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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.

"Responding feels more comfortable than not responding."

  Sylvia Boorstein, Pay Attention, For Goodness Sake, Part 3

"No such thing at all," Poonja-ji repeated. "There is only the awareness of need and the natural impulse of the heart to address it. If you are hungry and your hand puts food in your mouth, you don't think of the hand as generous, do you? If people in front of you are hungry and you feed them, it's the same, isn't it?"

James and I talked afterward. "Maybe he's right," I said. "Let's think this through. If in the spring, as I am putting away my winter clothes, I think, 'I didn't wear this at all. I'll give it to the Salvation Army,' maybe that isn't Generosity. Maybe it's just closet cleaning. Maybe Generosity is happening when I'm thinking, 'I did wear this a few times. It is still stylish. I like it. I could save it and wear it sometime, or I could give it to the Salvation Army,' and then finally decide, 'I'll give it away.' Maybe that's generosity." I looked at James. "Isn't that Generosity?"

"Maybe," James said, "it's a moment of realizing that not-needing has won out over needing."

"Or," I said, "that someone else's needing has won out over my needing."

I know it works that way for me. When I am not confused or frightened, I'm able to respond to needs beyond my own. I think that's true for everyone. When we are personally at ease, the pain of other people--even people we don't know--touches us, and we are moved to end it. Responding feels more comfortable than not responding. And I think that when people say "Thank you" in response to a kindness we've offered them, we say "It's my pleasure" because it is.

James and I ended our conversation by agreeing, "Maybe there is no such thing as someone who is generous. Maybe there are only causes and conditions for relinquishing and receiving. But there is Generosity."

Generosity arises in response to the awareness of particular beneficiaries and particular needs. When we deliver a gift personally, we get to have the pleasure of seeing the response. When we contribute to a cause--preserving national parks, or ensuring voting rights, or funding cancer research--we imagine how our gift will be received. I think Louise Davies must have been very pleased by the thought that thousands and thousands of people--including people like myself--would enjoy the music if she gave the gift that would build the hall.

Also, she had it.

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