the Wise Woman Way
by Susun Weed
Living generously is a theme that plays loudly in many women's lives. As women, our social conditioning -- and often the impulse of our hearts -- is to live generously by giving generously. And we give the one thing we have assured access to: ourselves. Generosity flows though us and through our lives. We give to friends, mates, children, community, even needy strangers. Many women live generously by literally giving themselves away. But don't we need to be generous to ourselves as well to say that we are truly living generously?
OK! Suppose we do take time for ourselves, indulge ourselves with special foods, buy new clothes for ourselves, treat ourselves to a massage or a weekend at the spa. Is this enough to say we are living generously?
Several of my most important teachers, after knowing me for a while, told me that I was not generous. Since I make it a point to surround myself, and all those within my sphere, with abundance, this comment really took me aback. "What," I demanded of my mentor Jean Houston, "do you mean?" "I mean you reserve yourself; you hold back. You have much more you could share, much more you can do."
To live generously, as she saw it, is to impart as much of yourself as you can to everything you do. To throw yourself into it. Another teacher told me to "Jump into the volcano. Jump into the glacial lake. Otherwise, you will just be a lukewarm drink." I have done my best to embody these teachings, to remember that living generously means living every second to its fullest. It means being generous with my real self, being generous with all my feelings (distress as well as love, despair as well as delight), generous with my land (I own 55 acres of forested Catskill beauty), generous with my teachings (for over fifty years).
It has always been important to me that no one is denied access to my teaching for lack of money. But I discovered quite quickly that giving away my teaching was not fair to me or to my students. It devalues my worth. It devalues the worth of my teaching. And it devalues the student's worth and lowers their self-esteem.
In Germany, a woman wanted to attend my workshop. She couldn't pay, she said, for she lived off her own land and had no money. I asked her to give me something as valuable as my teaching would be to her. She insisted she had nothing. I insisted back that everyone has something of value if they look for it. She did attend the workshop, arriving with a hand-made basket filled with her own preserves, honey from her bees, fresh produce, and a hand-knit
sweater. Her generosity strengthened her and left her ready to receive. She created a space in herself. She shook off the shame that told her she had nothing. She became free to take abundantly from what I offered. In this case, for me, living generously meant not giving, but demanding that my energy be met and reciprocated.
Barter doesn't always work out so well, though. In lieu of payment in money, I am often asked to accept work that is unskillful and crafts that are useless to me. How can I live generously in this situation? How can I elicit, how can I support, abundance and generosity in my students?
Not by taking from my plenty to make up for their lack, but by eliciting and support their own worth. Not by making it easy for them, but by making it hard. Those with a thirst for knowledge thrive when given work and accept corrections with a smile. Those who won't make use of my teaching shirk their tasks, feel abused when corrected, and generally give up and leave -- often cursing me. Thus, living generously leaves room for those who are warmed by my fire and nourished by my words and actions to draw near and drink deeply, while propelling those who feel "burned" by my passion out of my life. More joy for all!
Living generously comes from my excess, not from my source. A Mexican midwife admonished me to: "Give your flowers. Give your leaves. Give your stalk. Even give your seeds. But never, never, give away your roots." So, I choose to live generously, to live passionately. The earth is filled with green blessings. Every breath is a give-away dance. Won't you join me?