Years ago, I heard Dorothy Day speak. Founder of the Catholic Worker movement, her long-term commitment to living among the poor on New York's Lower East Side - had made her one of my heroes. So it came as a great shock when in the middle of her talk, I heard her start to ruminate about the "ungrateful poor."
I did not understand how such a dismissive phrase could come from the lips of a saint - until it hit me with the force of a Zen koan. Dorothy Day was saying, "Do not give to the poor expecting to get their gratitude so that you can feel good about yourself. If you do, your giving will be thin and short-lived, and that is not what the poor need; it will only impoverish them further. Give only if you have something you must give; give only if you are someone for whom giving is its own reward."
When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless - a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other's need to be cared for. That kind of giving is not only loveless and faithless, based on the arrogant and mistaken notion that God has no way of channeling love to the other except through me. Yes, we are created in and for community, to be there, in love, for one another. But community cuts both ways: when we reach the limits of our own capacity to love, community means trusting that someone else will be available to the person in need.
One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess - the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.
May Sarton, in her poem "Now I Become Myself," uses images from the natural world to describe a different kind of giving, grounded in a different way of being, a way that results not in burnout but in fecundity and abundance:
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root...
When the gift I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself - and me - even as I give it away. Only when I give something that does not grow within me do I deplete myself and harm the other as well, for only harm can come from a gift that is forced, inorganic, unreal.
Excerpted from Parker Palmer's book "Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation"
SEED QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you relate to the notion that burnout results from trying to give what we do not possess? Can you share a personal experience of a time that the traps of inorganic gifting became clear to you? What practice helps you move toward organic gifting?
This article by Parker Palmer, just took me back to the story of Tukaram Maharaj when the thief visit his farm and stolen the cow. And his introspectiongoes like this "who was this bheetar ka chor? Well, bhagwan ki gaay, bhagwan ki dharti, bhagwan ki baarish, bhagwan ka ghaas, aur us ghaas ko khaakar jo doodh aaya woh bhi bhagwaan ka hi. Usko mera kehna aur maanna woh chori nahin to aur kya hain? (Everything belongs to God - the earth, the cow, the rains, the grass and the milk which the cow gives after eating the grass. The one who thinks and asserts that the cow and the milk are mine is the inner thief). When i see both the story in integrated way, it revalidated my own value of simplicity.
This explains the cause of all kinds of depressive, challenging moments - being inorganic, forced, unreal.
This passage is deeply meaningful to understand life, thank you!
Really good.. I am currently "recovering" from roughly two years of this "burnout" where after several years working in the investment management industry post-college, I somewhat woke up to the divine unity of all things and I decided to leave my career, in somewhat of a misunderstood and rebellious, renunciation of materialism and access.. only to find myself in on the other extreme where I was trying to give and practice acts of kindness and charity as I traveled without a stable home, working in a variety of un-paid volunteer positions, over the course of a two-year period, when I wasn't really able to take care of myself and meet all my needs. Thus my "giving" was coming from a place of lack and out a false and confused sense of nobility, as I was trying to "do-good." I was not able to give unconditionally, and have not been able to fully love in my relationships or interactions because I have not been taking care of myself during this time. I am just now waking up to this after two years of being confused and am learning to take care of myself again, as I realize this is fundamental in any true giving. Someone else commented This passage has the potential to save a lot of 'heartache' for a lot of 'givers'..IA part of me wants to say I wish I had read this passage two years ago.. But..then I wouldn't have had my adventure/future novel to depict all of my travels, couchsurfing, hitch-hiking and WWOOFing all around the world : )[Hide Full Comment]
In reading this, many thoughts came to mind but the most predominant would be "that I burnout just about everyday"! In speaking in "organic" terms, everything has "a life". The tomatoes I planted in the Spring have done their duty for this season. I've now pulled them up (roots and all) and will begin anew with a whole new plant next Spring. For the trees in our yard, while they appear they "are finished", (it's an illusion) they are not. The tree stays rooted ... It does not "move"... It keeps it's life ... But it's life is hidden.
When I burnout, I make like a wintered tree and keep my focus on my roots! I can feel tired, finished ... Like this is it, but It is then I start "digging"! Focus on the life (God) in me. Perhaps I can't ... But, in Him, I CAN. (And you CAN, too!) God, like the roots His given us .... Seeks out the good stuff of the ground it's planted in! Believe.
Awesome reflection. Genuine giving...from our hearts..from our true nature. Genuine passion
Giving organically respects the natural cycle of growing what we have to offer, offering it up, and then resting and restoring so that we can begin the cycle again. Love the analogy of the fruit tree. Ripeness is everything, and honoring from the seasons of the heart.
Burnout happens when we give from a place that is not authentic and thus it takes much more energy to give in that manner because sometimes there is built in expectation or there is the fact we are already depleted. It's important to "fill our own buckets" before we can fill someone else's. When we give completely from our hearts without expectations we are giving in a way that also feeds us in the process. In my 20's I remember often giving and giving in hopes of receiving in return; it came from a lack of self worth and it was exhausting. These days I give from my heart focused on the beauty of the giving and also on the process of sharing my own gifts and talents it is a completely different feeling. It is one of joy and feeling at peace and contentment. I think we also need to be mindful of what we are giving, is it truly needed, is it even wanted by the other person or people. Several First Nations have a philosophy of being sure to not burden a receiver with a gift they may not want. Here's to giving with no expectations, here's to giving from the heart. Here's to seeing the gifts we all possess. Hugs from my heart to yours.[Hide Full Comment]
It is not about giving or receiving love. It is about being love, like the ocean to which the rivers flow. The ocean is full by itself. We need to be the ocean of love, full from within
So Beautiful, so True. Blessed are the ones who know the One Source of ALL Gifts and are connected to that Source. From the Source alone will they take their reward of pure inner Joy and Equanimity. I was amazed - one more time - by the magic of synchronicity as I had just unsubscribe to the newsletter of an American teacher who shares wonderful teaching about Love and the Heart. There were so many "I...I...I" "I did this and I have done that" that this alone counteracted all my wish to be connected to his group as by doing that, I will only sustain an illusion instead of sustaining a community spirit base on Pure Love.
I can't give what I don't have. I can pretend or try, and then I'm giving my pretending or trying. I typically think of burnout as the result of not taking care of self, such as when I give to the other or take care of the other in a way that neglects my self. Pretending and trying are ways of not taking care of myself and are tiring and eventually result in burnout. When I give having some ulterior motive or because I think I should and I don't really feel it or have it in me, what I give is not genuine and I feel strained and tired and unhappy with myself, and the traps of such inorganic gifting have become clear to me. The satisfaction of organic giving helps me continue to move toward more organic giving. The Sufi poet Hafiz said that the sun gives so much to the earth and never says, "You owe me." The sun is being sun, giving itself, giving what it is, not giving in order to provide light or heat or for any other purpose -- that's organic giving. Keeping that in mind helps me move toward organic giving.[Hide Full Comment]
This passage has the potential to save a lot of 'heartache' for a lot of 'givers' - but alas! the path is best walked and realised...
I can relate to this transactional giving - the one that creates an invisible expectation and eventually resentment if the 'gap' is too much....
Indeed, the giving that comes from gratitude and fullness has a different quality, a different ripple - the question though is do we wait till we fill full or do we start giving and realize our fullness in the process
Charles Eisenstien recently announced a course on Masculinity and offered scholarships - most people choose to take the course fully free or just pay 10%....in a Facebook post, Charles reflects on this attitude he encountered, in his giving....
To me, while his giving may come from fullness, yet it did have traces of burnout - essentially, there are no 'settled' answers for all of us, they have to be discovered as we walk the path and carry out newer and more radical experiments in generosity
An organic gift is an offering from the heart.It has no conditions, expectations and attachment to its outcomes. In the Bhagavad Gita, such a gift is called Karma Yoga that creates a union between the giver and the receiver. Giving becomes receiving.My daily gifting is mostly organic.. It is effortless. It is natural. It is fulfilling. It nourishes my heart. It enlivens me and brings blessings to my life. Such gifts do not have to be big.I do small acts of kindness with love such as holding a crying or a sad child in my hands, smiling at someone I run into, cleaning pots and pens in the kitchen and spending time with others who are suffering.
When I overstretch myself and do more than I can, it drains my energy. I am learning the art of operating within my limits. I need to take care of myself in order to take care of others. I do not call it selfishness. I call it enlightened self caring..
I also encounter may people in my life who offer such organic gifts. I am very grateful to them.Let me conclude with the simple yet profound saying by Mother Teresa:
Three things in human life are important:
The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind.
The third is to be kind.
May we let the milk of kindness flow from our heart!
Jagdish P Dave