True Charity

Clivia partial Bloom 3          In St. Paul’s well known Letter to the Corinthians, Book 1, Chapter 13, he speaks of the nature of true charity.  He lists ways to give and to each he adds “and have not true charity” (to paraphrase) “what I do is hollow and meaningless.” His description of true charity is the equivalent of a definition of unconditional love. The giving of love in unconditional ways means we do not expect anything back from our giving, nor do we make any judgments about those to whom we are giving.

Doing this necessitates the undoing of a lot of old programming we have learned from the adults around us as we are growing up. It is natural to be judgmental. To one degree or another, we all are. The first lesson is to become aware of how and when we are, and the second is to stop the attitude before it reaches words or action. Recently I was given a wonderful example of a positive approach to true charity.

It is a sweet story, and I want to share it because It seems as though it provides such a good example of unconditional love.  A dear friend who no longer lives close by called me recently to catch up on our mutual activities. As we chatted about our lives and what we had been doing, she confided in me that she had taken on an interesting Lenten discipline. For Lent this year she decided to be of service to the homeless population.

Several times a week or more she purchases food and toiletries with her own money and goes to where homeless people are gathered. She offers them a choice between food and toiletries, and she shares her purchases with those in need. She converses with them, interacting with them without judgment or feelings of pity. Some are grateful, others want both or more, and she very reasonably tells them that no, they must share. Sometimes a conversation ensues, and she participates in it peacefully and without preaching.

What she is doing is true charity: giving with unconditional love. This is often difficult for us to do because often when we give we expect something back even if only thanks. We may also put parameters on our giving: “if I do this for you, you must do this for me,” the “this” being anything from cleaning up or attending a service, to giving up something they may wish to keep doing. This kind of giving is not true charity. It is a kind of manipulation or at least an attempt to manipulate.

We learn bribery as small children. Our parents hold out a treat in order to get us to do something, and it engenders an attitude that we may keep as adults. “If you do this for me, I will do that for you,” is example. When we want something from someone it is all too easy to act thus. Giving without wanting anything back, and even more, interacting with those who are often shunned and despised for their behavior, is true charity. It warmed my heart to hear what she was doing, and I told her so.

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The Importance of Cherishing Myself

Tasha full f aceOn the rare occasions when I have been without anyone to cook for except myself I found that I had very little interest in making my own meals. While I truly love to cook for my friends and my family, in my experience, it brings me been little to no pleasure to cook just for me. Lately, I haven’t had to deal with that problem, and while I hope I won’t have to in the future, if I do, I will try to think differently. This attitude may be why most if not all of the retirement and assisted living communities have food plans included in their fees, as well as dining rooms that serve up to three meals a day.

For most of us cherishing ourselves is not easy. It’s not something that comes naturally, and there’s a reason for that. While because they don’t know much about being an individual, very young children are naturally unselfish, once they learn to think of themselves as “me” most of their parents begin teaching them to share. “Sharing is caring” becomes a kind of guidance with which to approach both giving and doing. This is all very well until we begin to leave ourselves out of the sharing equation. It is vital to remember ourselves when we share. I am happier and more content when I include myself in my decisions and actions concerning others.

What can make us forget to do that is that often it feels better to give than to receive. Giving can even make us feel a bit superior to the recipient, a kind of pat on the head. It can also incline us to wish to be thanked or even to be given back to in some way. If or when we do not get a return on our gift, we may grow resentful. This then can create a feeling of martyrdom or even bitterness as in: “I did thus and such for them and got nothing back,” or “Look what I gave them and what did they give me?!”

If we cherish others at our own expense and forget to cherish ourselves, we do both the recipient and ourselves a disservice. It is not difficult to think of ways to cherish ourselves. However given that it may feel more virtuous to focus on others, it may also be easier to do so. Yet small acts on our own behalf can make a big difference. For instance: remembering to buy and prepare a kind of tea I like along with the one that Stephen prefers starts my morning happily. Remembering to ask him to join me in doing tasks or walking enhances my day.

My own small acts of kindness to myself, like taking the time to sit with my feet up and read a fun book for at least an hour a day, or occasionally stopping what I am doing and going out on the porch for a breath of fresh air make me feel good. I also appreciate it when I remember to do a bit of stretching or some exercise. When I discover a new pair of socks at my favorite online provider, or a pretty but unnecessary item of clothing in our local thrift store, I no longer feel guilty giving this to myself. Sharing means giving equally, not depriving oneself. If I encounter any guilt when I do something for me, I remind myself that I deserve to be cherished, and I smile and tell myself, “I love you too.”

Being Kind to our Mother the Earth

Maple tree Celebrating SpringWhen we call our planet Mother Earth we are speaking the literal truth. Although our bodies grew inside and were birthed by a human mother, the elements that comprise it are derived from the substance of earth. The mother of us all, whether as individuals or collectively, is our planet. One of the names of our mother is Gaia. There are many who believe she is a living entity in which, along with every other living thing—animate or inanimate, we are cells.

As her children it behooves us to treat our mother the earth with respect. Not everyone looks at Earth this way. Some believe that humanity is privileged and can take what ever they wish from her substance for their own benefit. They do not treat our mother with respect. Taking advantage of her bounty they use it without regard for its possible limits or parameters. Pollution by virtue of pesticides, over fishing, strip mining, and other common practices injure the health of our planet. People who respect their mother do not act in ways that cause her harm.

Individuals who care can make a difference. Daily acts no matter how seemingly small and insignificant, can accumulate. There is a true story to the effect that when the majority of monkeys isolated on an island began washing their food that the practice spread to other islands, communicated somehow through a sense of consciousness. It is said that when enough people act in certain ways that it can influence the actions of others even without their seeing or hearing of it. We need to think about actions of convenience to us that may mean we are taking advantage of our mother earth.

If I leave the water running when I brush my teeth I won’t need to turn the faucet on and off, yet that wastes water. If I take the car somewhere within walking distance, let it idle unnecessarily, or speed when driving I waste fuel. Many of the shortcuts we practice in order to save time end up being bad for the planet. Many towns are banning the use of throwaway plastic bags. They are easily replaced with reusable cloth or disintegrating paper. I just need to remember to take my cloth bags from the car.

Doing things the easy may be hurtful to our mother earth. When did we become accustomed to always drinking from plastic straws? The ocean now is polluted with them! What ever happened to paper ones? Repurposing what may otherwise be thrown away is another way to be kind to the environment. The internet is a good source for ideas for this together with how to accomplish it. All forms of recycling are helpful to our planet. I would not be surprised if in time to come we mine our land fills for the durable materials once discarded now to be found and recycled from there. I can also help by picking up trash when I go out for a walk–and the bending is good exercise. On Mothers’ Day and always I am working to remember to be as kind to my Mother Earth as I can be.

Befriending Ourselves

Bridge reflected

For the most part very young children are naturally generous. This may be because they do not yet have a strong sense of individuality or perhaps because they feel others will enjoy what they find tasty or enjoyable, whether a cookie or a cherished plaything. Later on they lose this openheartedness and fight to keep what they believe is theirs. At this point most parents teach them to be polite and sharing. This lesson becomes a kind of inner imperative that guides us as adults. We learn to feel better when we obey this inner morality and as a consequence often end up depriving ourselves in favor of giving to others.

When was the last time you bought yourself a present—not something practical but something you wanted and didn’t think you ought to spend the money for? You might even have recently bought a gift for someone else that you would have liked to give yourself, and yet didn’t quite dare to for fear of your own disapproval. Most of us have been taught to think of others before thinking of ourselves. While that is a nice way to behave it often leaves results in making us feel deprived or at least somewhat resentful.

Giving to others is praiseworthy. Depriving ourselves to give to others is not. It often results in our feeling the other person ought to be more grateful than they may be…especially if the other does not know how you sacrificed to do that. The reason we too often give to others at our own expense is that it feels nicer to do for others. It gives us good feelings because we’re acting in accordance with what we feel is the right thing to do. But is it? I believe it is important or even necessary to treat ourselves as we would a friend.

Long ago I met and studied with a teacher that taught me about this. It was the beginning of a friendship between myself and me. I learned that if I listened to a wee small voice inside me I would receive true guidance toward correct behavior when it came to giving to or acting for myself. I am not speaking of being selfish or self-centered. There is a big difference between befriending oneself and spoiling oneself. I do not believe in self indulgence to a point of neglecting others, only in being fair about the balance between giving to others and giving to myself.

The real key here is that balance. I can tell when things get out of balance because that inner voice will cry out in pain or sorrow. I may feel neglected or ignored even when I am actually not. Learning to hear that inner voice requires giving up the righteous feelings I get from self-sacrifice and instead asking myself what I really want to have or do instead. I can ask myself if is this how I would treat a friend? The answer comes as a knowing or an understanding. Then my actions are guided by what is good for all concerned including me. When I am my own friend I treat myself the best way I can, and I am happy and content.

The Preciousness of Remembering

When I was a child Little Tasha 4and death or even disaster was to be spoken of, someone would say, “Not in front of the children.” The subject would be changed or I would be told to go off and play so the adults could continue their discussion. Yet because we had animals, death and change were part of my life. I witnessed the drowning of baby ducks and the demise of baby chicks. It was hard when a dog got into my pet rabbits’ pen and maimed them. My aunt’s gardener had to–as I was told, “put them out of their suffering.” Death was no stranger to my childhood. I am neither uncomfortable with it nor afraid of it.

Still, it does have an effect. The recent passing of a dear friend has brought a sense of immediacy to my relationships, and prompted a renewed sense of attention to my way of thinking about life. She and I used to speak each morning except Sundays. More than once I said to Stephen, “One day the phone will not ring at 9:30 every day.” Then indeed that day did come. While I miss my friend, I know she is in a much more comfortable and happy place than she has been for some time. Though I do miss her calls I also rejoice for her.

I am happy to have pleasant memories of our time together. That is the saving grace of partings. It is also a reminder to focus when I am with a dear one and to be present in order to have something to remember. More and more as I get older I have come to realize that endings come whether we want them to or not. We have no way of knowing whether or not any given conversation, meeting or interaction with another may be our last. I do not say this because I have a morbid fear of endings but rather as a reminder that any time we spend with another may be significant.

When we are children we have no understanding of how it is that things change or perhaps end. That ignorance may even be important to children’s comfort and sense of security. Most adults grow accustomed to change and learn to flow with it. It may be an aspect of maturity in human beings to be able to do that. In my life there have been many changes I could never have anticipated. Being able to adapt to them has been crucial to my happiness. Developing a sense of detachment to an anticipated condition of permanence has been not only valuable but also essential.

When I was a child, I could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel. Now even the smallest one costs 50 times that. The decor in my parents’ living room changed once in my memory. Today many people redecorate frequently. Then divorce was rare, people stayed at the same job for most of their lives, I could go on and on about how it used to be. My point is that change is more than ever a constant in most lives. For our comfort it is important to be able to deal with all forms of change, whether of décor or of circumstances. When I make the time to focus my attention and to appreciate what is happening, whether with a relationship or an experience, I have much less regret when it ends.

The Gift of Christmas Giving

Laura Dodge's Christmas windowOne of my fond Christmas memories is of my dad sitting by our living room fireplace wrapping and addressing his Christmas gifts to his workers and others with whom he had a working relationship. He was a horticulturalist and his company was on the North Shore where there were many fine estates and special gardens. He was good at designing views and helping the owners of the estates and their caretakers maintain their trees and shrubs.

His gifts ranged from cartons of cigarettes to bottles of whiskey and included neckties and other smaller items of clothing. Some were for the gardeners of the estates, some for those who worked under his supervision. His men and their foreman got the more expensive gifts. Each one was carefully wrapped and labeled. When I grew old enough to help him I delighted in doing so. All things having to do with Christmas have always been special to me.

Many years ago, on the advice of a spiritual teacher, I began cultivating an attitude of gratitude. This practice has since become much more popular, featured in books and by Oprah, on Facebook groups and on a variety of other sites. There is even a lovely, inspiring site devoted to the expression of gratitude called Gratitude.org. It features all sorts of good news together with thoughtful comments and teachings, as well as poetry.

As Stephen and I drove home after delivering the last plate of Christmas gift cookies, I thought how grateful I was to have an opportunity to acknowledge as my dad did, the kindness of those who had been of help. My token plates of cookies seem a small return for all that these people have done for us, yet they are at least a tangible offering on the alter of my gratitude.

Also, since I was a small child I have been the recipient of much for which I am grateful now, even though at the time I was not aware of the benefit. When I have the opportunity to do so, I acknowledge in my heart those who have been kind to me in the past as well as in the present. Some of them have passed out of my life and some have simply passed away. I remember them with gratitude and say a prayer for their happiness wherever they may be.

Thanksgiving is a fine time to be aware of that for which we are grateful, yet Christmas is my opportunity to express that gratitude in a tangible way to those whose generosity I hope to acknowledge. My life would not be what it is without the help I have received along the ways Those who have in the past, those in the present and even those in the future deserve my thanks as well as whatever I can do to pay it forward in gratitude for those who are too far for me to bring them cookies.

 

Giving Love at Christmas

Love for Christmas Giving

My mother wasn’t much for cooking, though she considered it her duty to serve us good, nourishing food. I don’t remember her ever baking anything sweet. She didn’t care for desserts; she considered them unnecessary and fattening. When I was old enough for her to trust me in the kitchen, she encouraged me to bake simple items like brownies or other easy recipes. Unlike her I truly enjoyed cooking and was happy to make what she permitted me to.

Once I had a family to bake for I broadened my repertoire and learned to make pies and cakes as well as cookies. However cookies were my favorite to make because they went farther. I used to count and divide up the cookies and each child knew what they could have. Because I was home with the children anyway, it was fun to try different recipes. Eventually I created a small Cookie Cookbook with my favorites that I still use today.

Although my family is grown and I no longer bake cookies regularly, every Christmas I make up several batches and create plates to give people who have been helpful or kind to Stephen and me in the past year. The newspaper delivery people who bring the newspaper to our floor, the ladies of the library where we take advantage of their services all year long, the fine gentlemen of the garage where we take our car for repairs and upkeep, and a few others I want to acknowledge for their kindness.

Favorite cookie recipes I usually make include my Disappearing Caramel Brownies, Jiffy Jam Delights, and Unexpected Company Bars, all reliable and relatively easy to make recipes. This time of year there are cookie recipes everywhere to be found, and while these are my personal favorites for giving, those with more time and energy than yours truly might make cut out cookies to decorate or even more fancy treats. If you want one of my recipes, please let me know which, and I will email it. To my way of thinking however one wishes to express love is valid. Spending time on a gift is one of my favorite ways.

While feeding people is one of the ways I use to express my love, I also appreciate recipes that take less rather than more time, yet still provide delicious tasting healthy food. I also collect recipes from others when they have something unique and special to share. Sometimes they even write them out for me. I have loose leaf notebook where I keep these, along with others. Within its plastic sheeted pages are pressed their treasured, handwritten pieces of paper.

The following recipe wasn’t written out by my late friend because it was so simple. Avocado and Grapefruit salad requires one grapefruit and one avocado per two people, so if you are serving a family you need to double or triple, depending. Think kind thoughts as you peel and section grapefruit, removing membrane and preserving juice. Cut in half, remove seed and section one avocado into slices. Combine all, add a tablespoon or two of a good tasting olive oil, stir well, chill slightly, and serve with love for the holidays or at any time at all.