So many of the Native teachings, stories and traditions involve generosity - true generosity of the heart and spirit, not only in the form of being generous with our physical possessions, but also with our time, friendship, love, creations, words, feelings, knowledge and wisdom. Often a thing of beauty is created just to leave on a tree, by a river or set upon a stone, freely offering hours of work and effort to give back some part of ourselves to Creator, one way of saying thank you. When you think about it, we only have a few things that are truly of our own making - our breath, our voice through words or song, our ability to hold each other in our arms, our tears. So give freely of these things that are totally yours to give.
When we give a stone being, a feather or a plant person, it's a wonderful gift but we have to realize that we haven't put any of our energy into that gift, we are just passing along what Mother Earth and Creator have made. When we take those raw materials and lovingly craft them into something of beauty whether for utility or pleasure, we are adding our energy to that gift. Traditionally, when we give tobacco to an elder or teacher, we take some of that tobacco and make a pouch out of cloth, tying it up and adding our prayers. We may decorate it with a feather or a crystal that we have found or that is important to us. We didn't create the tobacco or the cloth, the feather or the crystal but by adding our time and energy to them, we are creating a relationship with these organic energies and our connection to all of life is then honored and acknowledged.
One teaching that I would like to talk about is that our knowledge and wisdom do not belong to us but to the people we serve. The stories and teachings do not belong to any one person, tribe, people or nation, but we all have access. That is why in the native traditions, there isn't a set fee for healing or teachings, rather a gifting amount that is up to each individual to discern from their heart and act upon. In this way, the elders and teachers demonstrate that these teachings do not belong to them - they are not for sale, rather they are for sharing. Because a teacher is willing to share wisdom and teachings with us, we give back to them from our respect for their time, attention and the honing of their innate skills and abilities. Our generosity doesn't only reflect our respect for them but also for ourselves. When my teacher comes to town upon my request to share teachings or ceremony, there is a gifting bowl to receive what the people bring. I ask him afterwards if the people were generous. This is my way of finding out how the people are valuing themselves.
Our acts of generosity are directly connected to our thoughts and beliefs and to our fears and trust. If I hesitate in giving what my heart wants to give due to a thought of lack or limitation, then I am telling Creator that there just isn't enough to go around so I have to hang on to the little I have. It would be better for me and to the one I am gifting that I do not gift anything if I have those thoughts. Rather a true generosity is done with no regret, no holding on to the gift after it is given. One elder who was a Sun Dancer for many, many years, gave one of his medicine pieces that had been with him in all the ceremonies to his son who wasn't that involved in native ceremonies. His son asked him what he should do with it. The father answered that he wasn't expecting his son to do anything with it. He gave it to him because it was important to him and he wanted his son to have it but now it was his to do with as he wished. He could give it away, throw it away, or keep it. It was entirely up to the son. That is true generosity. We give because our heart says to give, and then we don't have anything else to do with it after that. In some of the native traditions, if a gift was given to someone but they weren't using it, it was okay to take it back - hence the term "indian giver." Because the possession wasn't seen as "belonging" to the giver it didn't really belong to the one it was given to either - it could be taken back. Most of the native languages did not have a word for "mine." A person could be the caretaker of the land, the medicine plants, the rivers, the mountains, the animals and take them for physical survival, spiritual ceremony and creations, but only with permission. It was understood that we are just passing through this life and that we have a responsibility to leave it as good as or better than we found it for the next seven generations. All acts of generosity came from this worldview that there is enough for everyone, so all can take what they need and no more. The Cherokee would often burn the old foodstuffs during the Green Corn Ceremony because of their faith and trust that there would be more than enough of the newly harvested foods to see them through another year. There was no thought of hoarding or hanging on to the old when the new harvest was plentiful. Hoarding only comes about through a fear of scarcity or lack.
I didn't realize how I was working with this limitation in life until Spirit pointed it out to me. After receiving several speeding tickets, I began to see a pattern. When I was worried about meeting a future bill or expense, even though I had the money to cover it, but feeling that I might not have enough, I would invariably get pulled over for speeding, paying much more in the fine and court costs, plus higher insurance, than what I was hoarding to cover my feelings of scarcity and lack. I'm sure my spirit guides got a good laugh about it while I am fuming and feeling soooo sorry for myself! By looking at and healing our beliefs about limitation, lack, scarcity, money, abundance, worthiness, earning power, etc. we can open ourselves to new levels of generosity with ourselves and others.
One story I love is about a man who began a business which was growing well. He decided to give 10% of his profits to various groups and individuals who had need of it. As his business continued to do well and even better, each year he upped the amount, 20%, 35%, 50% until he was finally giving 90% of his profits each year. His business was doing so well he was living easily and well on the remaining 10%. He was able to invert his ability to gift and live well by being generous, not hoarding his money through beliefs that there might not be enough. He didn't harm himself or put himself in jeopardy by his giving but let it grow as his ability to generate money grew. We don't have to harm ourselves to do what we have come to do. We don't have to feel guilty that we are successful. We can take care of ourselves and give to others in balance and equanimity. The abundance that comes into my life is as varied as the moon phases or the rise and fall of the barometer. So I give accordingly in my life, freely and without fear that there won't be enough next month. I am generous with myself by keeping the big picture that I will always have exactly all that I need and want in my life.
I always thought generosity was about how much we give, the quantity of effort, time, money, material things, or doing work for others. But my teacher showed me how stingy I am being when I do more than my 50%. One year at Vision Quest, I just about ruined my back by working in the kitchen from before light to way after dark, helping to prepare and serve the meals to all the supporters in the base camp. I was enjoying myself, the camaraderie with everyone and participating in some of the events around the fire but the kitchen was my main focus. When I told (complained to) my teacher how tired I was, how much my back hurt and how I was physically wiped out, he just smiled and asked me where I learned to be so stingy. As you can imagine I was quite shocked. How could I have been stingy when I was giving so much? He shared the teachings of how we are being stingy when we take on more work than others because they won't do it "right" or we feel we are the only ones that can do it that fast or in just the right way. We are being stingy with all the others who are not given an opportunity to share in the fulfillment and sense of accomplishment that comes from being of service. I was hogging the show, letting my ego dictate what my actions should be rather than what my heart and body were telling me about taking a break, letting people know when I was tired, finding a replacement for myself so I could take care of myself - like taking a dip in the lake to cool off, taking a nap to catch up on sleep, sitting by the fire so I could go into the Silence. All these ways were available to me but I had to take responsibility for myself and discern where I needed to be and what I needed to be doing at any given time. No one was keeping track to make sure I was taking care of myself (or of how much work I was doing). It was up to me to ask for help when I needed it. Whether that help is from a supporter at Vision Quest, my family or my Spirit Helpers, it is my responsibility to take care of myself and make requests for help before I'm in a real fix. This teaching opened up a huge door for me to be more generous - to invite others to participate and add their expertise so that we are co-creating together. We are all quite capable and so can do many things ourselves but the illusion, the lie is that we don't need anything or anyone to help us in our life. It's a belief that we have to go it alone - the John Wayne way. But that's being stingy and closing down the opportunity for intimacy.
Another teacher shared with me to just breathe when he saw me "trying" to do something perfectly. So simple but so effective. By taking the time to take a deep breathe, I took the time to discern what was truly important. Becoming stressed about doing something perfectly or being happy and content in the moment by doing my best and having my best be good enough. True generosity is about giving and receiving - one without the other is toxic, creating imbalance in our physical, mental and emotional health, with resentments, arrogance and fatigue creating accidents and illness. True generosity goes beyond giving something that is in our power to give, it also entails receiving what is in our power to receive. Many of our religious backgrounds emphasized the giving part of generosity and we usually feel quite virtuous when we take a load of unused things to Goodwill, help serve Thanksgiving at the Rescue Mission or support various organizations that do tremendous good in the world, but how often do we feel virtuous when we accept a gift? It is an act of generosity to lovingly accept all the gifts that come our way, not judging whether they are worthy of us or we worthy of them, are given to us out of duty or with ulterior motives, or whether they are exactly what we wanted. When we say yes to all that is given to us, then we are being generous - with ourselves, with each other, and with all of life.
These are my words.