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The Practice of Receiving


I used to believe the old saying: “It’s better to give than to receive.” A classic, type A personality, I dove into giving with gusto, convincing myself I had to give to everyone who crossed my path. In theory, it sounds selfless—what better way to create a nicer world?

In practice, I said “yes” to any and every request for assistance. I sat on multiple volunteer boards, agreed to take on unrealistic projects at work, and looked for ways to jump in and offer help. I was constantly reorganizing my schedule to accommodate other people’s priorities, often lacking integrity in following through, and not living up to the many promises I’d made in an attempt to be “helpful.”

This never-ending oneupmanship of giving and saying yes to everyone but myself eventually soured me on all requests. I had set a context for my life – give over receive – that was unbalanced, and didn’t allow me to ask or receive from others.

Giving is amazing and feels great when it is done authentically and openly. The system I set up demanded that I give and therefore, at times, my giving was not authentic. In fact, I resented it and that resentment colored personal and business relationships.

I wasn’t aware of my over-giving until the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on all the activities I’d thrown myself into. Suddenly, all those obligations disappeared and I had time to reflect on what I wanted out of life.

It felt really good. Really, really good.

I realized two important things:

1) If you can’t give to yourself, you won’t get anything you truly want

2) you offer others a gift when you allow them to give to you. I decided that I needed a balanced flow of give and receive in my life.

One night, I woke up in the wee hours with the idea of spending a month being the receiver, not the giver. Immediately, my heart began pounding and the blood rushing through my body made me hot and uncomfortable.

To have balance, you can’t choose to receive some things and not others. Receiving means opening to all possibilities, including that something might happen to my kids. Or that I could lose my house. Or that my business could fail. As I lay there in extreme discomfort, I realized that giving was a way of controlling the world, a talisman of protection for myself and my family, a way of warding off the things I don’t want. The consequence was a world that kept me small by controlling what I could receive for myself.

The nature of the mind is to think constantly, and negative thoughts will arise unbidden. I can’t stop the first thought, but I can change the second thought. Knowing this, I wrote myself a receiving practice to combat the “giving” habit I’d developed to ward off unwanted events, and committed to 30 days of application.

The results were freeing and unexpected. I opened up a new way of speaking with my former spouse about our kids, one that led to a one-of-a-kind conversation between him and our son. I used the practice to fill a new mental fitness program I recently launched – and had overflow to launch a second session. I declined to do a favor for a friend that would have made me juggle a full schedule to accommodate, and I had a ground-breaking conversation with a master diversity coach about race relations.

By achieving greater balance between giving and receiving, I’ve opened up new possibilities for myself. The giving that I do now feels wholehearted and good, with no strings or resentment attached.

Interested in trying receiving in your own life? Here’s how to begin:

The Practice of Receiving

1) Prime your mind by practicing “no-thinking” for two minutes, four times a day. (No thinking is letting go of all thoughts.)
2) Whatever comes your way during the day, let go of resisting anything about it. (This is different than acceptance.)
3) Set aside any trigger you feel. (This means accessing honesty, compassion and non-judgment which are skills in and of themselves.)
4) Ask yourself  “How will I handle this?”
5) At day’s end reflect on (and maybe journal) the question: “How did I receive today?”

I am curious to learn how it worked for you. If you take on the challenge, send me an email and tell me what happened.