Perhaps you’ve heard this parable from the East:
While visiting the temple one day, a young seeker approached a Zen master to ask him a profound question, "What is the difference between Heaven and Hell?”
There is none, the master replied.
“Really?” said the seeker incredulously, “I don’t understand.”
The master responded with this story:
A man was asked if he wanted to go to heaven or to hell. The man answered that he would like to see them both before deciding.
So first, he visited hell. There the man saw a large table laden with a sumptuous, bountiful feast. There were many hungry people in hell seated at the table, each person held a very long set of chopsticks. They could reach the food but they could not get it into their mouths because their chopsticks were too long. No matter how hard they tried, they could not get the food to their mouths. Delicacies lay scattered here and there, and they grew angry with one another, each believing the others were doing better than they. They were miserable. No one was eating and everyone went hungry. The scene was one of sheer torture.
Next, the man was taken to visit heaven. All the inhabitants of heaven were also seated at a table identical to the one in hell that was full of delicious food. They too had very long chopsticks, but here the people were happy. They were all eating and enjoying themselves, because here, they were using their chopsticks to feed one another across the table.
“That, you see,” said the Zen Master, “is the only difference between heaven and hell,”
One of the ways we most often express gratitude is by sharing. Sharing amplifies the pleasures of life and makes us feel more abundant, more fulfilled. That’s why often, when we learn or embrace a new experience that we feel has enhanced our lives, our natural tendency is to want to share our revelation or joy. It makes us feel even more wonderful to think that others might discover the same delight that we have. In this sense, such giving is receiving.
So why is it, that sometimes people are very receptive to our sharing, and other times they vehemently reject our gifts?
There are two types of giving. One breeds feelings of emptiness and lack, while the other, unbounded fulfillment. One feels like we loose something in the giving, most especially when what we give is not well received. The other way of giving feels good, no matter what the outcome.
For example, suppose you experience greater health and wellness from your New Years resolution to become a vegetarian. Now that you’re three months into your new regime, you decide to give everyone you love “a surprise.” So then next time you host your Sunday family gathering you enthusiastically usher each and every one of your closest relatives to their seats round the exquisitely set dining room table table for a feast. And then, you present them with a Tofurkey roast instead of your typical coveted-by-all Roast Beef, you are then stunned when your offering is met with ridicule and jeers, and you sulk as you endure being the brunt of the avalanche of “funny” veggie jokes everyone must tell during the rest of the meal. You can be either resentful and crushed, or go with the flow and enjoy that although your gesture might not have seemed to bowl everyone over, you presented something new to everyone and for that you can feel that you are a generous, courageous, luminary no matter what anyone else thinks.
Only that which is offered freely from you with love and enthusiasm comes untainted by ego. If you are seeking approval or looking for something in return, in any way, you are not truly giving. By seeking appreciation, you are essentially saying, “I’m unsure of myself and therefore cannot feel my own worth right now, and I think that love and attention from others will give me what is missing in my life. Approve of me, please approve of me, so I feel validated and can go on living my life, without fear of losing my place in the tribe” Imagine what would have happened if Kate had shared her ‘dieting’ experiences with Jake in the story from this stance, “approve of me please” instead of sharing them with honest joy and authenticity, no matter what his response… their dining experience would have been much different.
There is nothing you can do to earn appreciation. It simply comes when you share authentically. If that’s the case, then something essential always comes back to you.
When you feel empty, and seek others to fulfill you, notice that people quite often perceive this as an attack and feel repelled, rejecting your “good intentions.” When we need others to receive us, this puts conditions on our love—as the ego tries to control how our love is experienced and how we experience it—and limits our own experience of it, making it impossible for us to experience the only approval we really want—from ourselves.
To truly give a gift (especially nutrition and health and wellness advice) we must give it without any conditions attached. When you create a great meal to share with others, the oohs and mmms of your guests have much more to do with them appreciating the love you added to the mix of ingredients—your Soul expressed in the preparation of the meal. This is the art of everyday blessing at its best. You can’t put such powerful love into a meal while trying to change others, you can only offer it as a result of true sharing. Someone truly sharing a Tofurkey feast to a table of sworn meat-eaters had better have her heart fully in the right place and everyone’s best in mind. Then jeers and sneers can easily be turned into cheers, as your laughter, joy and sense of comic relief leads the way to everyone’s embrace. People always feel authentic genuine love and caring. To create in such a way, you first imbibe all of the world’s graces, then add just the right amount of genuine authenticity to spice it up, and finally deliver it without any strings attached. Then, whether it be on a silver platter, or from our bare hands, these such gifts are welcomed, for they have Soul written all over them.
At best, we love simply because it feels so good, so peaceful and so whole and natural to share love. When we do this, we discover that love extends outward simply because it cannot be contained. Commit to sharing with others and giving of yourself, truthfully and honestly as a way of life, not because you need approval, or anything in return, but simply because it feels so right!
This commitment will be tested time and time again, so get used to it. It’s how we acquire the skills of Mastery. Whenever we are faced with rejection, lack of appreciation, criticism or feel unloved, we have two choices: One is to revert to self-denial and be what think others want us to be—and as a result feel the pain of a lost connection with our ever-loving Soul. The other is, to value our gifts even more deeply—learn from the experience, and choose to offer our gifts next time with more authenticity, discernment and trust.
Then you’re sure to experience that what you give, you receive.
Today, reflect on the ways you have been giving to others in your life. Have you been giving while expecting to receive something specific in return? Has that stance left you feeling short-changed instead of fulfilled?
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