so i decided to rest my aching muscles last night by moving furniture…swapping one heavy table at ground level for a large CD cabinet in a third floor walk-up. as two girls, attractive ones even, my best friend and i were unable to find anyone with arms and a back muscle or two to help us out. we’d been trying since november. we threatened to hire an anonymous odd jobs type guy (a.k.a. a craigslist killer) if someone didn’t step forward to offer some help…there were bribes involved…but no takers. the bribes offered were of the garden variety…beer, food…plus the guilt trip of maintaining our personal safety. perhaps lap dances would have garnered more enthusiasm, but based on the response crickets we heard tuning themselves for a long requiem, i’m not sure anyone but anonymous odd-jobs criminal guy would have taken the offer.
so i went with the ol’ “date a strong guy who likes you and hit him up for favors” trick. classic. and he still likes me, even though i forgot to mention the stairs/third floor walk-up part until just before our departure. i swear i forgot. and the truth is, he offered to help, and i accepted. it was that simple…except that accepting help is hard for me, and asking is damn near impossible. now that i’m on my own and defiantly independent, with a kid, a dog, two cats and a house full of stairs and heavy things, i’ve had a chance to flaunt my strength, and stomp around all satisfied, like my 2-year old, pointing at all the things i’ve done, “all by myself” (or in her words, “by Self!”).
yesterday i accepted help that was offered graciously, from someone who offers help regularly to friends and family all around him. i also remember friends, a funny and generous couple whom i’d only just met, who volunteered to spend a day painting my townhouse with me. i remember the humble gratitude i felt that day, just like the gratitude i felt last night admiring the freshly open spot where that table was, and the CD/OCD project i now have waiting for me in my basement. the truth is, we really do very little “by Self!” there is always some village, visible or invisible, helping us out.
this asking for help and accepting it thing is part of a skill set that i’ve been working on for a long time. these are skills i never learned at home. in fact, they were discouraged there, either intentionally or through the magic of guilt or through the subtle art of underminement. (that’s a term of art, my art, or maybe al gore said it first, ew). so here are three lessons on graciousness that i’ve reluctantly learned, and with serious difficulty, accepted as practice:
1) learn how to accept a compliment – don’t qualify it. i still do this more often that i’d like. it’s that “oh, this old thing?” mentality…the need to apologize for or downplay your role in presenting something worth complimenting. i read somewhere a long time ago, that the only thing you need to say in response to a real compliment is a real “well, thank you!” ex: compliment – “you have a beautiful home,” response – “why, thank you!” vs. “oh, it’s a mess, i really need to clean it, do that one dish in the sink, ramble, ramble, ramble.”
2) learn to accept gifts – this includes allowing someone to pick up a check at lunch or dinner when they offer. i have an employee who has managed to pay the tab every time i’ve taken her out. it’s embarrassing to me, and discourages me from meeting her over a nice lunch instead of in the stuffy offices neither of us work in very often. learn to accept gifts and favors without guilt, without feeling like you now “owe” the giver something equivalent in value or effort. most of us know how to give without expecting anything in return. we also know it feels good. give friends and strangers a chance to feel good. again, a heartfelt, “well, thank you!” will do. an old fashioned thank you card is a nice touch…but these days, an email or any expression of gratitude will typically be enough to kick start a karma bus of goodness for you.
3) learn to accept and even ask for help from well-meaning, gentle souls. it might be a new boyfriend with moving muscles, a stranger in a grocery store parking lot (a well-lit and populated parking lot), a neighbor who spots a way to help you out, new friends with paint supplies, old friends with some spare change to lend to a dependable friend in need, or friends and family who want to support you when you struggle with emotional or physical health.
giving these things, compliments, gifts and help, makes people feel good. the act of giving freely feeds the Universal energies of generosity, Love and compassion. but to give freely, one needs a recipient. don’t just be a “giver,” it’s a subtle form of control if you give and never allow someone to give back. it’s a form of underminement, and it lacks the vulnerability, intimacy, and equality that comes from reciprocity. remember to open your heart and set aside your independence sometimes to actively “receive.” it’s ok and your gratitude is only the first gift you send back to the giver. Universal Love and joy will track them down and deliver more. and of course, never be a “taker.” we all know a few of them, and they dress themselves quite differently than “receivers.”
we are a generous and social species, especially when we let our best energy flow freely. open yourself to that energy and you will find myriad and effortless ways to give and receive that make the world (your world) spin a little more smoothly.