By Surjot Kaur
Through the ages, philosophers and social scientists have pondered people’s motivations for giving: do people give out of a sense of pure altruism or for enhanced social status? Or is it like the “warm glow” theory says: people derive pleasure from making their own decision about where to give money?
The spirit of this question on giving assumes that people give because they reason it is the right, moral thing to do. However, this moral approach subtly communicates the idea that in order to be a natural giver, one needs to be some kind of saint. Alas, many hold onto the notion that charitable giving involves sacrifice.
Then there are researchers at the National Institutes of Health, who have conducted studies that show that giving to charity lights up the same part of the brain as sex, drugs, and money. Science shows that the act of giving stimulates the dopamine-using pleasure circuitry of the brain. Giving is pleasurable!
Whatever social science or neuroscience conclude about giving, the yogic perspective offers an opportunity for us to relax into our spirit as givers. The teachings of Yogi Bhajan remind us that the psychological matrix of giving and receiving involves becoming empty, creating space.
Yogiji said, “First, create the capacity to take, then take.” And how do we create the capacity to take? We give. From a yogic perspective, the act of giving merges with the act of taking. Giving is a part of an organic process.
Yogis acknowledge, accept, and refine the fullest range of human expression. The essence of being human involves give and take. This sounds beautifully similar, rhythmic, symmetrical, and harmonious with the very natural flow of breathing.
Now, breathe. Inhale! This is an expression of taking. Exhale! This is an expression of giving. Giving is as natural and necessary as is exhaling before we can inhale again. When we talk about breath, we typically think of taking a breath, perhaps placing more emphasis on the inhale. But what happens when we switch to think about giving a breath? What if we reflect on emphasizing the exhale? Perhaps this can encourage us to bring more awareness to placing uplifting intentions on the exhale. Exhale more light and positivity to the Universe.
3HO’s Live to Give message is a noble one; and if we look at giving through the lens of the praanee (“the one who lives by the grace of praana”), we also need to Give in order to Live. On the inhale, we receive. On the exhale, we give. In practicing pranayam and feeling fulfilled in our existence as the praanee, tuning into the essence of the exhalation and tuning into the essence of the inhalation will help us to be well-rounded, happy yogis who can live to give because we must give to live.
A strong yoga practice—a daily Sadhana—gives one the capacity for making herself empty so that she is continually creating a space of potential. In the flow of giving and receiving, the notion of sacrifice does not exist; instead, there is total harmony with a flow of Nature that is as spontaneous and sincere as the tides. With daily Sadhana, one need not worry whether she is doing well as a giver or not, she just needs to be. Her breathing is giving.
Take a bath. Take a break. Take a bite. Take a hint. Of all the things there are to take in the Universe, we can take it easy. Give a bath. Give a break. Give a hint. Give a damn. Of all the things there are to give in the Universe, we have mastered all gifts that keep on giving. The key to maintaining and keeping up in this mastery, sweet yogi, is daily Sadhana!
Thus, giving is a state of being in a cosmic flow. Once you become addicted to giving, you realize that you must empty yourself. Emptying yourself creates space. Then there is no stress or constriction in the giving act; it’s not about being altruistic or gaining social graces. Giving is part of your rhythm of being.
Beloved Creator, may we continue to give breath to our nobility, our purity, our strength, our excellence, our grace, and our bliss. May we continue to bow in the spirit of giving our devotion to the true and sweet Light of the Divine.
Surjot Kaur teaches Kundalini Yoga in San Diego. She is a mother, wife, and writer. She also teaches English as a Second Language. Her yoga lifestyle supports her in creating a loving home while she still has enough energy to participate, with enthusiasm, in community activities and volunteer work. You can read more of her writing about yoga and meditation on her website: surjotkaur.com