The Spirit of Giving
When I was in my twenties, the fates and the gods led me to a remarkable gentleman who turned out to be the wisest person I would ever know. I did not know this, of course, when I first met him; nor did I even consider the possibility that someone with his depth and breadth and kindness might actually exist in a world outside the myths I loved as a child, let alone be my friend. I was going through a rough patch in my life and in immediate need of answers to life’s big questions. He was willing to hold my heart in his hands until I could manage the job under my own steam.
No words were exchanged about how this “heart-holding” would work, what I might learn from him, who I would become as a result of his guidance, or how long the relationship would last, and no agreement sealed the deal. The only covenant I felt between us—unspoken as it was—was that someday I would be there for someone as he was then there for me; a sort of pay-it-forward arrangement.
We met or talked on the phone when my need to “know more” outpaced my understanding of the challenge before me. I did not hide who I was from him and did not mute my angst or fear to preserve my pride. How else would I know the truth about myself if I did not show him who I then thought myself to be? My uncertainties spilled out in Niagra-like falls. He was the granite cliff that mitigated my spill and let Nature run its course.
His inner stillness was impressive. It calmed me. I knew he felt my pain; his compassion was enormous. He was fully present to me. He did not judge me. Without the adornment of endless explanation, he mirrored my possibilities and reflected alternative ways of being that were greater than, more productive than what I perceived were my only options. I felt completely safe in his presence.
“You will be OK,” he said. And because he believed it, I began to believe it, too.
Sometimes, when I was in the emergent stages of a seeming emergency, he offered specific counsel to blunt the spillage. Once, when someone had been particularly unkind, he said, “Well, some people you have to love from a distance.” I took this to mean I needed to establish clear boundaries with this person and set about doing this. Several years later—out of the blue—his words came to mind, and I realized that he had also said “you have to LOVE some people from a distance.” Thus, I began the deep work of forgiveness, of learning to love even those I must keep at a distance.”
Another time he asked me to do something for a project I had no idea how to do. When I told him this, he looked at me, smiled, and said, “Get a book.” So I did and found my way. This simple counsel gave me the confidence to take on and preside over an abundance of future health challenges I was told I would never recover from. His advice was always layered, useful in the present moment that, to this day, are gifts that keep on giving.
I write about him now after an interesting conversation with a friend about giving, specifically about the necessity of “giving over,” of passing on these best of ourselves then stepping back to create space for others to become their Best Selves. I immediately thought about my counselor. His giving--what he said and how he said it--was a living scripture that continues, 47 years later, to move me closer to my Best Self
Today I pay-it-forward.
Margaret Wolff is a writer, storyteller, art therapist, and retreat leader. Her work celebrates the ways in which the collective wisdom and storytelling reveal the truth and beauty of our inner lives and connect us—heart to beating heart—to each other.
COMING HOME: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda (White Pearl Press, May 20201), is a curated collection of 14 modern-day stories of spiritual awakening that reflect “the most creative and transformative experience life can offer—developing an intimate partnership with the invisible God of one’s heart.”
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