The Expectations of Giving

One day last week, I’m having a pretty rough morning for a multitude of unrelated reasons.  I head to my coffee shop, and I see the same old toothless homeless man outside the shop who's more of a regular on the block than I am.  He asks as he always does, “Hey miss, can you spare any change so I can get something to eat?”

I usually ignore him, as we're unfortunately conditioned to do.  But that morning, in the spirit of the holiday season, I decide to give.  But, in return, I want to feel better about myself and my day. I go to the corner deli, buy him a chicken salad sandwich, and walk back over.

“Hi sir, would you like this sandwich?” I offer up the bag.
He look at me with confusion and says, “Oh, uh . . .”  
And after another moment he asks, “Well, what kind is it?”
Wait, what kind is it?! I said, “It's chicken!”  As in, you should probably just take it and say thank you.  He took the bag from my hand and nonchalantly dropped it in his cart.

In my mind, here I am being a mindful human being, understanding that as rough as my day might be, there's always someone having it rougher.  But, in trying to do something kind, it seems I've been faced with a homeless man who's being picky about his donations, and he's denying me the result I want: to feel better about myself.  So, I walk away with the attitude of “Well that was a waste of time and money.”

And of course, herein lie the lessons of Yoga.  The Bhagavad Gita says, 
“The resolute in yoga surrender results and gain perfect peace, the irresolute, attached to results, are bound by everything they do.”  

To be so attached to the results of things we do means we miss the whole point. The whole point is the action, the means, not the end result. This applies to almost everything in life but since it's the holiday season, we can focus on the act of giving.  I was so attached to wanting the gratification that comes with giving that I completely negated the significance of the action itself wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water.  What matters is that I looked beyond myself and gave something of myself to someone else. But, that's it.  What happens after that is not my concern and shouldn't be my motive.

We can't negate the psychological and social benefits of giving, and I don't think we should.  Studies have shown that giving contributes to health, happiness, longevity, and strengthens communities. But those benefits come from the act itself, not how the act is received.  Maybe take a moment and think about the giving you've done this season.  Whether you've given your time, your money, or your space, what was the motive? Did you give because you expected something in return? Do you regret anything you've given because it wasn't reciprocated in the way you'd hoped?  Looking forward, can you detach yourself from any expectations the next time you give something?

Keep practicing.