The Gifts of Giving Back

Supporting others is a great act of love, and of self-love.

As my life circumstances changed over the last several years and my outlooks began to broaden, I felt a growing awareness of not just the benefits of “giving back,” but the deep human need to do so.  The act of life itself, and the unique string of a million-plus moments that make up the experience we call “our life,” is often highlighted by a series of sometimes small but incredibly meaningful and personally important interactions of sharing and experiencing things with others.

At first I simply remembered that I had at times volunteered and given back in some capacity.  But like a lot of folks whose eyes were focused on the prize that our parents, our social groups, our society, and sometimes our deepest fears tell us to focus on, I told myself during those times that I was doing the support work for other reasons.  It was to gain school credits, to kill time during the summer, as a side activity while hanging out with friends, and later as an adult, it was to fulfill an obligation for work and to set the example for others in the organization.  In other words, I found that for me and most of those I knew, the act of giving in and of itself somehow didn’t stand on its own.  For some it was as if there had to be some other society-approved reason for investing the time and energy to do it.  The act was like a “to-do list item” that was a nice thing to do but still somehow felt like a duty,  …  followed by the feeling “glad I contributed and got that volunteering thing done.” For others, they hosted a fundraiser mostly for the status-raising opportunity to tell their acquaintances at tea or cocktail hour the next day about their kind activities.  And for many of us, it seems that if and when we do take the time to give back, for a fleeting moment we do feel a positive spark from the interaction. We not only intellectually know a good thing happened, we feel something in our hearts too. Call it a warmth, an internal smile or something else, it’s a small feeling of connection different from our normal experience, and it feels pretty good, actually a bit better than good.  I did and felt all this too, but like most of you have experienced, those feelings would soon pass and I would quickly slip back into the blurred-like mindset of rationalizing, measuring, commoditizing and sometimes maybe leveraging these emotionally-valuable connection experiences.  I’d return to the more hardened outlook of my and many people’s current culture.  But for reasons I didn’t understand then, I kept coming back to it.

Then things began to change.  As my life as I knew it started to unravel through the life changing events I mention elsewhere in this blog, those conventional hardened outlooks that surrounded me like a suit of armor and an anchor that was weighting down my heart and my spirit began to crack and fall away.    And this is when I began to remember who I really am.

As a small child, I looked at the world with a full sense of wonder.  I loved the beauty in all things, the magnetic quality that played off of and surrounded striking vistas, and I especially loved the power that people of goodwill and compassion cared with them.  Acts of pure kindness caring seemed larger and more impressive than the biggest and most impressive structures made by humans, and the whole experience of recognizing, celebrating, and participating in those experiences made me feel blessed to be alive.

Many say that as we grow in knowledge and age, we forget the fundamental things.  The things that make us human, the things that small children see and intuitively know.  Children know it because it is not something you are taught, it is something you open your eyes and just see.  The blurred-like mindset of distraction, rationalization, measurement, commoditization, leveraging and conformity, now those are things we are taught.

So who is to say that we can’t see those fundamental truths again?  And who says we have to have our lives completely altered by difficult circumstances and illnesses to awaken and finally see beauty all around us, and how we can help spread that beauty by giving back?

For me, I found supporting the Red Cross and its mission of 100% unwavering neutrality helping anyone of any background or human ideals in need, participating in various cancer support organizations and helping those affected by cancer and other illnesses (as well as their caregivers and loved ones) live a better and more fulfilled life beyond those illnesses, and now volunteering with preschoolers in the marginalized communities of Lima Peru as a few places to help for now.  For you, it may be a very different giving focus and that is fantastic.  My wish for you is you find or take an opportunity that is presented that is perfect for you, and you find the liberation that giving can provide.

In the end, there is so much joy and love to be gained and shared from giving back, that at least for me, I found the moment we stop thinking about ourselves and the ideas about our giving and we just be present and give, we gain more than we ever thought possible.