Last night, as a part of the weekly Buddhist practice I offer online, my Dharma talk was about this quote:
The big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved. ~ David Foster Wallace
I recognise this distinction, and I think we can apply it to everything we do. Sometimes I act from the part of me that needs, and sometimes from the part of me that wants to offer. Of course, most of the time it’s a mixture of both.
These different modes create very different effects in the world. We know how it feels to receive a lavish gift from someone who is desperate to be loved. They require our gratitude or our admiration in return – it’s not really a gift, we’re being ‘bought’. We also know how wonderful it feels when someone offers us something simply because they would like to make us happy, like this chocolate tart my friend made for me this weekend.
How do we know whether we are acting out of the part of ourselves that loves rather than the part that is desperate to be loved? For me, the biggest clue is how I feel during or after making the offer. Am I waiting for a particular response? Are there any traces of resentment? Has the act of giving left any ‘shadow’ at all?
An example of this shadow is the mix of emotions I feel while marketing my new book. Through selling, I’m making an offering – I know that the information in the book will be helpful for many people, and so I want to get it into their hands. I also find myself feeling disappointed when I haven’t sold as many as I hoped, or received many reviews. The disappointed part of me was hoping to be ‘fed’ through the affirmation of sales and praise.
The shadow of our giving shows us what we need, and for this reason it is precious. It redirects us to what needs healing in ourselves. This disappointment shows me that I need to find myself some alternative ‘food’ which doesn’t rely on others (or which involves me asking them for help in a more direct way). This might be rewarding myself for writing the book, or reminding myself that I am already helpful to others, or even that it isn’t necessary to be helpful in order to be loved. I might ask a friend for a hug, or take my disappointment to the Buddha.
If we find parts of ourselves that need love, we can invite them into our lap and ask them to tell us about it. Looking after our tender parts in this way will free us up to make offerings from a place of abundance, with no strings attached.
This piece of writing is my offering to you today. I hope it makes you happy 🙂
Heart by photosteve101 with gratitude