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  • Jaime Lang

You Can Only Give What You Have

“Give what you have, not what you don’t.”

I don’t think I have to spend a lot of time explaining this. It is pretty straightforward and yet it was a phrase the voices told me that I spent several months repeating when I was learning to revise my expectations of myself in relation to giving and receiving.

At the time I was in a space of recovery, meaning the majority of my focus was on improving my health instead of on the traditional ideas about progressing through life. I didn’t have a job or income. I was being supported by others, but I still wanted to contribute. The spirit of generosity was important and underneath it I wanted to know that I had some value to society.

When someone on the street would ask for money I would be ashamed of myself for having nothing to offer and when there were birthday parties or holidays I would keep my head down because there was nothing I could contribute. The idea that in order to be valuable I needed to be able to provide something I did not have was an emptying feeling.

I would look at my bank account and say, “I have nothing to give.”

“That’s not true” the voices would say, “You are just trying to give something you don’t have. Stop doing that, instead give what you do have. Give the things that you have in multitudes. Give time, company, acceptance, insight. Give what you have and feel good about it. There is not one type of giving. The world is in need of more than money.”

That was several years ago. Since then, my situation has changed but I still remember what I learned. I’ve also added on to it.

At the time what I was learning was that value and what we have to offer comes in many forms and that there was no reason to discount the value of nontangible qualities. In fact many of these intangibles have great value in terms of lasting impact on relationships and the world around us. The voices were teaching me to see myself in a different way and to see the world in a different way. Remember what is inside is reflected outside. If I could see all the places that I was able to give, I could also see all the ways everything around me gave to contribute to the improvement of my life. The sun gave warmth, the flower gave beauty, my dogs gave companionship, and a million other places existed where gifts abounded.

Focusing in this way was beneficial because it taught me how generous the universe was. It was like an ever extending hand reaching out to surround me with gifts if I only took the time to notice them. When I recognized this I felt safe. I felt loved and I felt that the world was a place of kindness and support. These energies were beneficial. They filled me up instead of emptying me out.

But what if I wanted to give something I didn’t have? What if I saw that someone I loved needed something I couldn’t provide and I wanted to give it to them?

“If you want to give something that you don’t have, cultivate it, find it, ask for it; but don’t give it before you obtain it.”

This is important because we are conscious beings and we can seek out new experiences and opportunities. Just because we don’t have something in one moment doesn’t mean we cannot find or cultivate it in another. I have met so many people with good intentions. They want to give things to the people they love, but sometimes people with the best of intentions will try to give what they do not yet have and a harmful reaction will take place.

For example, a person might see someone that they love needs emotional support and try to give it, but that person might be someone who has never had emotional support themselves and who might be really unaware and inexperienced when it comes to emotions. In that case, that person, with the best of intentions might get the other person to open up and trust them with a deep wound and then because they do not know how to provide support say or do something that increases the pain instead of helping to hold it with them. The person extending support is not bad in this situation, but they were trying to give something they themselves did not possess.

In a situation like that, it would be wiser to acknowledge what you don’t have. If you know of a place or person that has the resource that is needed you could refer the person and if you wanted to provide support in the future you could learn about emotions and seek out people to provide support to you so that you would have a reference for how it feels. A similar situation could easily unfold in relation to money, time, attention, or energy. If in the moment you want to give it you don’t have it to give, then offering it creates a debt instead of a gift. If you can create what you want to give then do so, but if not then don’t promise what you don’t have.

You could use this idea in relation to physical gifts like money, objects, food, and shelter. However, when I was reflecting on it I typically thought of it in terms on intangible energies that I would like to give the world but had not developed in myself yet. Courage, was an important one for me. I had crippling anxiety for all of my life and there were times when I deeply hated myself for being a coward. I wanted to be someone who was brave enough to do something meaningful in the world, but I couldn’t give something that I didn’t have.

Luckily, if you want something badly enough to line yourself up with it in thought, word, and action you are likely to cultivate it. So I started practicing courage. I thought about what courage was and how it worked. I practiced it. First it was with tiny things like going to the store by myself or admitting that I wanted to be a part of something that I thought I might be criticized for. Over time the momentum built and I was able to do more things that I wanted to do but had always been too afraid of. I practiced cultivating courage inside of me for years and then I found that I had enough to give. This is abstract, how do you give courage? You do it by standing by people in their time of fear and walking with them through whatever they are afraid of. You stand beside the things that are important to you even when there is risk and conflict and by doing that you encourage others to do the same.

Courage is just one example but love works the same way, as does joy, patience, compassion, understanding and many other intangible gifts we can give each other through the exemplification of them. You can only give what you have, but if there is something you would like to give to the world that you do not currently have don’t worry, you can obtain it. It’s not impossible to grow more of the qualities that you want to see in the world inside of yourself and then allow yourself to share them. In fact, it is a very empowering process to go from being someone who needed something to being someone who can be a source of that same quality for others.

There is another thing that the voices taught me about giving, which I wasn’t planning on discussing here, but since we are on the subject.... What they told me when I was terrified and trying to understand the boundaries for caring for my own needs and recognizing the needs of others was this:

“You will always have what you need and more; give from the more.”

I don’t know if I would be so bold as to extend this statement to everyone. Will you always have what you need? I suppose if you are alive and have the ability to move towards what you need and want then it must be true that you have the minimum of what you need to pursue the fulfillment of those needs even in difficulty. When they told me that I was in a place where I could have argued that I did not have everything that I needed. There were a lot of things I felt that I needed that were not a part of my experience at that time, but I had life and I had hope (sometimes) and I had enough to get me to the next step and the next and the next, so in many ways even then I had what I needed. Instead of fixating on the idea of having what you need, though, let me explain what they were really trying to teach me then.

They said give from the more and silently implied not from the need. Giving from what you need to keep going creates resentment because you can’t hurt yourself without creating an echo of harm in the energy of the world. If you give what you yourself need then you are harming yourself and new pain will be created. However, you always have what you need and then some. Sometimes you will recognize places where you have much more than you need and sometimes you will see only a sliver of a margin (in full truth you could argue that you always have significantly more than you need but that would become extremely abstract). Remember, you are never obligated to give (the minute you feel that giving is an obligation instead of a choice the energy of it changes to debt and resentment and it no longer qualifies as a gift); but if you want to give and chose to do so then give from that extra margin and not from what you need. This isn’t a hard-lined rule, it was just a guideline to help with the balancing of needs of the self and needs of others.

We all have gifts that we can choose to give to the world. Sometimes it takes awhile to cultivate them and not everyone will be willing or able to provide the same resources, but everyone is able to provide something of value by virtue of their existence. This time—like all times- is a great time to give what we are able and respect our own limitations. It is a great time to balance respect for self and respect for other. You have what the world needs. You are what the world needs and the world has and is what you need too.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. This is more personal but since I was using courage to stand up for things as an example and this is my last post before the weekend I wanted to let you know that I will be at one of the #bansoffabortion rallies this weekend lending my support to body sovereignty, democratic free speech, and compassionate understanding of the personal situations of individuals needing to make a difficult choice and requiring access to healthcare to do so, if you happen to be attending the same one maybe we will see each other there (even if we don’t know it).

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