At the start of 2020, I chose generosity as my word of the year, not knowing consciously what we were in for globally that year. Or rather, the word chose me. I started this essay back then, exploring how generosity can enlarge me as an artist and human being, and I return to it now to share with you.
I invite you to journey with me as we explore this sacred quality together.
What is my growing edge around generosity?
A part of me cringes as I fear being taken advantage of if I’m too generous. That part still takes advantage of herself at times, over-giving, not feeling deserving, not believing in myself, not feeling I am ever “enough.”
As I meditate on generosity, an image pops in my head: The beggar archetype, the one pictured on the five of coins in the tarot, huddling in the cold outside a church. I recognize this archetype in me. The beggar that feels starved, needy, impoverished, shut out. She thinks she must beg for everything, that there is never enough, and she cannot afford anything for herself.
That archetype is rooted in my ancestral past. My parents and ancestors on both sides lived through intense privations and persecution. I inherited a lot of fear about survival both in my DNA and in my upbringing. And I have struggled to provide for myself financially much of my life.
How can generosity help me shift my relationship to money and provision? How am I stingy with myself and others, cutting off the flow?
Part of my growing edge is a more generous and trusting approach to myself and others, but with wisdom and healthy boundaries. Sometimes true generosity is saying no.
What does generosity feel like?
As I tune into this quality, it seems like a feeling of such inner abundance, such sense of plenty, that I overflow. Not giving in order to be liked or accepted. Not giving out of a sense that I am never enough and must always give more, do more, try harder, in order to be loved or okay or simply safe from attack. But instead, giving out of a true sense of having-ness, plenty, a desire to share the bounty of my life.
And knowing there is always more. The universe is a generous, bountiful place.
What does generosity in language look like?
To me it looks like that marriage of truth and beauty that John Keats wrote about. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Generosity in art looks like creating truth and beauty and spending time and care to hone it, so that it can be of value to others.
How could/does generosity inform my poetry or help me to cross that invisible barrier that often keeps me from being satisfied with my poems? That same barrier also appears to keep me from receiving greater outer acceptance of my art. The outer so often mirrors the inner world.
As a poet, I seek to find the voice that is truly mine and no other’s. That voice sometimes feels in danger of being lost in the froth of so many other voices telling me how and what I should write.
If I were more generous toward myself, wouldn’t I be more trusting in my voice and subject matter, in what I need to say in the ways most true to me?
How do I balance that generosity towards myself with generosity towards others, which asks me to make a thing of deep value to others, a thing with an open door through which others can enter, yet without betraying my own aesthetic?
What does it mean to be generous with myself?
Not self-indulgent, but caring for and giving to myself deeply. Surely that is where generosity must begin. To generously accept myself as I am, and to give the best of what I have to give, and let that be enough.
I know how to drive myself, unrelenting. But how to be truly generous?
This exploration is one beginning. These words allowed to flow and find their way. The seeking or permitting of a voice entirely mine. The way my mind and hand and heart moves when allowed out, like a dog into a park, romping.
And then to share with others from that same spirit. Here, this is what I have.
A memory of fear and generosity
When I was preparing for my senior concert in college, the culmination of four years of intense work as a composer and improvising violinist, I suddenly developed terrible pains in my arm. The concert was a few weeks away and I was practicing and preparing like mad, terrified, trying to become better at my instrument in the few weeks that remained.
And then suddenly, these shooting pains in my arm. I went to see a skilled masseur, but still the pains were there. I went to see a specialist in violin posture, and she said my posture was impeccable.
Finally, I realized I was not going to get any better as a musician in the remaining time before my performance. I was going to have to accept myself as I was and present that to the audience openly.
The pain left and never returned. The concert was a grand success, one of the high points of my life. The place was packed, the audience enthusiastic. But, most of all, I felt on top of the world, in the sheer delight of music. I gave my all generously and didn’t worry what they would think. I left that to them to decide, generously.
Generosity in art, love, and work
When I get stuck in creative doldrums, I have to return to the love of art, the love of making, and then just give my best and let it go. I have to share from a spirit not of wanting to be loved but of wanting to share the best of what I have to give or what delights, intrigues, preoccupies me now. Not needy but full.
This was the turning point for me in love. When I stopped seeking to be loved and started loving my life so deeply, feeling so full, that I had so much to share with another. And longed to create a life together out of that fullness.
Poetry, music, and art have been so generous with me. I create to give back to the things in this world that I love and cherish, the things I long to uphold, the values, the beauty, the ways of being. This is a cause that summons deep devotion in me.
Is that what generosity looks like? Giving my all for what I most love and cherish?
In that case, I’ve been generous my whole life.
Let me spread the gospel of generosity through my own embodiment of plenty. Let me know that I am enough and I have enough. Earth is a great teacher of this, so relentlessly generous. Always sharing her gifts with no thought of reward.
May I do the same, doing my work for the love of it, sharing it out of love for others and our world. When I remember this, the work becomes lighter, a joy. And I know that I have found my way, the path of generosity.
For more on choosing a word of the year or dream seeds for the year, check out: https://maximakahn.com/dream-seeds/