As humans, we unconsciously relate to life through this one question: What can life offer me?
What can I get out of today? Tomorrow? This year? How could this moment be different/better? What can I add or change or fix?
This is how we tend to go about our days, unaware. We exist in a state of grasping for something else, always finding something to fix.
I’ve been used to living my life like this, too. I notice it show up in ways ranging from the immediate and subtle (if I have one more cup of coffee, I’ll be happy today), to more long-term, big picture (if I change jobs, I’ll be happier).
While to a certain extent these thoughts hold truth, relating to our existence in this way becomes problematic when we begin to believe that life owes us something. It’s that question, What can I get out of this? And it becomes a denial of the present moment and therefore the antithesis of gratitude. We find we cannot be happy with the way things are because we are always rejecting them.
Now, I don’t assume those who get what they want are not grateful. But I will contend that gratitude cannot exist simultaneously with grasping. Perhaps our gratitude is only fleeting until we are onto the next big fix.
So, I want to pose a different question for you to ask of life, one I’ve started to ask myself. Let me tell you, it has changed the way I relate to everything, and I don’t say this lightly. From my job, to my relationships, to simply how I move about the world.
Rather than What can I get?, what if we asked of life: What can I give?
Sit with that for a minute…
What can I give?
You see, when you shift your mindset to that of What can I offer?, it changes your whole orientation toward present circumstances and toward those “fixes” for which you reach.
For me, the most poignant example of this shows up in my yoga teaching. If you’ve ever led a classroom, given a presentation, or led a meeting, you know this can be quite draining on your energy, especially if you’re introverted like me. Back when I worked three jobs, I frequently found myself feeling resistance before teaching a class — and then guilty for that resistance. I was so exhausted most of the time, both emotionally and physically, and I’d feel relief when students wouldn’t show up. That way I could go home and get the rest I desperately craved. But I knew this wasn’t how I wanted to relate to my students. They were arriving in their vulnerability, seeking a sacred space to for healing, and I was supposed to be their guide for that. This wasn’t how I wanted to show up for them.
Now, to be clear, there were some changes I had to make in my life so that I could more easily recharge between classes (such as working fewer than three jobs!), and I will never discourage someone from creating more time for the rest they need.
But more importantly beyond taking rest, what I needed in order to release this resistance — and still need before some classes — was a mindset shift. Instead of relating to the experience of teaching by asking, What will this give me? I started to think about what I could give to this moment. I asked of myself, What can I offer my students today? How can I show up for them?
When I enter the classroom of yogis with this in mind, the resistance fades. I no longer grasp for the option to go home and rest, but instead I welcome the opportunity to offer a space for healing, and I can move from a place of compassion. And what a beautiful thing that is.
This shift has reframed other aspects of my life, as well, and I especially apply it to my relationship with my partner. Often in partnership, we are unconsciously asking of our S.O. what they can give to us. How can they make me feel better, or what can this relationship give to me? In fact, this is how we often relate to love, in general. We seek for our love to be expressed back to us, rather than offering it freely. In this way, it becomes transactional rather than a beautiful expression of what’s in our hearts.
What if we turned this orientation on its head and asked the question, What can I give my partner today? How can I show up in love for them? How can I express love to others, regardless of what they show me?
Another example: If a loved one calls you and you just don’t feel like talking (we’ve all been there). Maybe you’re in the middle of things or you’re just tired and you find yourself annoyed and resistant when the name pops up on your phone. What if instead of deciding to ignore the call you asked yourself, Okay, how can I show up for this person? Maybe then you decide to answer and find the conversation to actually be quite pleasant. Maybe you don’t answer, but instead offer a time to chat later in the week.
The point is not to spread yourself thin for the sake of virtue. (That said, I could get into a philosophical conversation about whether or not altruism could ever exist — because damn it feels good to be kind to others, doesn’t it?? — but I won’t get into that today.) The idea is, if we practice relating to life with this new mindset, we might find we become more comfortable with things as they are. We can more readily and fully experience gratitude, we feel empowered to move through the world the way we’d like to, and we can approach the roles we play in with intentionality and love.
I want to stress, however, that we need to be gentle with ourselves first and foremost. Believe me, I know what it feels like to lack the strength to be there for others. I feel shame around that sometimes. But let’s recognize that maybe on some days self-compassion is all you have to offer to life. No shame in that.
And on other days you gain strength, and rather than reaching for, we reach out. Rather than grasping, we offer. Rather than fixing, we accept. Rather than shrugging, we show up.
So, sit with this question. What do you have to give?
Resistance will arise. Grasping will arise. You will be tired. You will be irritable. You will want things to be different. And that’s okay, because it’s natural.
But before you cave to your craving, take just a small moment and see if you can ask of yourself, What can I give?