Gifting Your Best

According to a folk saying in Thailand, if a person is wealthy, it’s because they were generous in a previous lifetime. (They have another one about if a person is beautiful it’s because they were kind, but that is a different article.) Either way there’s a catch (there’s always a catch). If you are well-off now you have the wherewithal to be even more generous this time around. Yet how many wealthy people are greedy and miserly, always in pursuit of more, more, more? Just as too many beautiful looking people might be conceited, mean and snobby. Such folks are spiritually regressing and, if they’re not careful, they could come back as an ugly cockroach.

The most generous human societies existed long before the invention of private property. Indigenous foragers had no concept of individually accumulated wealth. Often on the move, they shared everything transparently and immediately. Our native ancestors wisely put the highest value on community—recognizing human bonds as the only real security there is in life. As a result, they instinctively took joy in sharing and bonding with each other, never imagining hoarding possessions or lording it over others who have less. They would have been quickly ostracized for such egotistical obnoxiousness.

Our species, Homo sapiens, existed 200,000 to 300,000 years before civilization took over culture. According Christopher Ryan, author and psychologist, humans certainly had survival challenges way back then, but overall the foragers were considerably healthier and happier than their agriculturist descendants—and way less stressed out, working only 20 hours/week.

Biologically not much has changed in the last 10,000 years, a mere blip in anthropological time. Technology is rampant these days—and having a huge impact on the way we interact with each other—but essentially we are the same species, organically wired for cooperation and sharing. And, even in these times, we invest in our most trustworthy source of security anytime we give of our time, energy and attention to others in a real way. This is love (and I’ve heard it said that generosity is an aphrodisiac.)

As we enter gift-giving season, let’s remember that a wonderful, transformative gift that strengthens the fabric of relationships is just being there for someone else. This is a gift we can give all year round. In these times of shallow social media connecting, being totally present and deeply listening to another—without judging, reacting or editing—is a supremely generous and precious gift. The exercise of emotional intelligence known as empathy, wherein we accept and try to understand another person’s feelings—and let them feel that—is a gift of healing. Passing on some skill or knowledge that you have mastered is a gift of mentoring. Helping somebody move is a gift of service. Giving a homeless person a sandwich is a gift of nourishment. Smiling and saying “Howzit going?” to a stranger on an elevator is a gift of kindness and civility.

No matter how little property or money we have at our disposal, we all have gifts—really valuable gifts—that we can find a way to give. The practice of generosity honors our ancestors and ennobles us as human beings. It cleanses the soul of competitive possessiveness, status and privilege. May we honor our heartfelt heritage and grow back into ourselves by embracing our native generosity of spirit!

Spiritual Science and the Holidays

As this year draws to a close, the holiday season is upon us. Christmas is both a materialistic celebration and a religious holiday—a convoluted intersection of opposing belief systems. But the real spirit of the season derives from a celebration of nature and the solstice’s pivot towards greater light—a celebration neither materialistic nor religious. It was spiritual.

It’s strange that religion and materialistic science—in conflict for centuries—can intersect at all, but one thing they have in common is that they are both in opposition to nature. While religion and spirituality sometimes overlap, they imply different things. Religion is generally belief-centric, dogmatic, and ideological, whereas spirituality is practice-oriented, in tune with the season, and experiential. These differences have significant ramifications.

Dr. Steve Taylor, author of Spiritual Science: Why Science Needs Spirituality to Make Sense of the World, writes, “Every culture needs a metaphysical system to make sense of the world, a belief system that answers fundamental questions about human life, the world and reality itself.” I had Dr. Taylor on Pathways Radio and Podcasts. We discussed these belief systems, as well as the growing role of spirituality.

“Spirituality wakes us up, opens us up to the aliveness and sacredness and nature, and reconnects us to the world,” Taylor wrote. Aside from dogma and morality, “[Traditional religions] encourage compassion and altruism, teach us to be co-operative rather than competitive, to be moderate rather than hedonistic, and tell us that we shouldn’t expect complete fulfillment in this life.”

Scientific materialism, on the other hand, is a reaction to religion. “Our culture is in thrall to a particular paradigm…which in its own way is just as dogmatic and irrational as a religious paradigm,” writes Taylor. “This is the belief system of materialism, which holds that matter is the primary reality…and that anything that appears to be non-physical—such as the mind, our thoughts, consciousness, or even life itself—is physical in origin, or can be explained in physical terms.”

Many people see materialism—which ultimately negates anything but the physical—as the only alternative to religion. Taylor calls this ‘scientism,’ which is dogmatic, like religion. This materialistic paradigm promotes rampant consumerism, hedonism, status-seeking, competitiveness, and environmental destruction. After all, if nature is but a biological machine whose sole function is to sustain us, then as long as we continue to survive, there is no inherent value in maintaining other species or their ecosystems. By placing God outside of Nature, religions support this attitude too.

There is a fundamental sense of meaninglessness that takes hold without spirituality, but Taylor is optimistic that we are heading into a post-materialistic phase, where there’s growing room for a spiritual worldview. This viewpoint honors the insights of philosophers, physicists, mystics, as well as spiritual traditions and indigenous cultures. “The idea that the essence of reality is a non-material, spiritual quality is one of the oldest and most common cross-cultural concepts,” writes Taylor, and he explains how modern science is converging with mysticism. Perhaps someday in the future we can move beyond a consumer holiday or celebrating the virgin birth of a savior, and return to one that honors the changing of the seasons, the return of the light, and a sense of connection with nature, each other, and all beings. Halleluiah!

How To De-Escalate Holiday Tension

In a world of increasing polarization, there has never been a better time to learn the art of peacemaking. Most of us aren’t taught to manage our emotions or the emotions of others, especially people who see the world very differently. In this respect, we are emotionally incompetent and have difficulty coexisting with people who hold different values.

These days, families can be torn apart over conflicting beliefs. Peacemaking is a skill that takes practice. According to Doug Noll, author of De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less (whom I recently featured on my Pathways interview program), it can be learned, and can greatly improve your emotional intelligence.

What better time to practice this fine art than during the holidays? Imagine this: You’re sitting down to a feast with relatives, a group that includes a cantankerous right-wing uncle (the Republican elephant in the room). Suddenly, this uncle says something obnoxious and hateful. Your first instinct is to problem-solve – to set things straight about the facts, dispute what he’s swallowed from Fox Fake News, etc. But things only get worse and he becomes insulting. An ugly argument ensues and you wonder if you can tolerate holidays with extended family anymore.

In our Pathways interview, Doug reveals how recent advances in neuroscience confirm that we are still largely emotional creatures, with a newer and less compelling rational brain. Emotional intelligence is a learning process, not a facility that is intrinsic by nature. The only way to calm your uncle down is to speak to his emotions, not logic. Never argue against an emotional belief, Doug says, because logic and reasoning cannot change an emotional mind. Arguing against emotional beliefs only strengthens, rather than weakens, them.

Imagine being able to withstand your uncle’s insults, provocations and misinformation without losing your cool. With a little skill, such holiday dread can be avoided. Using Doug’s three easy steps, you can increase empathy, reduce reactivity, increase enjoyment with family, and restore peace at the dinner table (and elsewhere in your life).

First tip: Ignore the words (or so-called “facts”) and listen only to the underlying emotions behind what the person is saying. Express a guess at what they are feeling; the most common emotional reactions are anger, frustration, betrayal, anxiety, fear, sadness or feeling unloved. Label their emotion in words (as in, “you are feeling frustrated”). This helps them gain clarity and provides them the emotional satisfaction of being heard. Rapidly, you will discover that your uncle (or whoever) is calming down and maybe even able to listen a little bit. Only now might there be an opening for problem solving, coming to some level of agreement or understanding.

In essence, the art of emotional intelligence is being able to listen for emotions and using language to keep yourself centered, help you navigate through conflict successfully, resolve issues of contention, and develop deeper empathic connections. With this simple method you can continue to care for someone whose perspective clashes with your own, without becoming derailed or upset. We can feel heard and respected despite differing beliefs, and do the same for others. (There’s so much more in the Pathways interview with Doug Noll… I hope you check it out!)

Christmas traditions

Ingrid Kincaid is known as The Rune Woman. Ingrid is a spiritual guide who works on a shamanic level with the secrets of the runes and teaches ancient, earth-honoring spirituality. Ingrid carries the medicine bundle of her European/British Isles ancestors and delights in sharing their ancient wisdom. Whether reading the runes, teaching, mentoring or coaching, the wisdom she shares is grounded in ancient, earth-honoring spiritual practices and rooted in the practical, creative, magical and intuitive experiences of her own life.