5 Powerful Lessons about Giving
How Cami Walker’s book, “29 Gifts”, changed my life.
A month after her wedding Cami Walker, 33, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) – an auto-immune disease which affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Looking back she realized she had been experiencing many symptoms for close to a decade, they never presented close enough together for doctors to identify MS. As MS progresses it brings with a myriad of debilitating and agonizing symptoms; Walkers could barely walk, was constantly in excruciating pain and had lost vision in one eye. Not surprisingly she was angry, resentful and depressed. Her life as she knew it was destroyed. Her imagined bliss of being a newly-wed was replaced with frequent trips to the ER. Her flourishing career in advertising was ruined. She was left with nothing but bottles of pills and her own misery.
With nothing to lose, she took the unconventional advice of her spiritual mentor to give away 29 gifts for 29 days. In her memoir “29 Gifts” she describes her astonishment at becoming stronger as she focused outwards on what she was able to give. She found hidden reservoirs of optimism, faith and generosity. At the end of the 29 days she was working part time, walking and her pain levels were manageable. And her passion for living and belief in her unique purpose was rekindled.
Walker’s journey resonated deeply with me as my husband suffers from fibromyalgia (also a chronic auto-immune disease). I have witnessed first-hand the all-consuming challenges of chronic illness. Whether or not one follows the “29 gifts” project, the lessons from her journey and the movement she has spearheaded show how a mentality of giving offers one a more meaningful and joyous existence.
1. The most meaningful gifts are not physical
The most meaningful gifts we can give don’t cost a cent. The list is endless: Time is a luxury these days – giving your children or loved one undivided attention. A phone call to a friend in a challenging situation. A hug to someone who looks like they need it. An email to an old friend to say you are thinking of them. A visit to an elderly relative. Making dinner for your family. Doing the carpool even though it’s not your turn. A listening ear to someone who needs to let off steam. A hug to someone who looks like they need it. A sincere word of thanks to a hard-working colleague.
2. No matter how limited you are, you always have something to give
Walker was severely limited – physically, financially and emotionally. But once she started focusing outwards on what she did have to give she found she had an abundance of unexpected resources to share with the world. Giving a weeping friend a tissue at her support group showed she cared and was feeling her pain. Scarcity or abundance is an outlook, not a reality. When we feel we don’t have enough, we focus on what we are lacking and feel stingy and afraid. When we realize how blessed we are and how much we have to offer the world, we begin feeling grateful and valuable.
3. How we choose to view ourselves influences our lives
Seeing ourselves as lacking generates self-preservation mode. We hold onto whatever we can – time, energy, money, emotional investment. We don’t trust that there is enough and live in fear of being depleted. But choosing to see ourselves as conduits of God’s infinite kindness, we can realize that there is abundance of resources and we don’t have to be stingy. This leads to generosity and an ability to give without fear of lacking. And in turn, we become more connected with the people around us.
4. Being a gracious receiver
Walker tells a story of how her acupuncturist (in addition to giving her free treatments) would drive her to and from her office in busy LA traffic. She was struggling to accept this until she realized that accepting graciously was the best response she could have.
It’s easy to feel bad when people are kind to us. We don’t feel worthy of receiving love. You shouldn’t have bought anything, we say shrugging off the kindness. But when people do things for us or give us gifts, they want us to be happy. So be gracious. Put aside your inadequacy and believe that you are worthy of receiving love. Receiving graciously is a big gift in itself that brings joy to the giver.
5. Giving to oneself is crucial
Conscious giving means being discerning as to when you need to give yourself. Your body is the vehicle God gives you to express your soul’s potential, so be kind to it. Ensuring you have a good night’s sleep, a healthy meal and making time to exercise is just as important as giving to other people. Emotionally, one also needs to nurture oneself. Giving yourself acknowledgement, compliments and forgiveness is the starting point for giving to other. Your soul also needs to be nurtured; it needs learning, relationships and inspiration to keep moving forward. These things are not selfish but are what enable ones to give outwardly in the future.