By Adam J. Pearson
In the past few days, my family and I have been without electricity, running water, and heating because, as you can see in the picture above, ice-covered branches landed on our power lines and yanked them out of the wall. Because our house has been so cold, we’ve been bundled up in multiple sweaters and pants, looking like wanna-be sumo wrestlers.
Although we’ve missed the wonders of electricity and internet access, we’ve also felt very grateful during this time because we’ve been surrounded by the kindness of people reaching out to us. Some have offered advice, others words of encouragement, and others still have gone so far as to open up their houses to us to offer us warm beds, rejuvenating showers, and hot meals.
I’ve been so touched by all of these gestures of kindness and caring. I’ve been inspired by the beautiful and caring hearts that opened up to embrace us with love when it would have been so easy to simply say “sucks to be you, bro, and I’d love to help you out, but I’ve got X-box to play.” I mean people who took the time to really see a need and respond to it. That’s beautiful and it reminds me a great deal of these verses in Matthew 26: 34-40, in which my brother J says:
“The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’…
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”
To me, these verses are natural expressions of an understanding of Oneness. If we’re all One, then whatever I do to help you helps me too and whatever you do to help me simultaneously helps you. If separateness isn’t real, then we literally help ourselves by helping each other because there is only one Self. This is true in the absolute sense, because there is only One of us to be the receiver and giver of all action, but it’s also true in the relative sense of our human lives. Whatever I direct to you I simultaneously direct back at myself. I receive whatever you receive from me; I simultaneously give to myself whatever I give to you. As a farmer would say, as I sow, I reap; I harvest what I plant.
I don’t only mean that if I’m kind and giving to you, then some time in the future, you might be more likely to offer me the same kindness and generosity when I’m in need, although this is true. I mean something more radical. I mean that in the very instant that I give you love, forgiveness, joy, etc., at that very moment, I get back whatever I give. The giving happens simultaneously, in two directions at once. This might sound abstract at this point, so I’ll give you some examples of what I mean.
The Meaning of Giving in Two Directions
If I offer you love, then I am offered love. By seeing your worthiness, I reveal my own; by seeing my own, I reveal yours. If I offer you kindness, I am offered kindness because you and I are One. If I listen to you, then I am listened to. If I am compassionate when I see you suffering, then the suffering in you, which is also in me, because we are One, is also enveloped in empathy. If I care for you, I am cared for. If I forgive you, I am forgiven. If I offer you peace, I am offered peace. If I nurture you, I am myself nurtured. If I give you a shoulder to cry on, my own crying is shouldered. Simultaneously, at the very moment of giving, I receive in kind what I give to you because we are One.
Sometimes, we are afraid to give because we fear loss. However, the truth is that there’s no loss in giving support, help, kindness, peace, joy, and love to each other; we get back whatever we give even in the act of giving it. Immediately. Giving simultaneously happens in two directions at once and so does receiving. You’ve probably noticed that when you make your friend laugh and end up laughing yourself. That’s how these things work; they happen in both directions simultaneously; Oneness means every action has an element of simultaneous reciprocity to it. This is practical stuff because it gives us a guideline for action. If you want to be peaceful, give peace. If you want love, give love. If you want to be joyful, give joy. In the very moment of giving, you will receive. Because we’re One, this is how things have to be.
The Flipside of Giving in Two Directions
This idea is not all flowers and rainbows, however. “Aww, really?” asks my dear reader. Really. Just like a coin, it has a flipside. The converse of the idea is that if I dish out unpleasantness to my brothers and sisters, then I get that back too. If I judge others harshly, I get judged harshly. If I speak badly about people behind their back, the same happens to me. If I attack others, I get attacked too, both by others and by myself. If I close my heart off to others, I feel closed off. If I see others as isolated, I feel isolated. If I cut you off from love, then I feel the same way. If I shame others, I feel shamed. If I separate others from me, I feel separate. If I hate others, I feel hated. If I hurt, I’m hurt. “Hurt people hurt people,” a famous saying says, and for good reason. Whatever I give, whether helpful or harmful, I receive both simultaneously and often in future situations as well.
In fact, this idea is so fundamental that it’s built into our psychology. For example, it’s a well-known and surprising fact in social psychology that when we talk badly about someone else, people tend to see us as having the quality that we said the other person had. If, for example, I tell someone that “that guy is so nasty, what a jerk,” the person I told is likely to unconsciously see me as being a nasty jerk. This is the psychological reason why gossip backfires on the gossiper even in the moment of gossiping. Moreover, when people find out the venom you’ve been spitting about them, they’re likely to feel hurt and if not at least dislike you more, then actively feel like they need to get some vengeance by dishing some dirt on you behind your back.
The practical flipside of this idea, though, is that if you say positive things about other people behind their backs, people are more likely to see you as having those positive traits. It’ll make the person you positively gossiped about happy when they find out what you said about them and it’ll make you happy too. So, by all means engage in positive gossip and point out what people’s positive traits to others behind their backs. Everyone loses with negative gossip, but everyone wins with positive gossip. As ACIM Lesson 108 wisely says, “to give and receive are one in truth;” whatever kind of gossip we put out there, we give and receive it in two directions at once.
The Idea that Giving and Receiving are Reciprocal is Universal
To return to my main point, this idea that giving and receiving are reciprocal is not a new or abstract idea. It’s highly practical and it’s very ancient. We read about it in Proverbs 11:17, for instance, which says:
Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel hurt themselves.
These are wise words. In fact, I would go so far as to claim that they express universal wisdom. At this point, a humorous reader might ask “hey Adam, you’ve expressed this idea, so are you saying you’re wise, buddy?” To this, I would say that I’m more like Socrates in that I know that I know nothing. “Oh, false modesty too, huh, nice one, bro,” my witty reader might quip. I do mean it though; I know very little, so I’m not asking you to take this idea that you receive and give simultaneously on faith. I invite you to test it against your own experience and find out if it’s true or not for yourself. See how you feel when you offer forgiveness or caring to somebody else, for example.
When I say something is an expression of universal wisdom, what I mean is that it shows up independently in cultures all around the world. And this is exactly what find for the practical application of the idea that we give in two directions in a rule by which to live. Check this out:
- In the Analects 12:2, Confucius writes, “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you.”
- In the Christian New Testament, Matthew 7:1 invites us to“do to others what you would like them to do to you” (Matthew 7:1).
- Buddhism’s Udana Varga 5:1 says “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
- The Hindu notion of karma expresses the same idea; I get back whatever I give out. Thus, the Mahabharata 5:1517 says that “this is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.”
- In a hadith, the Prophet Muhammad of Islam tells us that “no one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”
- Judaism’s Talmud, Shabbat 3id says that “what is harmful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.”
- Taoism’s Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien encourages us to “regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”
- Zoroastrianism’s Dadisten-I-dinik 94:5 says “that nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself.”
All of the world’s religions don’t tend to agree very often, so when they do, it’s worth noting. Most of my atheist friends would agree with the value of this point too. Richard Dawkins, for instance, suggested in a BBC interview that this idea can be taught independently of religion and asked “why not teach children things like the Golden Rule, do as you would be done by? How would you like it if other children did that to you? So why do you do it to them?” I’m not suggesting that Richard Dawkins is my friend, of course, although I do wish he were. I am, however, suggesting that regardless of what other things you believe, this idea remains true and valuable.
If you are not separate from me–which you aren’t–then whatever I offer you, I offer to myself. I receive as you receive. Of course, giving is best when it doesn’t feel like a chore. This is why I don’t practice generosity directly. Instead, I practice loving people as my brothers and sisters and forgiving them directly. My experience suggests that if we love each other, we feel naturally moved to help and support and be kind to one another. So, the more I practice just loving people unconditionally, the more I start to find kindness and considerateness happening on its own without having to make a chore out of it. It just flows naturally from love in a really beautiful and organic way.
If you already have had an experience of Oneness, you can also just see that whatever you are offering, you are offering to your Self as the One, because there’s nothing separate from you as That. This is what the Advaita Vedanta sage Ramana Maharshi did, for example; because he saw people and animals as his Self and loved them as such, he naturally felt moved to be kind to them. If this approach works for you, by all means go for it.
If Oneness isn’t your experience right now, just keep in mind that you immediately receive whatever you give. This may not be exactly true for giving money and food, for instance, but you will certainly immediately feel the love, kindness, and joy involved in this kind of giving as well. In short, the practical application of the idea I’ve spent all these words talking about is that if you want love, kindness, joy, peace, forgiveness, etc, give them out and you’ll have them immediately. That’s the way this cookie crumbles and, my oh my, is it delicious.