Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Receiving Without Fear

Some of us find it easier to give than receive. Since receiving really is a critical part of our first experience (none of us would have survived infancy unless we'd received some care) I'm curious about why this can be such a challenge for many of us.

There's the obvious culprit: a dominator culture that values power-over tends to see the person who is giving as stronger and, by inference, the one who is receiving as weaker. The implication is that if you have something (time, energy, money, advice, insight, support, compassion etc.) to give, you must be doing something right, and if you need something you cannot provide for yourself, you must be doing something wrong. In part, this goes along with the cultural premium that is placed on independence- a fallacy if there ever was one in an inter-dependent world.

I recently heard a news story about a ninety year old woman who committed suicide because she knew that sometime in the next few years she would not be able to live independently. Now, this is the kind of decision re:quality of life I want to leave up to individuals. Still, I could not help but wonder if the collective value we put on so-called independence might not make it difficult for those of us living in affluent parts of the world to see receiving assistance as we age not only as loss, but also as a way to learn something together. I have gone through periods when illness has necessitated relying heavily on friends and family for care. My delusion of self-sufficiency was shattered, and nothing has softened my heart more to myself and others than needing and receiving help. 

Of course receiving, depending on the situation, can sometimes feel unsafe. As discussed in last week’s blog, "Giving Without Resentment," giving is sometimes (consciously or not) done in a bid to gain power over another or as a way to make a bargain- goods or consideration for later unspecified favours. If these deals are vague and unspoken we can end up feeling we owe another, unsure of what exactly is expected. 

But the truth is, as adults, another’s expectations are only our problem if we buy into them. If someone gives me something, my role is to receive it as graciously and as freely as possible. If that person comes back later expecting or pulling for something in exchange that was not agreed to, I need to sit with whether or not I can or want to give what is requested, and to be clear that there was no agreed-to exchange. If this happens repeatedly with another, I will ask that implicit deals be made explicit before receiving. (If you cook me dinner are you expecting something in return?) If this still leaves the other expecting something unspecified in return for giving I may reconsider receiving from this particular person

Honestly, if we stay conscious about and aren’t drawn into obligations we never agreed to, the other will stop trying to create unspoken bargains simply because it’s not working for them.

But what if someone wants to give us something we don't need or want? Well, the first option is to simply say, “No, thank you,” particularly if what is offered is going to create any suffering (Eg.- a visit, even with someone we love, can be draining when we are ill.) We can receive and appreciate the caring intent but let the other know this is not something we can or want to receive right now. Of course, if we know what we need, the next step is to ask for it- post-graduate work for many of us leery of receiving. 

"We accept the love we feel we deserve," is a line from the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Perhaps, if we are reluctant receivers, it is because we have been taught to believe that we are not deserving- a  belief worth challenging as we learn to cherish ourselves.

The sad thing about not trusting our boundaries and our right to say "Yes please," or "No thank you," is that we may develop the habit of being non-receptive, of not really taking in what is offered and allowing it to replenish us each day. This can leave anyone who is giving feeling unreceived and the receiver strangely hungry for what is offered but not really received.

We cannot help but be both givers and receivers every day. And the world we co-create is largely shaped and coloured by how we are with ourselves and each other in our giving and receiving. Both can create knots of obligation and resentment or cultivate open-hearted joy and gratitude.

Today, may we take in with gratitude and without fear that which we choose to receive, and may we give without resentment that which we can offered in a truly sustainable way.

 Oriah (c) 2013


  1. Thank you for this beautiful post. As I sit here in my home, The Invitation is on my wall, calligraphied many years ago. I live by the words daily. Thank you for this potent and lovely offering.
    As I begin my day, I am reminded that, with gratitude, I am able to choose what is right for me and say 'no' to what is not for me right now. I am aware of how obligated I feel to say "yes" so often...and thank you for inspiring me to remember that "no" is saying "yes" to myself. With appreciation and love, Lorrie

    1. Lorrie- yes, freedom of choice- real choice (which means not being driven by our own unconscious fears) is what it's all about. :-)

  2. I love to receive but I often forget to ask for help. Some early experiences of being abandoned taught me that there's not much sense in asking. As I am quite capable, I manage a lot on my own; it gives me some proud feeling of powerful independence. But my life could be somewhat easier if I would manage to ask more. By now I have made a lot of positive experiences and the old blocking could dissolve in safety. I hope that I am able to ask easily when I have to rely on others some day.

    1. Nora, well, like all things we get better with practice. I am guessing that if we would like to be gracious and have a sense of dignity in receiving help when we are older (and perhaps in real need) it's a good idea to start practicing now. As we move through our day it's good to notice how shallow that sense of our independence is- how we rely on the people who grow and market our food, who make our vehicles, on those on the road to obey our agreed to driving signals etc. Also good to notice how quickly and easily a sense of self-sufficiency can be changed- by a simple flat tire or an unexpected illness. Acquiesing to and appreciating our daily inter-dependence may be good practice for days when we will truly depend on others in a personal way :-)