Generosity is a key spiritual practice in many religious traditions, perhaps because the practice of generosity helps us form the habit of seeing that the glass is half full. It helps us form the belief that we have the power to do something good with the gifts that life has bestowed upon us. When we practice generosity, we find that we stay flexible and open enough to receive as well. So generosity is a flow from the universe, or God, or others to us, and through us back to others and the world. Generosity connects with others and the world.
Generosity, when we get it right, also can heal us. Judith Lewis Herman is an expert in trauma, and knows that trauma severs good, healthy ties between individuals and communities. She also knows that generosity is essential to healing. She writes, “Repeatedly in the testimony of survivors there comes a moment when a sense of connection is restored by another person’s unaffected display of generosity. Something in herself that the victim believes to be irretrievably destroyed---faith, decency, courage---is reawakened by an example of common altruism. Mirrored in the actions of others, the survivor recognizes and reclaims a lost part of herself. At that moment, the survivor begins to rejoin the human commonality...” (from Trauma and Recovery)
What might happen if you extend to someone:
- The benefit of a doubt?
- Unless you know for certain otherwise, your assumption of their best intention?
- Your positive regard, regardless of whether they “deserve” it?
- Your respect?
- Your understanding?
- Your trust?
- Your love?
Generous things you can do very easily and simply:
- Feed the birds.
- Smile at the people you pass on the sidewalk.
- Hold open a door.
- Tip generously.
- Compliment or appreciate someone when you notice that they’ve done something good or performed well. (Use “I” statements so this doesn’t become patronizing.)
- Go through your household items. What haven’t you used in months, or even years? Pick out a few nice things, dust or wash, then donate to a group or a charity that can put them to good use.
If it’s a challenge for you to let go with an open hand, the spiritual teacher Robert Thurman says you can try this, “Practice giving things away, not just things you don't care about, but things you do like. Remember, it is not the size of a gift, it is its quality and the amount of mental attachment you overcome that count. So don't bankrupt yourself on a momentary positive impulse, only to regret it later. Give thought to giving. Give small things, carefully, and observe the mental processes going along with the act of releasing the little thing you liked.”
Intrigued enough to want to master the practice of Generosity? Here are eight degrees of charity from Moses Maimonides, a Jewish sage who lived in the 12th century. From lowest to highest they are:
"Lowest level: Giving to a poor person unwillingly. It is better not to give at all.
"Seventh level: Giving to a poor person with a glad heart and a smile.
"Sixth level: Giving to a poor person after being asked.
"Fifth level: Giving to a poor person before being asked.
"Fourth level: Not knowing who you are giving to, but allowing the recipients to know who their benefactor is.
"Third level: Knowing who you are giving to, but not allowing the recipients to know who their benefactor is.
"Second level: Giving to the poor, but not knowing who you are giving to, nor allowing the recipients to know who their benefactor is.
"Top level: Investing in a poor person, so that a solution to his or her problem is found.
“The Real Power of Generosity,” by Sharon Salzburg
“Generosity is the bread and butter of feeling connected in our lives — to ourselves, to others, and to life itself. And it’s a practice.”