It’s that time of year again. Malls are overflowing with shoppers looking for the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Tis the season of giving in full bloom.
Especially during these trying times, it’s important to remember what’s most important in life: honoring and appreciating our loved ones. As Freud famously recognized, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humaness.” Living with a sense of meaning and nourishing our important relationships makes our existence richer.
Gift-giving is one way to express our caring. Perceiving another’s needs and wants — and offering that to them — can be a kind act of love.
But aren’t we forgetting something? What about the other half of the equation?
Gift-giving takes time. We ponder what a loved one might want. We drive to the mall after an exhausting workweek, perhaps cursing traffic along the way. We wrap the present and offer it on the appointed holiday.
Giving involves time and preparation. Receiving happens in an instant. Perhaps that’s why we don’t afford it much attention.
Not much is written about the art of receiving. We don’t see headlines saying, “Tis the season to receive.” Sounds too self-centered, right? And I’m not suggesting that. But why don’t we pay much attention to the art of receiving?
As a psychotherapist for 35 years, I’ve seen how difficult it is for people to let things in. We’ve internalized the message that giving is noble, receiving is selfish. If we’re given a gift, don’t dwell on it; don’t linger in that awkward moment. A quick “thank you” will suffice — and then move on!
I’ve repeatedly seen how people become depressed or angry when they’ve grown up in environments where they haven’t received enough — or have emotional blocks to letting in what they do receive. Violence and terrorism are brewed in a cauldron of emotional deprivation. If we feel nourished in body, mind, and soul, our heart softens and the emotional armoring and aggression that come from our frustrated longing for love diminishes.
An insidious block to receiving is believing that it’s selfish. It might seem counterintuitive, but I would suggest that the opposite is true. When we fail to receive graciously — when we neglect to pause and let in the love — then our self-centered ego is at work. Our ego that has learned set ways of reacting that shuts down a potentially precious moment of connection. We are then depriving the giver of noticing how we’ve been affected by the gift! It is the extent to which we can open our heart to receive in a transparent way that we honor the gift-giver.
Look at it this way: If everyone focused on giving, then who would be available to receive all that good stuff? If the giving enters a black hole, or is met with resistance, then the spirit of the gift is diminished.
Expanding the Moment of Receiving
As we wade through all the expectations of how we’re supposed to handle receiving, can we pause and become mindful about how we really feel? Can we take a deep breath and hold that moment a little longer — being mindful of what arises inside us? Perhaps then we can find words that expresses how we feel (“I’m really touched by your gift” or “Thank you so much!”) or simply give a glance that conveys our delight and gratitude.
I’m not suggesting that we conjure up some pseudo-response, make a big deal about it or become overly dramatic. Whatever we happen to feel is perfectly fine. Perhaps our gratitude is quietly felt rather than gushing. Perhaps we’re not thrilled with the gift but appreciate the gesture. The point is to notice our genuine response to any gift that comes toward us in life.
Two Sides of the Same Coin of Love
Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin of love. We can’t have one without the other. Receiving deeply offers a gift to the giver. It helps them feel that they’ve made a difference in our lives.
It is the season of peace. It is the season of giving. But it is also the season for receiving. As we receive life’s gifts, we recognize that a person cares about us. We celebrate being alive. Life is good. Can we let down our guard and let in the love and caring?
Receiving graciously and relishing the gift of being alive bestows a moment of peace upon us. This might just just be the secret for creating more peace in our world.