How I Learned Generosity Through Meditation

Posted by Dustin Harber on Feb 7, 2019
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[Few reflections from my opening share at last week's Awakin Circle, around the reading on generosity.]

I'm super excited to open today because when I was reading it, I was thinking, "Oh, I have this great story about that. I hope I get to open!"

It was during a meditation sit that I first learned to be 100 percent generous, and forgive myself unconditionally for the first time in my life.

Two years ago, during my first silent meditation retreat, about halfway through the ten days, we were sitting still without moving for the entire hour! And this is so hard for me. Oh my gosh. I would try and sit still and about 25, 30 minutes in, some pain would arise on my body and I would have to shift positions. My dad-like voice, that has somehow always been with me when I can't do something, would say, "Uh, if you can't do something it's because you're not trying hard enough. You need to put in more effort."

So I carried this mentality with me and kept trying to sit still. It wasn't working and I was getting angry, I was getting frustrated and finally just ran out of my meditation cell. I found the biggest rock, picked it up and just threw it as far as I could. Nobody was outside, nobody got hurt, not a big deal, but still, that was not enough venting for me. I went into my dorm room, took the towel off my rack and tried to tear it apart because it was so angry that I could not sit still. And again, this voice came in and said, "Dustin, you need to go in there. You have 10 days. You got to figure this out before you go home. So go back into your meditation cell, and start sitting again." The frustration was building and it was actually making things worse.

Again, after about 10 minutes, I was in pain and I could not sit any longer. I tried and I tried.

Finally, I just cracked. All the expectations I had about myself just completely got shattered. And I finally realized for the first time in my life that it's okay if I can't do something and I'm still a human being worthy of unconditional love. And it was completely revolutionary for me because up until that point I realized I'd been walking around with all these little traumas in my life that had sub-consciously accumulated when I thought I'd failed. I would tell myself, oh, failure is a part of life. This is okay. But I never really internalized that deeply.

I remember something in my past where I had failed and I hadn't processed it and I'd relive the trauma and then sort of push the skeleton back into the closet. I would just push it away, but it manifested as anger and manifested in frustration and other people, jealousy, all these negative things. I knew that I had done this.

At some point during this meditation retreat, I physically felt this wave of love and compassion envelop my body. That was a turning point for me in generosity as well because up until that point I was super stingy. I was super cheap. Anytime I was giving something to somebody else, it always came with conditions. There's always just a little bit of a twist. There was always something in it for me and I really have no memory of doing anything for a stranger whatsoever.

And so after this experience, I started to try to flex this muscle of generosity for the first time. I did a 21-day kindness challenge with ServiceSpace where you're prompted to do something kind every day -- like buying coffee for the person behind you or picking up garbage in your neighborhood. And even now, I started hosting Awakin Circles once a month, which for me has been an excellent way to flex my muscle of generosity by holding space for other people, doing the logistics of the circle, cooking for other people. It's been great.

So I totally agree with a passage in that yes, if you practice generosity, it does lead to this feeling of inner peace. But I will qualify that with the words of the famous drag queen RuPaul, when he says, "If you don't love yourself, how the hell you're going to love anybody else?" We first have to be generous to ourselves before we can be generous to other people. And the more we practice self-care and forgiveness, the more we can be loving, kind, generous, and compassionate to other people.

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Comments (1)

  • annette fry wrote ...

    I think it will become 'unconscious', I began talking to people on trains and buses, in the street, to connect and at first it was a conscious act. But now I just do it, and the stories unfold, the sharing of lives, sometimes the rebuffs but these are seldom. It gets easier. I can't sit easily in meditation, my hips are worn out, my back is damaged, but that is how it is, and I have a lot of props to support me. It's ok.