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Learning to Receive

Jennifer Mulholland & Jeff Shuck
November 21, 2019

We give, we offer, we serve, we do.

Many of us have spent lifetimes perfecting the skill of giving our time, attention, experience, and care to others. Learning to give is a key part of growth. Increasing generosity in the world increases the goodness of the world. 

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, the spirit of gratitude is in the air. Thanksgiving, one of our favorite holidays, centers around connection, conversation, and celebration. It's a time to turn our focus to all that we have to be grateful for. And yet, although that intention is noble and vitally important, it begs the question: Do we really know how to receive?

Random and intentional acts of kindness are being shown more and more around the world. Although the act of giving feels good, that act is often blocked by the recipient's inability to fully receive the kindness offered.

As receivers of generosity, it is all too often common to defer, block, and deflect the act of kindness. And by so doing, we limit the impact of the act by not soaking it in and really receiving it. Instead, we pass it by. We keep moving. We continue our busy, automatic pace, barely slowing down to consider the kindness extended to us.  

The problem is, if you don't know how to genuinely receive, you never really fill up. And, when can't fill up, you can't give generously.

The cycle of reciprocity has two symbiotic halves – giving and receiving. When you don't know how to receive, you can't replenish, refuel, or absorb the generosity bestowed. As a result, it is easy to feel depleted, exhausted, overwhelmed, and maybe even resentful as you give more and more.  But here's a core truth: You can't give what you don't have. 

Oftentimes, people find it hard to receive because deep down they don't believe they are worthy. Worthy of attention. Worthy of being seen. Worthy of being heard. Worthy of being cared for. Worthy of being given to. Ones automatic defense mechanisms can create a shield that energetically blocks the gestures of generosity resulting in missed magical moments.

Think about it: When someone offers a compliment to you, what do you say? Do you hear it? Do you soak it in? Or, do you explain it away? Do you deflect it back?

When someone opens the door for you, do you stop, look them in the eye, and genuinely receive their act of kindness? Or, do you keep walking by while casually muttering, "thanks"?

Look, we all do it. We are all busy people living full lives. But, you can't give what you don't have. And when you don't receive fully and completely, you don't truly recognize the giver for the gift they've offered.

It is time to practice the art of giving and receiving. 

This holiday season, as you give to those you love and share times with those you care about, we invite you to include yourself in the process. Practice the gifts of gratitude by learning to receive the care, attention, love, and support you need and deserve.

When someone offers you a compliment, acts on your behalf, or presents with you a gift, practice these four simple steps.

  1. Stop. Don't move automatically on. Pause. Take a moment to receive the gesture or act of kindness. Bring your full attention to what just happened. Give yourself a moment to appreciate what is happening in the moment.
  2. Breathe. Take a few full breaths, oxygenating your body. Bring your attention to how your body feels in the moment. Absorb the act of kindness as if you are drinking it in like a cup of water, hydrating your body and being. Allow your breath to receive the energy of goodness that enlivens your life force.
  3. Notice. Notice the intention of the other person – their sincerity, their kindness, and where they are coming from. And notice the impact the gift has on your heart, too. Do you feel surprised and delighted? Or, do you feel unworthy? Don't explain away your delight, or tell yourself you don't deserve it. Notice your happiness.
  4. Affirm. Look at the person who bestowed the gesture of kindness on you. Really look at them. Make eye contact. Share your full attention with them. Acknowledge their compliment or action in a way that is real, honest, and vulnerable. There's no need to deliver a grandiose speech; a sincere "thank you" can work wonders. And affirm yourself, too – recognize what the other person has seen in you. You haven't fooled them, or tricked them into being kind to you! You truly deserve what you've been given.

When you receive fully and completely, you truly acknowledge the other. You foster a deeper connection within yourself and within others. 

May your Thanksgiving be fulfilling, not depleting – and may you receive so well that you give all year long. 

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