thump on the side of the head as a reminder that you need to pay attention? That is how it seems to me, at any rate.
Last spring I was cashing in on a generous offer from a friend to come to her spa for a treatment called Healing Touch. Despite being in serious need of some TLC, she reminded me repeatedly of her offer before I finally surrendered and arranged the appointment.
This made no rational sense because at the time I was really at a low ebb; drained and in a gray mood. I don’t like to think of myself in these terms, but I was burned out. Physically I was vaguely symptomatic, but not sick enough to warrant going to the doctor. She obviously recognized my state of being far more clearly than I did.
She showed me back to the massage room, and asked me to sit on the table. She bent to untie my shoes and remove them, and I nearly bumped heads with her, trying to take them off myself. She calmly said, “It would be all right for you to allow someone else to take your shoes off for you.” What a concept!
This is what I mean when I say “cosmic thump on the side of the head.” After the session was over, and I was feeling relaxed, calm and then increasingly rejuvenated, I reflected on that small exchange. How many times had I turned down offers for assistance assuring the person offering that I could manage it myself?
The winter before when my friend Denny called me to offer to drive over to shovel the snow from around my car, I objected at first even though I was recovering from the flu and in no shape to go shovel snow! Surely I could hire the kid across the street, and besides, what if he hurt his back again? Denny was more persistent than I was, and arrived despite my objections. Afterwards we enjoyed a chat over a cup of coffee, and I felt truly grateful for his help and his friendship.
So what’s the problem?
Probably like many of you, I was taught that it is better to give than to receive. And socialized as a female, the expectations of caring for everyone else rather than oneself were greatly reinforced. In fact to say no, was selfish and not at all nice. And lord knows that good girls are nice. In my work life I have met many men who are burdened by the same internalized message.
Like many great spiritual lessons, I think that one has been poorly understood. I don’t think it means that receiving is selfish or wrong. In fact nature herself demonstrates that there is ebb and a flow to giving and receiving. The ocean waves come in, and they also go out. The farmer prepares the soil, plants the seeds and after the sun and rain of the growing season, harvests the crop.
In our human affairs, the cash flows in and as we pay our bills, it flows out. We can quickly see in this case that we are in trouble if we are giving and not receiving. But the same is true for our relationships. We share our thoughts and feelings with friends, and we also need to be quiet and allow them to do the same. Speak and then attentively listen. Help when they need it and also allow them to help us.
It’s an irony that what we secretly desire the most from friends and family is for them to attend and care for us. But we may find it difficult to relax and fully allow their attention and help. What is this about? I think that when we are in a position to help others, we have a sense of being in control. Or at least we feel more powerful or capable. To stand by and allow someone else to take off our shoes means to be vulnerable. To open our hearts and truly allow another human being to offer his thoughts or her love means being vulnerable. We cannot control what may be coming our way.
What if it hurts? What if it stops? What if I don’t understand it? What if I come to count on it and it goes away? Sometimes it is a challenge to believe in the abundance of love in the universe, as well as an abundance of everything else we need and want. We are so conditioned by our culture to feel fear and a scarcity of what we need. Our habits of thought are initially shaped by our parents’ fears and reinforced by the hysteria of mass media and entertainment that we pay to watch.
Although we desire abundance and love and well-being, we end up resisting them when we can’t believe that we deserve them, or that they even exist. When you take a good look at your life and understand that what you see is the result of your beliefs and practices, your resistance to allowing what you desire will be apparent.
However, we can choose to become conscious of those beliefs and thought habits. Through practice we can replace them and the behaviors that result, with healthier ones. We can be helpful to others and also allow for our own rest, replenishment, nourishment and support. There is plenty for all of us.