The conflict between giving and getting

The class I did last Thursday is something I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. It got me in touch with just how much in conflict I feel between those two ways: giving and getting.

What I’ve been realizing is that it’s all about the question “Where do I look moment-to-moment for my enjoyment?” Is my eye on me—my body, my ego, my image—so that I see enjoyment as coming from how this separate me fares in any given situation? If it is stroked, seen in a positive light, gets its needs met, achieves something important, gets out from under its burdens, etc., I feel happy.

Or is my eye on the beneficial effect I can have on others? In this view, my enjoyment comes from what happens to them. Does my kindness lift them? Does my blessing calm them? Does someone else’s love bring them joy? In the giving mode, my eye is on them, monitoring their happiness levels, inwardly celebrating the good that happens to them and the contribution I can make to that—and getting my enjoyment from that.

Now that I think about it, it’s very similar to the mental switch that occurs when you are watching a movie and you decide to identify with a different character in the story. Or when you are watching a sporting contest and you decide to root for a different competitor. In all three cases, you are moving the center of your attention and enjoyment from one place to another.

I personally believe that we don’t really appreciate just how much we are in the getting mode, in which we are the hero of the dream, the protagonist, the home team. I think we find all sorts of ways of masking this unpleasant fact. My favorite mode is making giving into a duty, a sacrifice, that still becomes mainly about me—me discharging my obligations, me achieving something I can be proud of. Another way we mask our getting mode is through what we call codependence, where we seem obsessively preoccupied with the needs of another, but this obsession is just a front for a driving self-concern. Another way we mask it is that we simply look the other way; we lie to ourselves about how consumed we are with getting.

For a long time, I have been terribly torn about this. I really want to change over to the giving mode. But I really, really don’t want to. I’m in the exact place “The Lessons of the Holy Spirit” talks about. I can hear those two guides whispering in my ear all the time, and each one sounds quite reasonable. So in the last few days I’ve been making this the focus of my practice, and I’ve been asking for a lot of help. I find that I long to reach that farther shore, and yet I can’t conceive of actually getting there.