A friend posted this image to facebook today. I’ve seen it in my feed more times than I can recall (in one form or another). I’ve often had thoughts upon seeing this “quote” attributed to Buddha. I’m going to let those thoughts out today (running wild) because I don’t think they’re wrong (at least… not for me).
I call bullshit.
I call bullshit for a few reasons.
For starters… Most the things I see attributed to Buddha or Gandhi or even The Bible are often unverified or simply wrong-wrong-wrong. Could Buddha have said this? Sure. Okay, let’s assume he did
Secondly? It’s not true. There, I said it. Every time I see this quote, I think… ridiculous. Cute, yes. I get the idea behind it… but it’s not true. It’s pablum. It’s easily digested and it makes us feel like our tummies are full for a bit. It doesn’t require much thought or effort and it just seems … well… nice and warm and yummy to our little baby hearts. Pablum. It’s no different than the other fanciful inventions (part truth part fiction) that we use as placeholders for more ugly and honest and real experiences. Like Santa Claus and that decidedly European birth-of-Christ imagery we perpetuate. Like the notion that when people we love are gone, they become angels (honestly, would someone please explain to me where the heck that one came from?) or that wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ takes the place of doin’ and just livin’ even when that real-life stuff is just plain hard and challenging and seems to get us nowhere near the hollywood version of human experience we seem to be focused on.
Go ahead, get two candles… I can wait… light one. Now use that candle to light the other. What happens? Have you ever been to a large event (like take-back-the-night) that involves a candle light vigil? Passing one light to the next doesn’t seem to decrease the light of one – in fact, the light gets brighter! Ooooh… ahhhh…. pretty. But that means it is consuming more wick and more wax and it is shortening its own life in the giving of that fire. If you had a center candle from which all lights were drawn, I think you’d see a drastic decrease in its life. And if you took light from one candle over and over… you’d see a decrease as well. The fact that the decrease is so small in each lighting… the fact that we can’t see the effect immediately? That doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
But this doesn’t mean that I think we should be stingy with our love or our light or happiness… fill in the blank from whatever version of this quote you’ve seen. Not at all. It is an even greater testament to human spirit (imho) that we give of ourselves when we realize there is a cost. That we share our light and love and happiness when it does ding our own somewhat. That’s humanity… that’s the nub of it for me.
We do ourselves a disservice, though, when we discount the cost (yes, I said cost) of sharing ourselves with others. When we give time and energy to others… it comes at a cost to us. We may think of ourselves as infinite creatures but we are living in finite days with finite energy (or spoons, as some of my friends would put it). If I devote my time and energy to you and/or your needs? That comes at a cost to others in my life some of the time. Other times, it is a win-win situation, but it takes energy to be invest in others and I think it’s dangerous to assume we must be the wellspring for all others or that we are an all-you-can-eat buffet of love and happiness.
We aren’t. We ought not feel obligated to be so.
I love. I love passionately and resolutely. I consider myself to be a very generous person with my time and energy and emotions. I am on the extrovert side of the continuum, but I find myself increasingly aware of all the real and imagined messages coming at me constantly… messages of the importance of sacrifice… messages of what it means to be a good person, mother, friend, employee, wife. Most of those messages extol the virtue of the person who exhausts themselves for others, the person who gives up their last piece of food or goes without sleep… ah, the heroes who selflessly give and give and give. I read once that anchors only serve others because they – themselves – are perpetually drowning. Yup.
My S is a great example for me – almost daily – of someone who is exceptionally caring for others but also tries to take care of herself, even when that has to come first. I watch her do this. I marvel at the seeming simplicity of it – and yet, oh so important. I imagine she worked hard to get to this place – and likely still does.
So, do I wish to stop giving? No… not at all… I simply wish to do so with realistic expectations of the outcome. An act of kindness may not hurt me much at all – and the good it does someone else may make any moment of effort well worth it, but it does take part of me and that’s the beauty of giving anything, really, it takes a part of me… I give you of me… I give you me. We are connected. We are interconnected. My energy flows into you and I turn to take energy offered me from someone else.
This notion that there needs to be pain and suffering for us to love? I despise it. There is pain in life but measuring our worth by how much we suffer for others? Ridiculousness. Whipping ourselves into a frenzy to prove the depth of our feelings… or self-flagellation to prove the worth of our very selves? Utter nonsense. It does us no favor and it does others no favor, either.
I cannot give you that which I do not have. Period.
The costs are real. The benefits are real. I need others. Others need me. Just… no pablum, please. Pablum is for babies 🙂 and I suspect even they would request something else if they could speak.
Buddha quote source
Pablum ad source
Oxygen pic source