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Excerpted from Pay Attention, For Goodness Sake by Sylvia Boorstein. Copyright 2002 by Sylvia Boorstein. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"The best thing about generosity is enjoying the feeling of not-needing."

  Sylvia Boorstein
Pay Attention, For Goodness Sake
, Part 1

The best thing about generosity is enjoying the feeling of not-needing. It's a great freedom. So stop. You don't need to go on right now. The whole book will wait. Smile. Take a long breath in and out. In whatever position you are--sitting up or lying down--make yourself comfortable. In a minute, when you finish reading the instructions, you'll close your eyes. But now, as you read, notice that you can feel your body, especially now that I've directed your attention to it, even as you read. You'll notice that your body, in a regular pattern, fills with breath as air comes into it and then eases back down as the breath goes out. No one needs to do anything. Breathing happens all by itself, and awareness happens all by itself. 

In the next several minutes, after you've closed your eyes, you will be able to let your awareness rest just in this sensation. Think of it as a gift to yourself, a sabbatical. To support your gift, give away any thought that arises in your mind that might captivate or distract your attention. Even if it seems important, you don't need it. If it's important, it will come back later. Let it go. Open your hands, whether they are on your lap or alongside you, into a relaxed shape, a shape that shows you have enough. Now close your eyes, relax, and practice this Generosity meditation for as long as you like.

Resounding Generosity

My friend and teaching colleague James Baraz tells the story of how he still experiences the pleasure that he felt thirty years ago sharing a piece of cake with three of his friends. I think I've heard the story at least two dozen times, and I still love hearing it. He tells it at retreats, as part of a Dharma talk (a lecture on what the Buddha taught), and seldom varies a single word of it.

I know all the details--how, while he was a meditator at a silent retreat washing pots as his afternoon work assignment, one of the cooks offered him a piece of cheesecake, a rare treat that had not been part of the lunch for the retreatants. He describes his delight. Then he explains that in those days people washed their own dishes and cups and set them on shelves along the wall to await the next meal. James knew which dishes belonged to his friends. He describes cutting his cake into four pieces, eating one piece himself, and putting the three other pieces on his friends' dishes. By the time James arrives at the point in the story where he tells about the looks of pleasure and surprise on his friends' faces as they arrived for the evening meal and found the cake in their dishes, and how he felt seeing them, he is clearly reliving the happiness of that moment. I feel it sitting next to him. I hear it in his voice. I think everyone else in the room does too. The echo of that piece of cheesecake is still reverberating.

The particulars of Generosity stories vary, of course, but certain elements are present in all of them. Formal translations of traditional Buddhist texts say, "The proximal cause for the arising of generosity is realizing that something can be relinquished." This means that acts of Generosity are preceded by the awareness "I have this, and I can give it away. I don't need to keep it." What also has to be present is the awareness of having something that might be useful, pleasant, or comforting to other people, as well as a sense of other people's needs.

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