The thing about your wedding is, no matter how much you may dislike being the center of attention, there’s no stopping the indescribable experience of receiving that much love in such a short period of time.
It’s sweet, raw, pure and unstoppable.
And it’s particularly difficult if you’re a giver. Anytime there’s a prodigious amount of love energy coming back to us, we can’t help but get overwhelmed at receiving it.
Being seen in that way, at that resolution, makes you about as out of control and vulnerable as you can possibly be.
But holy valentine, what a gift it is to receive.
We should all be so lucky to have a crowd of people who truly love and support us, despite our most embarrassing imperfections.
Within ten minutes of walking into my own wedding reception, hyperventilation nearly took me over. I even had to spend a few minutes in the bathroom doing deep breathing exercises. Not only to lower my blood pressure and heart rate, but also to make emotional and spiritual space for all the love that was coming my way.
It was intense. And in fact, it wasn’t the last time the walloping experience of receiving pure love en masse would happen to me.
On my fortieth birthday, my wife instructed all my friends and family mail me letters telling me how much they loved me. She presented them to me in an oversized shoebox, and after about an hour of poring over every word, that very same indescribable feeling washed over me. Both experiences were similar in several ways.
First, in that human words could not contain the immensity of the experiences. To say my moments were full of gratitude, sadness, joy, connection, it wouldn’t do justice to the gifts that all those people gave me. To quote my favorite screenwriters:
Maybe when we die, the things we don’t understand will be clearer there, like when a fog blows away. Maybe there we say all those things they don’t have words for here.
Wow, my throat closes just thinking about it.
The second similarity of those events relates to the universal law that undergirds them. Both the wedding and the birthday taught me me that giving and receiving are not separate events. They are counterparts. Inextricably connected in that moment when human love is freely exchanged.
One doesn’t exist without the other. We can’t call ourselves generous if we don’t allow ourselves to receive gifts. We can’t call ourselves generous if we haven’t committed to accepting love from everyone and everything.
We must be, as the great poet says, blessed by the ability to receive love through many channels.
Another similarity between those two events was the perspective each one gave me on my own habits as a giver. Because in many cases, I personally become so excited by my gift that I forget the receiver’s need.
People look at me as if to say, dude, was this gift for me or you?
Crap, guilty as charged. That’s totally happened to me before. And it’s a sobering reminder that the intent behind the gift matters more than what’s inside the box. If we’re giving from a selfish place, people will sniff it out. And we will end up doing more damage than if we hadn’t given them anything at all.
Finally, here’s one last idea.
Jenkins, the founder of the award winning benefits software company, authored a beautiful meditation on the giving receiving continuum. He writes:
There are two types of givers. Ponds and streams. A pond is a closed loop. A stream is simultaneously open on both sides. And the most generous people are like streams. They have learned the art of both receiving and giving, and it seems effortless. They have the flow of generosity, as opposed to ponds, who struggle with anxiety about experiencing lack. Their body of water is only so large.
Which one best describes you? Are you a stream with a healthy flow, or a pond that stagnates?
If you’re the latter, next time you get a chance to answer the call to love, stop long enough for your heart to open. Allow the people giving to you to experience the benefits of generosity.
Playing defense is too much goddamn work.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Are you trying to outrun suffering, or trying to accept love wherever you can find it?