Zen and the art of receiving gifts graciously

I don’t know about you, but I grew up hearing that it was better to give than to receive.

In fact, the way I learned it as a child, anyone receiving a gift without offering something in return was suspect. Selfish. Greedy. I realized quickly WHY it was better to give than receive: because then the other guy owes you one.

As a result, I’ve spent the better part of my life making sure that when it came to favors, I was always ‘even’. That way nobody could pin me down: “You’re just taking advantage of others!” Nope. Not me. In fact, I won’t LET anyone give me anything without reciprocating.

Talk about a head trip.

I’m learning that there’s more to it than my initial ‘black and white’ interpretation could contain. I have a good friend who has been lending me her bass and amp for the past few months. Last night while we were having dinner with them, she told me that she had decided to give me her bass and amp as a gift.

At that point, I had two choices.

One, offer her money for it. That would get me out of the bind of having to accept a gift and ‘owe’ someone. It would also kill any joy she might have had in seeing my face light up with delight at the thought of adding a bass to the musical toolbox.

Two, accept her gift graciously. From my old, ‘black and white interpretation’ standpoint, this was dangerous. But here in the land of the heart, where colors blend together in a beautifully human and messy way, it was actually the most loving response I could offer. It’s basically a way of saying, “I accept your gift. I accept your generosity. I accept your love.”

When someone accepts my love graciously, that’s the moment when the joy of giving washes over me the strongest.

Now I realize that there’s no time to waste with my old interpretation of the world, the one that demands that I protect myself and cover my ass by avoiding someone’s generosity. Someone’s love. Contrary to what I used to believe, it does not make me ‘a good guy’, ‘a fair and honest person’, nor a ‘martyr’. All it does is reinforce feelings of fear and distrust within me. And it’s a slap in the face to the person who opened his heart by offering the gift.

In fact, it’s a little ploy that many of us use on a daily basis to try to ignore the fact that we are all truly interconnected.

“Let’s pretend that there exists a separate “me”, independent of all living beings. That my position in the world and all of my successes are solely the result of my merit. Let’s make believe that all of my accomplishments and achievements are completely the result of my own efforts. That I’m not woven into the fabric of humanity; I simply observe it. In this ocean, I’m a drop of water that moves and acts independently of all others.”

When, in reality, simply opening our eyes reveals that we truly are all interconnected. There is no separate “me”. There never was. A bird sitting on a branch dies and falls to the ground. A flower blossoms in the daylight. Miraculous. And completely ordinary.

I wish I’d known this as a child… that receiving something graciously is a way of honoring the giver, and does not make me a bad person.

And now every time I play that bass, I can think of my friend, who gave it to me from a place of love. And I can smile. That joy can spill out into the music. Through the music. Interconnection.

How about you, Fellow Artist? How does giving and receiving influence your art?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Zen and the art of receiving gifts graciously

  1. LOVE THIS LINE: But here in the land of the heart, where colors blend together in a beautifully human and messy way, it was actually the most loving response I could offer.
    Your post is so on target–especially as it relates to non-tangible gifts such as praise or compliments. SO DIFFICULT to accept with grace. But we should. I think artists in particular have to see the value of their music, writing, paintings and OWN their talent and the joy it brings others.

  2. benny francois

    not all gifts are exchanges power, but most are simply transfers of energy and should be regarded as such and nothing more.

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