Chances are you've spent part of your December thinking about what you will be giving your family members and what you can do for your friends during the holidays. These acts of kindness are beautiful gestures of appreciation for the loved ones in our lives that make the season worth all of the additional effort. I can’t imagine not being able to generously give and show love during this time of year. There are also real benefits to this. In fact, the act of giving in all forms is known for having a positive emotional impact and has been encouraged by religious teachers for centuries. Even Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” On the science end, there are also recent studies which point to the health benefits of giving, such as reduced blood pressure, greater happiness and a longer life.
So, yes giving is noble, wonderful, and universally encouraged. Yet, giving is only one aspect of the interaction. It’s like assuming the enjoyment in a kiss is meant for one person without valuing the participation of the other.
The missing element I’m referring to is the importance of receiving. Receiving is a generous act that is undervalued in our world. We often don’t even think of receiving as an act and in fact, its therapeutic effect is regularly discarded. When you look at the relationship between giver-receiver, it seems like we have been taught only part of how this dance is meant to complete our experience. It is the other side of the kiss, and an opportunity to infuse our personal interactions to new and fulfilling depths.
Receiving goes beyond just being able to accept something. It is as much a conscious act as giving, and equal in value. Most of us make an effort to say thank you whenever given something, but why does it often feel uncomfortable to fully receive? It’s this hint of discomfort that’s telling us something. Exploring this, one may discover how receiving triggers loss of control, resistance towards intimacy, fear of indebtedness, and even unworthiness.
The art of truly being able to receive even the simplest gift is an opportunity for a rich and powerful exchange - but so often in denying the full gesture, we miss out on its deep soulful benefits. Women in particular are guilty of this when it comes to receiving even the smallest compliment. I’m sure you or someone you know has a habit of reacting to kind comments by putting herself down, marginalizing the offering or actually misinterpreting someone’s heartfelt gift. These are all common examples of being closed to receiving. Think about it, when was the last time you actually embraced an authentic thank you?
When perceiving this disconnect in patients, I always see it as a teaching moment. Specifically, I address the concept of receiving when they reject an offering, whether a compliment or invitation from a loved one to assist in the IVF process. This becomes an ideal moment to ask patients why they like to give and the response is consistent: because it feels good. So when I turn the question around and ask why they would rob someone the joy of giving to them it is almost always a breakthrough moment. This simple question introduces the perspective that both giving and receiving are equally important and valuable.
Imagine there are two friends and one invites the other over for dinner. The host is excited to make the effort and arranges everything beautifully in a way that she knows her friend will love. When the “guest” friend arrives and sees all the host has given, her reception is filled with resistance and what is communicated back to the host is sense of rejection. What if instead of resisting this friend realized that receiving her friend’s hospitality with grace was all that she needed to do? In a simple act of being open and capable to receive, she has furthered her friend’s generous gift and created an intimate, cherished exchange.
It isn't hard to understand why receiving is often an undervalued practice. In a world where we overvalue achievement, receiving doesn't quite have a home in our daily lives.
Receiving as a practice is a pause. This pause allows you to activate presence which, in turn, signals to the giver that you have been touched in a meaningful and special way by them. By taking in the moment to see yourself and receive another without an agenda or reciprocal duty is very powerful. When you allow another into your heart, you are truly giving one the of the greatest gifts you can offer - love. So I encourage you this holiday season to give and to receive, and in this practice I hope you will find abundant love and deeper connection(s).
I leave you with a beautiful quote from John Amodeo, “The parched earth can’t let in a life-giving rain if it is covered by plastic tarp… Without the capacity to be touched by caring and appreciation, we render these gifts less meaningful. Sacred receiving, letting things in with heartfelt gratitude, is a gift to the giver! When we are visibly moved, it conveys that they’ve made a difference in our lives. We may then bask together in a non-dual moment in which there is no distinction between the giver and the receiver. Both people are giving and receiving in their own unique ways. This shared experience can be profoundly sacred and intimate—a moment of delectable grace.”