The Circle of Generosity
Written by Gregg Hill
When it comes to generosity it seems there’s always an internal battle going on in my mind. Why do I offer to do things? How much should I give? What are my real intentions? I can honestly say that I have never really been at peace with my relationship to gift. There are a great deal of entanglements here for me.
So it makes sense that I’m not the kind of New Yorker that puts a coin in every cup. Every once in a while, randomly, yes. But never with any serious plan or intention. I’m more likely to walk on by because most of my urban walking is head down through midtown on my way back and forth to work.
But last Thursday morning as I was walking briskly down 28th street on my way into the Center I came upon a one-legged woman slumped completely over in her wheelchair in the exact middle of the sidewalk. She did not look well.
It was quite stark how she was just there in the middle of the busy thoroughfare. In fact, she must have rolled there only moments before I came around the corner. It’s like she was placed exactly there for me to deal with.
I was talking on the phone with a friend and told him I’d call him back. I leaned over the woman to ask if she was okay. A few other people then stopped. After a quick assessment we decided to call 911, but as I was making the call the woman came to enough to say, “no, no”. She was well enough to know she did not want 911.
As she became somewhat coherent the small concerned group quickly dispersed and there I was. I asked her if she needed anything and she said coffee. I told her to stay put and I’d be back with a cup, but she insisted on leading me around the corner to Dunkin Donuts. I went with the flow.
We must have made for an odd couple coming in. Me all crisp starting the day and her finishing up what must have been a very long night…or nights.
After a few little dramas I got her set up with coffee and a bagel. She seemed okay. Well, at least a lot more comfortable than she was five minutes earlier. I gave her a couple of bucks and left her at the table in the Dunkin Donuts. I looked at her through the window as I left.
I thought of her a lot that day. What was her life like? What circumstances led her there? Was she alright? It made me feel good on some level to help, but more so the experience left me with a lot to investigate internally.
That evening I was heading out of the Center late for my train and I had to hustle as I was on my way to facilitate a sangha gathering up in Rye. The subway timing would have to be just perfect or I would miss my Metro North train. If that happened I would be late for the gathering, which would not be good because I had to set up and no other facilitator would be there.
Halfway along on my jog to the 6-train I realized my Metro Card was dry. Dang! I would have to re-fill it. I arrived at the 28th street stop and of course there was a line for the card machine. Just as the train was pulling in I got to the machine and my renewed card printed out as the doors of the train opened. I just might make it.
Grab the card. Bounce to the turnstile and just as it looks as if I’m going to make it, over my shoulder I hear, “Swipe me through, swipe me thorough”. Crap. I could not ignore it. And risking missing the train I stopped, leaned back and swiped him. Thankfully the “swipe again” message did not come up. I leapt through the subway doors as they closed.
As I stood sweating on the train it became clear to me that I never would have done the swipe gift without the interaction with the woman that morning. The glow of the one action informed the other.
I’ve been thinking about this and see that my heart continues to open. My intentions and purpose are under investigation and becoming clearer to me. I have now been in this job for seven months and everyday I’m surrounded by great acts of generosity here at New York Insight. Folks are working, teaching, setting up, breaking down, and donating time, money, ideas and energy to our lovely sangha.
I went back and looked at a passage from Jack Kornfield’s book, A Path With Heart, on the stages of generosity (pg. 216). The passage on respecting that our generosity will “grow gradually” gave me much validation and a bit of confidence.
To be immersed in so much open-heartedness, giving, and wonder has been a source of great nourishment for me. It’s impossible to not be affected. Not to evolve. To see smiling faces come through the door. (We love the new half door!) To be in a community of folks that want nothing more than to live awake and be of service, this is a gift.
As the head business person, I know well that NYI only works with this gift. We have the ability to serve a greater community as the community grows in its ability to act generously.
Right now there are a few openings on committees and for volunteers to work events at the center—more here. I’m told that over the years the volunteer force ebbs and flows. I don’t have the benefit of NYI history to know if we are ebbing or flowing right now, but I do know it always seems like there are openings and need, and yet somehow everything always gets covered.
The circle of generosity is an engine. It is the generator that gives power to our lovely place of refuge in the middle of a busy city.