Sometimes people will come up to me and tell me right to my face that they think I’m one of the most generous people they know. I’m always surprised and more than a little uncomfortable with such pronouncements for a number of reasons. One is, I don’t generally feel that generous. In other words I don’t walk through much of my day emanating Generosity Consciousness. More often I feel like a scrimy cheeseparer, frequently trying to get the best deal for myself in order to scrimp and hoard for the rainy day my mother perpetually warned me about.
The Impaired Ability to Love
Michel Odent, the renown French obstetrician, might assess that I possess a degree of neural disorganization originating in the “primal period” that has resulted in what he calls an impaired ability to love. Some might argue with him, but I won’t. That fits my own internal feeling experience more than anything else. And it is this impairment that I do my best to continually confront. It becomes like the grain of sand inside requiring me to work to grow and polish The Pearl Beyond Price. So, that essentially makes me a work in progress, just like most of the other people I know. But what is this “work” that I am supposedly progressing with? And why is it important that I do it? And what kind of progress am I making? And are there benefits of doing this work that I can pass on to children? The field of social neuroscience has something interesting to say about these questions, I think.
The Brain Change Business
From earlier writings, many of you know that I am a big fan of Bruce Perry. One of Bruce’s pointed observations is that because the brain appears to mediate most all human experience, no matter what business we’re in – and this includes the “doing our own work” and the “repairing the inability to love” business – first and foremost, we’re in the Brain Change Business. Assuming that’s the case, then by association, we’re also in the Mind Change and Belief Change Business. From personal experience, it seems a mind can be a very challenging thing to truly and lastingly change. Beliefs can be even harder.
What are some of the ways that work to actually change my mind? Well, one is to take large and small risks to learn something new and significant, something that has personal meaning to me. For example, risking giving away things that I feel great attachment to – like money, time and energy. What is the actual experience like when I sit and contemplate giving away $10,000 that I don’t really feel like I can spare? Well, in truth it’s mixed. There’s a thrill connected to it, and immediately on its heels, there’s a kind of constricting fear. In my imagination, the thrill seems to come from one part of my brain, the fear from another – “What about the rain day?” “Who will help you should you ever need it?” “People will think you’re nuts giving away money like that!” (I’ve previously written about the results of this experiment in personal philanthropy, but not about the process leading up to it). This emotional mix seems difficult to contain and modulate all by myself. And so, taking risks like this seems to require good social support. It’s not something to be attempted at home alone.
The Heart Change Business
Apart from the people I explored my personal motivation with in the above experiment, two books were seminal in transforming my inability a bit. One was Spiritual Economics by the renown Unity minister, Eric Butterworth. The other book was a very moving account by some of the children of America’s wealthiest families – Rockefeller, Pillsbury, Carnegie, to name a few. That book was: We Gave Away a Fortune by Anne Slepian and Christopher Mogil. It details the personal struggle of these young philanthropists who decided to violate a Golden Rule of the Wealthy: “Never Give Away Principal.” When faced with the reality of the suffering in the world, and the realization that their personal wealth could make an appreciable difference, they had a collective change of heart and went against family code. Their courageous change of heart, it turned out, ultimately contributed to mine. And for my own personal experiment, I couldn’t imagine a more profoundly gratifying outcome. It’s one that, when I reflect on it, does make me feel like a generous person. And, it turns out it’s good for my brain and health as well. I remember a suggestion years ago offered by the poet and writer, Alice Walker. She suggested that we make all our decisions based upon the single question, “Is it good for the children?” I think modeling generosity and working on being more loving is good for the children.