maciel-wideIt has been said that spiritual truth is upside-down and backwards to what is true in the world. For instance, it’s true that in order to live we must take our nourishment from the world. Notice the word “take.” Every living thing eats, and eating is taking. That’s how life survives in this world. But spiritually, it is exactly the opposite. In order to thrive spiritually, we must give. Giving is essential for a healthy spiritual life.

Those who are in business for themselves know that in order for a company to survive, it must make a profit. No one stays in business for long if the money they take in only covers salaries and the bills. Conversely, in order to thrive spiritually, we must always give more than we receive. Giving more than we receive is spiritual profitability.

Giving is the life blood of a spiritual life. But it’s how you give that’s important, not so much what you give. Many people convince themselves that giving feels good and that this is the primary reason for doing it. But sometimes giving doesn’t feel good; it just feels necessary. It may even hurt. Because you don’t give for you — you give for the OTHER PERSON.

In ancient times, the right hand was the hand of giving, and the left hand was the hand of receiving. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Let not the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” Never base your giving on what you expect to get in return.

Sayings like “give from the heart” and “The Lord loves a cheerful giver” do not explain how giving works. These sayings are little more than platitudes. To understand the underlying principle of giving, you must look at it in terms of energy. And the primary form of energy that we have to work with is our attention. Our attention is either on the other person and what he or she needs, or it is on ourselves and what other people are thinking of us. In other words, we are either paying attention, or we are seeking it.

In terms of polarity, paying attention is positive, and seeking attention is negative. In paying attention, the energy is flowing outward, giving life to the world; in seeking attention, the energy is flowing inward, feeding our egos. Positive energy broadcasts — it radiates. Negative energy gathers — it takes for itself. For instance, solar energy is positive and gravity is negative.

The terms “positive” and “negative” in this context have nothing to do with good or bad.

However, there are times when seeking energy, or even demanding it, is spiritually viable, especially if you need to lead others or organize a group project. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are usually way out of balance in this regard, constantly complaining about the conditions in our lives and who has treated us badly and why we deserve much more than we are getting. Right? So, to compensate for being out of balance, we need to forget about ourselves for a while and give without regard for what we get in return. This is called selfless service, and it’s the the key to spiritual growth.

To gain traction on the spiritual path, we must put into practice what we learn intellectually. Otherwise, it does us no good whatsoever. We would be better off studying how to succeed in the world, how to lose weight, and how to find the perfect partner. None of these things will help you grow spiritually, however, because the energy involved in these pursuits is negative — it’s all for you. So, practice is anything you do that takes your attention off of yourself and places it on other people and what THEY need. Sometimes, simply appreciating them for who they are can give them the space they need to express themselves positively or creatively. This can help them turn their energy around rather than spend all their time trying to get something for themselves.

Caveat: paying attention to other people is different than placing expectations on them. When you do that, your energy switches back to negative, because you are trying to get them to give you a certain kind of behavior. So, truly paying attention requires a non-judgmental frame of mind. You have to be willing to accept other people as they are, with a mind to what they might become, but without putting any stipulations on what that might be.

Attention is energy. Giving it gives energy to others. It allows them a space in your awareness to be who they are and provides them with a wide-open possibility to what they might become.

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Michael Maciel
Michael Maciel is the author of the website The Mystical Christ (mysticalchrist.org) and two books on contemporary Christian mysticism--The Five Vows and World Priest. Michael lives and writes in Redwood City, California. Contact Michael at michaelmaciel@me.com.

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