During a recent retreat I was leading, where the theme was “Accomplishing More By Doing Less,” one of the participants was a recently retired physics professor, whom I’ll call Michael. For the past fifteen years, Michael’s work had been his primary focus, and he generally averaged twelve-hour work days. During lunch on the second day of the three-day workshop, he asked me, “When is the theme of this workshop — how to get more done by doing less — going to become clear?” His impatience was obvious. I responded that I thought that everything we were doing in the workshop focused on ways of exploring how to do less.
When we began the next session that afternoon, I suggested to Michael and to the group that so often we can get distracted by searching for answers. Sometimes, slowing down and being generous with ourselves may create space for the right questions to emerge, often slowly, allowing us to go deeper in our lives and open doors to new ways of approaching and resolving thorny issues.
The next morning, the third and last day of the retreat, I could see tears in Michael’s eyes as he began to speak about an insight. He had come to the workshop wanting to better utilize and prioritize his time as he was leaving his busy professional life. What he came to understand, through doing less and experimenting with being generous with himself, was that what really mattered in his life at this time was healing some of the gaps in his relationships with his two grown daughters.
When you can find composure and act with clarity and resolve, right in the midst of your fears, this is a form of generosity that in Buddhism is referred to as “giving the gift of fearlessness.” I remember several years ago someone approached me after I had given a talk to an audience of several hundred people. He said that he noticed that my hands were shaking as I was speaking, yet my voice and body seemed clear and calm. I responded that this was exactly how I felt — shaky, filled with fear, and at the same time, I felt clear and calm.
Try this: Experiment with the practice of generosity. Give your attention, your caring, and your curiosity to those you live with and work with, without expecting anything in return. Take it on as an actual practice. Say yes, to yourself and to others. Notice and write about your acts of generosity as well as the generosity of others.
Adapted from LESS: Accomplishing More By Doing Less