The title of this post comes from Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who tried repeatedly to get sober and only succeeded when he helped another problem drinker. “In order to keep it, you have to give it away,” became an AA motto.
The title could have just as well come from Lama Thubten Yeshe who said, “According to Buddhist psychology, unless you dedicate yourself to others, you will never be happy.”
I could have quoted Jesus: “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Lk 17:33).
In my previous post, I tried to name something distressing I sense as part of the vibe of our time: “a miasma of anger and greed, driven by fear and disillusionment.” When I wrote it, I was recalling a couple of drivers I’d seen playing chicken for parking places earlier that day. Gotta get mine – there might not be enough to go around.
In psychology, anger is understood as a “secondary emotion.” The question becomes, what is hidden beneath the anger? In a lot of cases, I think it is fear, which also drives greed: it’s a jungle out there; a dog-eat-dog world; a zero sum game.
Back in the eighties, before the Berlin wall came down, a retired military officer told me that if the Russians prevailed, they would soon “arrive on your doorstep and take all your private property.” We still operate from that mindset; fill in the blank with the name of your favorite villain(s).
The problem is, fear and scarcity-consciousness often lead to bad decisions, individually and collectively. During the 30’s, Paramahansa Yogananda taught that generosity creates a “prosperity consciousness” that is one of the keys to surviving difficult times. He believed we attract what we hold in our minds, and he told a story that illustrates where grasping can lead:
In villages near the jungles in India, farmers used a simple trap to capture monkeys, a favorite source of meat. They would drill a hole in a gourd, just big enough for the monkey’s hand to pass through, then fill the gourd with rice and attach it to a stake. When a monkey happened along, it would reach in and grab a fist full of rice and find it couldn’t withdraw its fist. The villagers would have it. The monkey would die because it couldn’t let go of a handful of rice.
With that story in mind, and because everyone I want to emulate comes down on the side of generosity and letting go, perhaps I can trust the universe to provide me a parking place. And take it from there and see where it leads…