I've been listening to Pema Chodron's The Places That Scare You on CDs in my car. It's a four-disc set, and I find myself listening to each CD at least twice, because there's just so much to take in.
Last night she was talking about the paramitas, and different ways of practicing each of them. When Chodron was discussing dana paramita, generosity, she said one of her students decided to give something away when she realized she didn't want to part with it. It got me pondering, long and hard. I like to think of myself as a generous person. But the more I reflected on it last night, the stingier I felt.
A big issue for me is food. I simply hate having to share my food. When I decide I am going to indulge in my favorite decadence, a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, I eat the whole pint in one sitting. I began wondering, what would happen if a friend, or my partner, said, "Oh, can I have some ice cream, too?" I would feel absolutely frantic. No! This is MY pint of ice cream!
I have fooled myself for a long time about this by saying that it wasn't really ungenerous, because I was perfectly willing to buy another pint of ice cream for my friend. I had no trouble with the thought of making it my treat; I would gladly buy ice cream for a whole party, and not feel a bit put out. See, I'm generous!
But that doesn't change at all the way I feel about the pint I set aside for myself. That one I clutch onto desperately. No one else can have any. Not even one spoonful.
I think I understand where this grasping comes from. I was the oldest of six children growing up, and now there are nine siblings all together. My immediate family has always been a brood, a crowd, a sprawling mess of human activity. Our portions were meted out evenly at dinner, with just enough for everyone. I never went without, but I also never was able to indulge myself. This will sound silly, but I didn't even have my own underwear. The three oldest girls were all close enough in size, that we shared. Whoever folded the laundry got first dibs on the best pairs.
Listening to Chodron, I realized that this scarcity model is still playing out in my life, so many years later. I like things to be "just mine" - my own scissors, my own home office, my own books on my own bookshelves...and my own pint of ice cream. I have camouflaged this greediness with financial largess, gladly buying presents for people, meals at restaurants, miscellaneous this'n'that things for my partner....without having to actually share anything, except money.
So I have decided to start stretching myself a little bit, starting out with that most simple thing, the food I eat. I am going to try to share something whenever the opportunity arises - a bite from my plate at a restaurant, a slice of my apple, half of my dessert. And it doesn't count to buy two - I have to give from that portion which was meant for me.
Even the ice cream.