is a difficult and almost contemplative art form that can only be done well through practice; to learn to give is almost always the simple, sometimes heartbreaking act of just giving again. To stop giving in any situation is to call an end to relationship. Giving is an essence of existence, and a test of our character; it asks deep questions about our relationship to others, to our selves and strangely, to time itself: all gifts change with the maturation of their recipients. To give well, appropriately and often is to establish a beautiful seasonal symmetry between the urgency within us that wishes to be generous, and the part of the world that is suddenly surprised and happy to receive. To give generously but appropriately and then, most difficult of all, and as the full apotheosis of the art, with feeling, in the moment and spontaneously, has always been recognized as one of the greatest of human qualities.
Giving is not done easily, giving is difficult; giving well, is in fact a discipline that must be practiced and observed over years to be done properly; The art often involves giving the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time and learning how to do the opposite through time and trial, it means getting beyond the boundaries of our own needs, it means understanding another and another’s life, it acknowledges implicitly that we ourselves must be recipients of things we cannot often identify or even find ourselves.
Giving has an enormous horizon and a breadth that is hard to compass: it is both a practicality, it creates bonds and dependencies necessary to our communal well-being, but it is also an essentiality, the essence of giving being that the other person is simply alive and by corollary, not only a privilege to know but a living privilege themselves, who has the astonishing ability to acknowledge both the somebody who has given and the something that is given to them. As far as we know, no other corner of creation but a human being has the ability to fully acknowledge the spirit of another in this way.
Giving means paying attention and creating imaginative contact with the one to whom we are giving, it is a form of attention itself, a way of acknowledging and giving thanks for lives other than our own. The first step in giving may be to create a budget, to make a list or to browse a storefront but the essential deed is done through the door of contemplation: of the person, the charity, the cause, finding the essence of the need, the person or the relationship. Out of this image comes the surprise of understanding and the ability again to surprise the recipient by showing that someone else understands them and through a display of giving virtuosity, can even identify needs they cannot admit themselves. The full genius of gift giving is found when we give what a person does not fully feel they deserve, but that does not overstretch the point, it is the appropriate but surprising next step in their lives. It disarms and moves and empowers all at once while gratifying the one who gives beyond most everyday satisfactions.
To give is to make an imaginative journey and put oneself in the body, the mind and the anticipation of another. To give is to make our own identities more real in the world by committing to something specific in the other person and something tangible that could represent that quality. To give is also to carry out the difficult task of putting something of our own essence in what we have given. The perfect gift may be tiny and inexpensive, but accompanied by a note that moves the recipient; it can be enormous, extravagant and jaw dropping as a courageous act of flamboyance and devil-may-care love, but to give appropriately, always involves a tiny act of courage, a step of coming to meet, of saying I see you, and appreciate you and am also making an implicit promise for the future. Little wonder then that the holiday giving that is none of these, that is automatic, chore-based, walking round the mall-based: exhausts us, debilitates us, and in the end is quite often subtly insulting to the one whom we eventually give the random item.
Better to spend a long time sitting in our armchairs in silent contemplation of those we want to gift, looking for the imaginative doorway that says I know you and see you and this is how I give thanks for you, which may bring us to the perfect objet but also may bring us instead to write the short heartfelt message that acknowledges their place in our lives – (Nota Bene, doesn’t apply to children!)
Clichés are clichés often because they are so stubbornly true; it is the thought that counts, but even more it is the imagination behind the thought that counts, made tangible through gifts that find their definition through being twice blessed.
David Whyte, poet, author and speaker
Excerpt From ‘GIVING’ in
CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
© David Whyte & Many Rivers Press
Photo: © David Whyte. 2013. New Snow. Jardin Des Tuileries. Paris