I feel thankful for Giving. To give is ultimate mind protection: if we can give, we have something within of great value and worth that can be offered. The Giving is also the nurturer of joy. To be able to offer a wish, a gift, even a moment of empathy for someone else brings happiness. we are protected from self preoccupation and selfishness that makes us blind to our being a part of the world. Buddhist teachings say again and again that to care about others is to be personally happy. And, to care only for oneself produces misery.
When I worked with Ovidiu Rom in Northern Romania (an organization that brings life skills and education to roma mothers and children, respecting their culture), I was directing a Roma Children’s Art Camp in the small city of Buhusi. I ended each morning with a wishing circle. The kids ranged from six years old to eighteen and numbers changed from 24 to 86 children daily. We made a large circle and one child took a place in the middle of a circle and made a wish. The wish could be for another child, or all the children, for their families and community, for themselves, for their country or even the world. Those in the outer circle repeated the wish expanding its resonance further. We always made time for everyone to make a wish. There was always a lot of laughter, and sighs, and sometimes accompanying big gestures that were also mimed in unison, or something like unison. My translator stood next to me and I would attempt to repeat the wish in my own mispronounced Romanian which brought even more generous laughter to our circle.
The outer fun of the wishing was about being kind, and giving voice to natural generosity. Making sure everyone was cared for. It was not about results or solutions, it was about wishing itself. The secret practice was accessing and becoming confident that they each had a vast inner resource of wealth to call upon: the capacity to give was boundless; or to imagine something good for another. They wished for an end to poverty, an education, a puppy or a repaired roof. Each child that made a wish harvested their inherent goodness. Their capacity for kindness and care, in their usual lives, was often ignored, invalidated or even stifled in the poverty and harshness of their lives, and the pressure of a cultural role of being victim as well as perpetrator of thefts and antisocial behaviors. these kids who I spent two months with often raced up to me in the streets when we were not in the project, and I was warned over and over that they were no good.
During these mornings, drenched in deep listening, engaged in focused and zany fun and games we invented communal rituals. We remade traditional Romanian fairytales by including everyone in the story. They not only became individually everything in the story through imaginative response, but in the play of the story they became each character, object, place or animal by naming each thing after themselves. Laurenzio became one of four horses; Valentina became a princess; and on and on. We repeated the story with everyone’s names every day. There were lots of options for each person. Some days someone was a King and the next day they took the role of a door step or a flower. (My biggest task was remembering the flow of the story and including the names). After the wishing circle we raced outside of Scoala Uno (School room #1) into a big schoolyard for a “Virginia wheel” — a grand dance celebration choreographed by the kids. Then we walked in pairs, our crazy procession, to a devastated zoo that we cared for. We went up a hill through the city with large black plastic bags cleaning garbage from the streets as we walked. Until we came to the half ruined entrance of the zoo. There we entered in silence to clean cages, feed animals and generally care for the grounds. There was always time for drawing animals, making new signs, and making up stories .And often we ended with a second wish circle , between the caged dogs and the goat habitat, wishing a better future for the animals who lived in miserable conditions.
I am thinking of those days today, thanksgiving. Thinking about how much fun we had giving and why I am thankful for giving itself. And of course a story comes to mind.
I have read versions of this tale form Afghanistan and from Zanzibar about a beggar who searched rubbish heaps every day in hopes of finding coins so he could purchase food. Mostly, he was not successful. Then, one day he found three coins. Happily he walked with the coins in his pocket to find something to eat. A merchant, leading a donkey with a large cage on its’ burdened back, passed by. The cage was crushed with live gazelles. The beggar pitied the creatures. One small gazelle stared sadly into his eyes. Without thinking the beggar asked the price of the small gazelle. The merchant almost as desperate as the beggar offered to sell the creature for whatever the poor man could give to him. The beggar bought the gazelle with his three coins.
He returned to the garbage heap to search unsuccessfully for more coins. Lying that night beside the gazelle he regretted his foolishness. “I am warmer and the company is nice,” he sighed, “but I am starving and now have two mouths to feed.” To his surprise, the gazelle spoke in a human voice and promised to repay his kindness and bring him great good fortune.
The part of the story that differs in detail in each of the versions I have read are the remarkable events that describe the brilliant cunning of the gazelle who wins the beggar new clothes, wealth, a large home of his own and eventually marriage to a princess. The beggar, now a wealth man and respected man fed the gazelle each night. The creature slept by the door of his bedroom. However, as time passed, the beggar forgot about the gazelle, finding it beneath him to take time to feed an animal. In truth, everyone respected the new wealthy man, but loved the gazelle. One day the wife of the man noticed that the gazelle was starving. His ribs stuck out and his eyes were glazed over. She offered to feed the creature, but the gazelle said he would only eat food brought by her husband. She urged her husband to feed the beloved gazelle. He laughed aloud, “I have no time for an animal. You feed it if you feel so inclined.” But the gazelle refused her food. One morning the princess found the gazelle dead. She told her husband and he said, “So be it. Now we do not have to worry about the beast.”
The princess was so disgusted by her husband’s actions and lack of heart, that she returned to her father’s house. And, that night the wealthy man dreamed of the gazelle. The gazelle appeared to him and said sadly, “You forgot how you came to have enough food and about our friendship.” When the man awoke, he was asleep again as a beggar besides a mountain of trash.