This time of year offers a special opportunity to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. When we take the time to be grateful for each aspect of our life, we naturally guide ourselves into feeling prosperous. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras* cultivating santosha, contentment, is an essential practice in order to attain true happiness and peace. Connecting to a sense of sincere gratitude and recognizing the lessons of both successes and difficulties of life creates space for growth to build upon what we already have and who we already are.
One of the best ways to deepen a practice of gratitude is to extend compassion and generosity to others. According to so many philosophies of life, all of our actions of what we put into the world we receive back with its reaction. If the intention of the action is from a place of bhakti, love/devotion, meant to bring harmony to all beings, only positive results become inevitable. When we genuinely share ourselves with others, we encourage an abundance of positive responses to be thankful for. The challenge for many of us is figuring out how and when the best way is to be generous with our time, energy, love and resources.
During the holiday season, we are asked or expected to be more generous by people in our lives as well as by strangers. There are days when we ride the subway or walk down the street and are approached by at least a dozen people asking for money to help them or one talented musician after the other with their music cases or hats outstretched hoping for support. Many of us also receive letters, emails and FB messages requesting support for many worthy causes.
Every time we see someone asking for help, we all have our usual reactions or a combination of the two. We may want to donate every time we are asked, hoping to help somehow in a small way. Perhaps we also experience skepticism, or the typical questions that any person caring for the well-being of the world faces when approached for help: Which cause do I support? Will my donation really make a difference? Do I want to encourage people to seek help on the street rather than non-governmental organizations or government organizations? Do NGOs and GOs actually help the problems people face. Isn’t there a better way to give my help? Will I end up depleting my own sustenance if this goes on forever?
No one answer addresses the dilemma of how and when to give. We all have so many accessible ways to give back to our communities in small and big ways, even if we are uncertain of the results. Regardless of how we decide to share a part of ourselves with others and what the actual influence of our actions are, it is important that we do our best to be mindful in making decisions on how to give and sharing ourselves from a place of compassion and generosity.
Taking care of our own body/mind/spirit through yoga and meditation brings us closer to a happier, healthier self. When we nurture and are generous to ourselves, we come to take joy in giving to others and that makes a difference in the lives of all of those around us.
In A Path with Heart, former Buddhist monk and inspiring teacher Jack Kornfield shares these words:
“Compassionate generosity is the foundation of true spiritual life because it is the practice of letting go. An act of generosity opens our body, heart, and spirit and brings us closer to freedom. Each act of generosity is a recognition of our interdependence, an expression of our Buddha nature. But for most of us, generosity is a quality that must be developed. We have to respect that it will grow gradually, otherwise our spirituality can become idealistic and imitative, acting out the image of generosity before it has become genuine. While it can be good to give beyond our means, if this is done unconsciously and repeatedly, it will become unhealthy. Whether it is generosity with our time, our possessions, our money or our love, the principles are the same. True generosity grows in us as our heart opens, grows along with the integrity and health of our inner life.”
• Practice five slow and steady sun salutations to warm up the body and begin to create the sense of being spacious in the body and mind.
• Sit down in a comfortable seat and follow the breath, counting from 10-1, then 1-10. If you lose count, begin again.
• Once you feel completely relaxed, let go of counting and be mindful of the breath flowing up and down from the base of the spine through to the crown of the head.
• Breathe in healing breath, drawing in anything that you feel grateful for and helps you to feel peaceful, healthy and strong.
• Exhale compassionate and loving breath to someone in your life that can use your positive energy the most.
• With each new inhale, consider something new that you are grateful for.
• With each new exhale, extend your compassion towards someone new, or to an area of the world that can use your generosity of positive vibration.
• At the end of your meditation, take time to research and donate to a charity that has special meaning to you.