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