Yoga has changed my view of generosity. I've learned to give without expectation and to always remain mindful of the quality of my generosity. After all, generosity in yoga is based partly on two of the five Yamas:
1. Generosity is the opposite of taking (Asteya), whereby we share freely with a focused, quality effort.
2. A generous person sees life through a prism of abundance instead of scarcity. In yoga this is known as Aparigraha: there is enough for everyone.
One of my favorite stories about the value of generosity is called Stone Soup. Each variation of the story is slightly different, and the author is unknown. Each involves a traveler who arrives in a town beset by famine. The inhabitants — fearing he'll want free food — try to discourage him from staying. “There is no food in this entire town!” they tell him. The traveler explains that he doesn’t need any food and that, in fact, he was planning to make a soup to share with them. The villagers watch suspiciously as he builds a fire and fills an enormous pot with water. With great ceremony, he pulls a stone from his bag and drops it into the pot of water. He sniffs the brew extravagantly and exclaims how delicious stone soup is. As the villagers begin to show interest, he mentions how the soup might improve with just a little cabbage in it. A villager brings out a cabbage to share. This episode repeats itself until the soup has cabbage, carrots, onions, and beets, indeed, a substantial soup that feeds everyone in the village.
This story teaches us that sharing is especially important when we perceive a limitation, but it can also apply to sharing energy, putting conditions on giving love, or holding back our ideas (perhaps because we are afraid that others will “copy” us). The traveler represents the potential within each of us to inspire others to be more generous, and in the spirit of that traveler, below are three ways you can add more generosity to your life.
1. Remember that your most valuable gift is time.
Begin by being generous with yourself. Can you give yourself the gift of a yoga class every week so you feel the goodness of your own heart? Then share your time by calling someone to listen, offer to walk a friend’s dog, babysit, go grocery shopping for a friend, volunteer at a soup kitchen.
2. Consider the quality of your generosity.
It's one thing to give away things you don't like or are bored with, but what about something more important? It's easy to get hung up on the idea of having or doing MORE for the sake of more. However, the philosophy that more is better forsakes quality. Go beyond this by pulling a couple things from your closet that you love, and give them away.
3. Don't hold back your ideas.
For years I've shared class plans, yoga playlists, philosophical class themes, and posted detailed yoga retreat itineraries online, all with the intention that they'll inspire others. I consult for free to help others cultivate new business ideas. I want students to build on what I do to create something even better. To me, imitation is flattering. It's our responsibility as members of a human tribe to be as generous as possible in sharing our intellectual currency.
Philosopher Maimonides pictured giving on eight spiritual levels. The first two get to the heart of yoga right away.
"The motivation for real giving finds its source in the internal self, not in the expectations of others."
"Happy people don't expect a return. They give because it comes from the heart and they believe that joy and happiness are abundant. They aren't going to run out."
Let's come together and open our hearts to all the ways we can be more generous with our spirit, our positive energy, our kind thoughts, our love, our time. And remember your personal understanding of the value of sharing is a reflection of who you are. Love yourself, love your day, love your life.