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The Art of Receiving

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The Art of Receiving

When I told my friend Inge about the present, she squinted at me and curled her lips. “Doesn’t she know you don’t wear pink?”

Inge sympathized. “I’m a terrible receiver,” she said, passing me a bowl of organic cacao beans. “The chances that someone’s going to give me ­something I want or need are just too slim, and I don’t like feeling trapped between the obligatory ‘Thank you’ and the instinctive ‘Take it back.’ So I just told people to stop giving me things, even on holidays.” As we spoke, I felt, in turn, disappointment, indignation, anger and loneliness. “I might be a terrible receiver, but I’m a pretty good giver,” Inge said, voicing my thoughts.

Giving and receiving are fundamental aspects of experience, connecting all life in an interdependent whole. Just as many of us long to experience moments of pure altruism, when we offer our hearts with no strings attached, we also long to receive deeply and freely, fully experiencing what it means to be given to—touched, ­nourished and even transformed by life.

Being part of a community in which we can give and receive free of stigma, guilt and power dynamics is key to an enriching and balanced life. Recognizing the distinction between receiving and taking is also important, especially during a financial crisis caused in large part by greed driving people to take too much, when the same kind of rapaciousness has wreaked havoc on our ecosystems.

Receiving isn’t easy. If it were, more of us would do it with grace and gratitude. Is there a way to change that? Can we learn to receive so we can be nourished and empowered? These are crucial questions, not just because the holiday season is a time when giving and receiving are part of our daily experience. The ability to receive is, in fact, essential to physical health, psychological ­balance and spiritual engagement. Before we can enhance our receptivity, though, it’s ­helpful to take a look at the reasons we fail to receive.

Related: Gratitude Challenge

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Megan, selected from The Intelligent Optimist

Ode, the magazine for Intelligent Optimists, is an international independent journal that publishes positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better.


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10:48AM PDT on Mar 13, 2011

Good article.

10:02PM PST on Dec 28, 2010


12:50PM PST on Dec 28, 2010

Carole, maybe the gift was never meant for you but for someone else. In that case, bless someone else with it.

5:20AM PST on Dec 28, 2010

an unexpected gift, no matter how innapropriate, is a joy to receive. However, I do feel hurt by gifts from family and friends that show little or no thought for my needs or preferences.

5:50PM PST on Dec 27, 2010

good post.

5:20PM PST on Dec 27, 2010

Giving presents at certain times of the year like Xmas, Easter, Thanksgiving etc. is commercially driven. Nothing worse then receiving a present that one has no use for and eventually it ends up in landfill while the companies are laughing all the way to the bank.

8:22AM PST on Dec 27, 2010

Every Christmas, I am the recipient of a small pile of artificially scented, paraben filled, pthalate laden products. I try to put in in my mind to thank the giver for the generosity of the gift, not the content of the package (or the product). If you keep this in your mind as you thank them, your appreciation will come from the heart. Now if I could trick for the guilt I feel when I sell these items for 50 cents at a garage sale...

8:15AM PST on Dec 27, 2010

When I was a young man I was told by a very wise man and friend who was much older than I. Always accept a gift gracesouly and say thanks even if you hate it. you may always get rid of it later but you can never undo the harm of insulting a person that thought enough of you to give you a gift. and Always call a married woman by her last name Mrs, Miller or what ever it is unless the husband is present out of respect for her marrage. Things do get blured in the work place but in a public gathering of mixed people I still belive this is correct.

8:55PM PST on Dec 26, 2010

Good article... Thanks for posting. :D

7:34PM PST on Dec 26, 2010

Unless the gift in question is something that the giver had to KNOW you dislike, accept it graciously, for the thought that the giver was thinking of you, and wanted t please you. And sometimes, these objects do grow on you.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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Thanks! Though I doubt exercise will impress my boss!


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