Not long ago, I read an article in Whole Living (one of my favorite magazines, which went by the moniker Body + Soul until a recent name change) that provided me with a moment of revelation about how to live a contented life, and another moment of revelation about why I blog.
The article, “The Giving Cure” (November 2009), was written by a woman named Cami Walker. In it, Walker tells the story of the anxiety and depression she sunk into after her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis (MS), and the surprising strategy she discovered to pull herself out of it.
MS is a neurodegenerative autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and manifests differently in every MS patient, depending on which nerves are affected. MS can ultimately lead to loss of mobility and independence. There is no known cure.
After her diagnosis, Walker was paralyzed with fear and depression, isolating herself from others and worrying about her future. One day, she had a conversation with a practitioner of integrative medicine. This woman provided a supportive shoulder to cry on as Walker vented her fears and frustrations.
Then she said to Walker, “Cami, I think you need to stop thinking about yourself… If you spend all your time and energy focusing on your pain, you’re feeding it. You’re making it worse by putting all of your attention there… [Y]ou are falling deeper and deeper into a black hole. I’m going to give you a tool to help you dig yourself out.”
The tool: to give away 29 gifts in 29 days. The gifts need not be of the material sort. Walker’s friend said, “Healing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but through our interactions with other people. By giving, you are focusing on what you have to offer others, inviting more abundance into your life.”
Walker ignored the advice for awhile. She was skeptical that it would make any difference. But one day, at a desperate point, she decided to give it a try. She called another friend with MS and went for a visit. She felt wonderful afterward — light and calm. So she kept giving. She donated money to charity. She gave a meal to a homeless man. She donated unneeded belongings to the Goodwill. She filled a friend’s parking meter with quarters. She sent positive thoughts to loved ones and to struggling strangers. “I gave and gave, and and a funny thing happened: I started receiving gifts myself… All in all, I felt buoyed up by my efforts, and happier than I had previously believed I could be.”
She called the woman who had advised her to begin giving a gift daily. Walker told her, “It’s weird. I feel like I’m being supported everywhere I look… The more I give little things, the easier it’s become for me to accept assistance and love from others. Instead of being tied up in knots all the time, I’m much closer to a peaceful state.”
Walker finished her first 29 days of giving, and was so transformed, she has kept on giving ever since. She says, “I wish I could say that sharing gifts cured my MS, but that would be dishonest. I still live with the effects of the disease, but I cope a lot better and feel significantly less pain. I still inject myself daily with a drug that has slowed the progression of MS, according to my latest MRI. Most importantly, the pain no longer controls me.” She has even started a website where others who choose to try her “29-Day Giving Challenge” can share their stories.
Walker’s article outlines these six secrets to giving — all of them important aspects of the practice:
1. Start with gratitude. Write down what you’re most thankful for and make a point to share at least one item on your list.
2. Keep it simple. Small gestures often make the biggest impact. Smile at a stranger, offer a coworker a sincere compliment, or buy someone lunch for no reason.
3. Give up expectations. Let go of judgments about how your gift will be put to use. Once you’ve given it, your gift will take care of itself.
4. Receive graciously. Giving without receiving will deplete your energy. Remember to be receptive to what others are eager to share.
5. Wing it. Resist the urge to plan all 29 gifts in one sitting. Stay open to the gift-giving opportunities that occur naturally throughout any given day.
6. Challenge yourself. What are you hesitant to give? Your time? Unconditional love? Ask yourself why and try to let those hang-ups go.
As I read Walker’s article, I realized that, over the last seven months, through the writing of this blog, I had experienced the very transformation of which she spoke.
I did not know at the time I began A Life in Season that I was following the 29 Gifts path, but in retrospect, I was. I started this blog during a sad time, during which I was very focused on Read the rest of this entry »