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"To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love"
- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about "unconditional love" and "unconditional giving" - what they mean, how they feel (whether as giver or receiver), and the conditions that make 'unconditional' possible or even probable.
While surely unconditional love and unconditional giving make a nice pair - go nicely together and often occur together in the context of the same relationship, they need not. They are not inextricably linked; neither is either necessary or sufficient for the other. In this month's newsletter, I share a few thoughts about "unconditional giving." Surely "unconditional love" will find its way into a future one.
What is unconditional giving?
'Unconditional giving' is a true gift of the heart, a gift with no strings attached. When we give unconditionally, there is no assessment of value, no calculation, no measurement, and no expectation of receiving something in return.
Often this kind of giving occurs spontaneously, with no time to let brain do its number on impulse - to weigh and to measure, to project, to judge, to write a story. It happens as a natural extension toward the other - a reaching out that seems to come from a place of uncomplicated caring or connection.
On giving unconditionally, and not
But often, our human relationships are complicated. And our most intimate ones are often the most complicated - webs of want woven with strands of fact and fiction that link past, present and future. Perhaps that's why giving unconditionally may seem easiest when we give to strangers - to people with whom we have no history and no future. The act of giving to a stranger occurs fully in the present moment - beginning to end. This is not to say that we don't (or can't) have such experiences of wholly present giving or receiving with intimates, only that I wonder whether the lack of history and absence of an imagined future makes it a bit easier.
And here's the rub: it's perhaps with those we most love that we most want to give unconditionally...that we want to be able to give generously of ourselves, we want to please and help those about whom we most care. And sometimes we do it easily and readily and beautifully. And sometimes, we don't.
Sometimes when we think we're giving unconditionally, we come to find that we're not. Despite our desire to have given with 'no strings attached,' we realize that we did indeed expect something in return - a 'thank you,' a reciprocal act of kindness, a deepening of whatever connection already existed, a sense of self-satisfaction for having 'given.
Often we give in an effort to end or ease a loved one's trouble or problem - not a bad thing by any means, but sometimes things get sticky. While our want to 'solve' a problem, ease a pain, 'remove' a trouble may be motivated by a deep love, sometimes our want to 'fix' things gets in the way of the 'unconditionality' of the act. We expect that our actions will indeed 'fix' whatever it is, and on some level, we expect the other person to be grateful for our assistance (or perhaps, 'better' in some way.) Expectation negates the 'unconditional' in our giving.
When we give with the intention of 'saving' the other person, it's useful to ask ourselves "Where in this giving is my own want to be the 'savior,' the 'hero'"? Am I giving unconditionally, or am I giving to fill some need of my own?
And sometimes when we give, we find that while we did indeed give without strings attached, we didn't actually give what the other genuinely desired. We gave something we thought the other 'should have,' 'ought to want,' or to help the other person change in a way that we'd like for her to change. Giving under these circumstances may well be 'unconditional,' but it might not be particularly thoughtful, insightful, or 'other' motivated. Ah, but now we're toeing a topic I'll leave for another day!
If you're wondering about your own tendency and ability to give unconditionally, the next time you find yourself with your hand outstretch (literally or proverbially), ask yourself:
If you'd like to talk about unconditional giving, unconditional love, or work with a partner or friend with the guidance of a yoga therapist, contact me. I'd love to work with you!