This isn’t meant to be a story about panhandlers, or what I do or don’t do when I relate to them – or not. Rather, this is about the quality of generosity and the state of my mind at any given moment. It just so happens that the best canaries in my mind’s minefield are panhandlers. They are everywhere in my town, especially in the fall during trimming season. Seeing them is like putting a huge mirror in front of me: it reflects immediately the spiritual truth of where I really am, not where I think I am. Encountering panhandlers provides me with a perfect check-in to see whether my yellow bird is plump, healthy and chirping, or lying gasping on the curb, belly up.
Is my inclination to stop, listen to their story, take them over to the burrito wagon for a meal, or put a buck in their cup? Do I take a minute to acknowledge them, hold a prayer that they find more fortunate conditions in their life? Do I try to imagine, as I am heading home to a warm house and abundant food, what it must be like to be out in harsh elements on a street corner with a scribbled sign, saying, “God Bless. Anything helps?” Does my heart feel empathic or is it hard and/or indifferent? Do I even notice them? Do I rigidly keep my eyes straight ahead, avoiding their gaze as if they were invisible? When I’m tired after a hard day on the job, do I put on my righteous clothes and mutter to myself? “I’m old and I work. Why can’t you?” And when my mind goes to dark, uncomfortable places, do I look – as through a window – thinking this is about them, or do I look in the mirror and remember that it is actually about me.
My teacher says that generosity is simply a mind that offers – a mind that is open, responsive, and moved to give. It is not small and tight, is not cold or self-absorbed, and does not hold back or hold on. I have always been attracted to generous people. I have been surrounded by many role models in my life. Like a sunflower turns toward the sun, I find myself drawn to the warmth of their ways. They are juicy and inspire me. I think about this because even though I work the edges of being a generous person, I am inconsistent. The tide comes in and it goes out; it’s an evolving journey.
My last blog posting was an attempt to take a beginning look at this quality of an offering mind: https://candacepalmo.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/more-is-best-and-other-ramblings. I think it was too subtle. A woman from the UK commented that it seemed to be about cooking in excess and overwatering plants, which she thought was cool and assumed that I had figured out a way to deal with leftovers so I didn’t waste food…
One night, as I was considering writing something more explicit on this topic, I googled Pictures of Generosity–looking for something to represent what I was feeling. Then the following evening a friend of mine took me to dinner to celebrate a late seventieth birthday and gave me a gift: little porcelain hands offering up a precious stone. It was gracious and perfect.