Giving and Receiving
The third of the Twelve Principles of Attitudinal Healing outlined by Jampolsky (2000) is that to give is to receive. I would like to see myself as a kind, helpful, and giving person but, when I really examine my behavior and my thinking, I tend to be just about as selfish and ego-addicted as the next well-defended person. While I try to avoid it, I tend to be a score keeper. I notice when the tally sheet isn’t balanced and it irritates me. This is the case whether the imbalance is in my favor or shows an advantage for the other guy. When I’m ahead in terms of receiving, I feel alternately blessed and indebted. When I’m behind in receiving, I feel neglected and cheated. When I’m ahead in giving I may feel superior but also reminded that giving more means I’m not getting enough in return. If I’m behind in giving, I feel negligent and selfish. It’s an exhausting game and it’s inherently bad for all kinds of relationships because keeping score means competition and competition means someone has to lose. While I know this to be true intellectually, it is hard to let go of in practice at least in part because winning feels very, very good.
In his description of the third principle, Jampolsky talks about the “universal law of possession” which is that what we value can only be kept when freely given away and taking it from others results in its immediate loss (p. 87). Looking at this from the point of view of the ego may make this idea more clear. Jampolsky states that “our egos believe in the law of scarcity — if we give something to another, we automatically have less” (p. 87). When we are focused on the ego, we feel isolated and in competition for seemingly scarce resources. The ego commodifies inherently unmeasurable things such as affection, attention, and love. The ego sees these things as scarce and suggests that we should covet and hoard them. Clearly they should only be given to the deserving; and, when people show themselves to be unworthy, these things should should be taken back. Relationships, to the ego, are negotiated, impermanent engagements between separate entities. Since they are contractual, the terms of these relationships can be violated. When they are, the parties feel justified in feeling hurt and needing to retaliate. None of this promotes growth, peace of mind, or healing.
My 13-year-old recently devoured all of the books in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. She asked me to read the first book in the series so she could talk to me about it (I know! How can any parent of a teenager pass that up!). The 16-year-old female protagonist, Katniss, lost her father to a mine accident and her mother to grief over his loss. She has been the provider for her family in an environment where she must break the law to feed them and herself. She is highly skilled with a bow and prepares what she kills for eating. She is athletic, smart and persistent. She is far from cold and conscienceless. She is devoted to her younger sister and enjoys her connection to her (older male) hunting partner but being trusting would not be an attribute used to describe her. She looks for games, strategies, and threats in everything and everyone. Creating relationships which involve intimacy would mean losing control and independence as well as allowing herself to be put in debt yet she is extraordinarily responsible and committed to the people in her life. She readily sacrifices herself for her sister and takes risks to help others who are vulnerable even when they are strangers. When Peeta, a 16-year-old boy who has apparently been carrying a torch for Katniss since both were 5 (The target market for the books is teenage and young adult girls/women who are total suckers for earnest, love-sick boys/men who try to humanize female characters who seem to have misplaced their femininity and become far too capable of taking care of themselves…sorry…brief intermission for feminist rant), risks his own welfare to save her life repeatedly, her first concern is being in his debt (he loses a leg — talk about debt!).
Katniss: I feel like I owe him something, and I hate owing people. Maybe if I had thanked him at some point, I’d be feeling less conflicted now. I thought about it a couple of times, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself. (Collins, The Hunger Games)
Her second thought is that he is playing her. Both possibilities make her angry and resentful. Her internal tally sheet is completely out of balance and it unnerves her. Katniss actually reminds me of a couple of the people I know who experienced trauma as children. She’s resilient but guarded and more comfortable giving than receiving. These are people who give and give and refuse to allow anyone to get close enough to give back. They don’t connect and they seem very lonely.
Ego separates giver and receiver as having independent and, therefore, potentially conflicting motives. Jampolsky argues that “while we focus all of our attention on a weak and miserable self-image … we block our recognition of what we are. Therefore, we seem to experience all the feelings that a tiny body traveling through a dangerous and uncaring world would experience” (p. 90). We have all experienced people who appear to give freely their love, time, or attention but who are also alarmingly quick to pull those things right back when they are slighted. We have all been those people. Jampolsky’s message and that of A Course in Miracles is that giving doesn’t involve cost or sacrifice. “When we recognize that what is in the best interests of another is also of complete benefit to us, we gain inner tranquility … because for that moment we have left our personal hell behind” (p. 89). If giving and receiving are in fact the same, it makes no difference who occupies what role because egoless giving is joining.
As we begin to feel a sense of joining with another person, we seem to forget about ourselves. We become less concerned about our own feelings as we extend and expand. It is at this point that one feels the gift of giving and receiving becoming one. The supply is endless, and we become more and more full. (Robinson, n. d., p. 10)
Jampolsky suggests an alternative to the law of scarcity subscribed to by the ego: that love exists in infinite abundance. “The more we borrow from our store of love and peace, the more abundantly it grows” (p. 98).
One of the lessons in A Course in Miracles is designed to help us practice and learn that giving and receiving are one. In the lesson, we are instructed to give everyone peace, quietness, and gentleness and expect to receive the same in return. I’ve felt this in only moments of time but those moments remind me of who I am.