Reflections on Dana by Erica Schultz

It’s (not) mine

Reflections on Dana at Common Ground by Erica S. Schultz

“But it’s mine, I own it,” my little four year-old charge yelled at me when I tried to tell her that it probably didn’t make sense to bring home the fairly large chunk of street she found at the park.

“And this one’s mine,” her brother piped in, reaching over to grab another piece of crumbled asphalt. He clearly was not going to let his sister obtain something new without her.     “But you know,” I said trying to sound reasonable, “we don’t really own the street.”

This clearly was not good enough reasoning for them and I saw the beginnings of a temper tantrum start to manifest with stunning speed. I couldn’t help but be slightly amazed how in their short years they had already developed such a strong sense of ownership. And, that one thing was for certain, that sense of mine, or inability to let go, hurt.

I first stumbled upon the concept of Dana a little over a year ago at a full moon peace walk. I had known for some time that I wanted to develop a meditation practice, but had little financial resources. When I learned that I would not be required to pay each time that I attended Common Ground, it was almost incomprehensible. It was a mixture of pure excitement and disbelief. I was truly floored. I immediately felt compelled to give back in whatever way I could.

Since then I have learned a lot about giving and receiving. I soon realized that I would never be able to repay in any sort of tangible way what Common Ground has done for me. But I have still learned a lot in the process of trying.

I’ve learned that the true intention matters, giving only feels good when it doesn’t come from a place of guilt. There were times when I felt strongly that I “should” give, but realized, sometimes before, sometimes after the fact, that I didn’t actually have the means to give in the way that my mind designed.  I am learning to honestly assess how much I can give.  That it doesn’t serve anyone to try to give too much. That it feels good when it comes not from the mind, but the heart.

Yet it’s also ok to push oneself a little. I try to follow Sharon Salzberg’s personal practice which she shares in her book Loving Kindness: the Revolutionary Art of Happiness. When she first notices an instinct to give, she tries to act on it, regardless of whether a more rational or ego based mind has second guesses. This can feel like a rather spontaneous or even slightly wild way of operating, but I like it.

And I am learning that giving, like everything, is part of the practice. I still remember the time that I volunteered to cook the Mung Bean Daal for one of the Common Ground residential retreats. I truly had no idea what it would take to cook for 30 people in a personal kitchen and soon found myself in a five plus hour ordeal that featured, among other things, several burnt pot bottoms. I was living with my parents at the time and, when my mom came home, it looked like a tornado had blown through. Needless to say she wasn’t too happy. I got to practice with her frustration and later, on retreat, I got to practice with the nervousness of watching everyone eat my food, wondering how it tasted. Within the context of noble silence, I certainly couldn’t expect any compliments on my cooking.

Still, even as I continue to search for new ways to give to Common Ground, I feel totally powerless when it comes to any notion of being able to repay what Common Ground has done for me. After just coming off the winter residential retreat, this sentiment feels even more profound.

Recently a friend showed me Ellie Weisel’s quote: “Receiving is a superior form of generosity.” This quote can take a moment to sink in, but I like it. In truth it can be much harder to receive then to give; receiving often requires a new flavor of generosity within our own hearts. In that sense, perhaps receiving is an equally if not more important practice.

One thing is clear, I know that I want Common Ground to continue to bloom. There are so many people from non-profit and communal living backgrounds whose jaws drop when they hear how successful and sustainable Common Ground is, how many people have walked in and out of these doors with out being required, prodded or guilted into giving money. At first I was simply awed and inspired. Now, as I have received and given to the Common Ground community, I feel proud.

Common Ground is not mine, Mark’s, yours or even really ours. So let’s give and receive in a way that helps free us from that self, that ache of “mine.” Let’s give and receive in a way that makes us proud. Let’s give and receive in a way that makes us want to come back, and allows others to come back, more and more.

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