The house is silent; the kids have gone to school. Dishes are piled up in the sink…yesterday’s dirty clothes remain where they were flung carelessly on the floor…toys lie scattered down the hall…unmade beds…no last-minute phone calls for me to teach this morning…
I might have some time today to clean up the mess, do the ironing and mend the countless pairs of jeans which have been carelessly torn. But…what about those paintings I have been commissioned to do? Housework will have to wait; I don’t get paid for that.
Kids come home from school…the mess…still there. I search the dish rack for some clean mugs and spoons and we sit down for a drink and recount the day’s happenings. Then they are off playing their childhood games.
I rush around to get the house in order by tea time but never seem to make it. The chores drag on until, exhausted, I collapse into bed and put the rest off until tomorrow.
By the next day or the day after, the jobs have piled up until I feel like screaming. There is no respite until they’re finished.
Just when I think I’ve caught up, I’m off teaching for a few days and the whole cycle starts again. And then I feel like the March Hare from Alice in Wonderland saying, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.” But I can give no more. I want to do things that will bring quality to our lives, but there is no time.
This was how I lived my life twelve years ago, where obligations, expectations, fear of rejection, or having love withdrawn dictated my life. My ‘giving’ was for the wrong reasons and it left me feeling drained and depleted. I was like Cinderella, only the wicked stepmother lived inside me, goading me with a stick.
Finally I learned that I didn’t need a prince to rescue me – all I had to do was transform that wicked stepmother into a kind and loving friend.
Some years later I met a woman named ‘Penny’ who gave and gave because she was afraid of being rejected.
We talked about this one morning while we walked along the beach. I asked her to draw a circle in the sand to represent how much she gave. She drew a huge circle, hopping and dragging one foot in the sand.
“Now draw a circle that represents how much you allow yourself to receive,” I said. She drew a small circle with her finger inside the larger one, no larger than a dinner plate. “How can you keep giving that much when you only allow yourself to receive such a small amount,” I asked.
Penny looked at the circles, a shock of new understanding creeping across her face. “Now I know why I feel so empty,” she said.
Gerry Jampolsky, at his Center for Attitudinal Healing in California, teaches that receiving is the same as giving.
When we close ourselves to receiving by busily meeting other people’s expectations and needs and putting off taking care of our own, we will finally reach a stage where we can give no more. We may even have a nervous breakdown, commit suicide, or develop a disease so other people have to do for us what we won’t do for ourselves.
Anger, frustration, and depression may tell us that we are living a life dictated by duty, obligation, and a fear of saying “no” rather than allowing love and wisdom to guide our actions.
When we give to ourselves, we open ourselves to receive the respect and caring that enables our life to unfold in richly rewarding ways. And then we can give from the wealth of love that has grown within our hearts and fills us to overflowing.
First published in the Ballarat News, March 30, 1994