Thursday 28 August 2014

Giving is where the heart is

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed. (Maya Angelou)

Yesterday my wife and son took part in the "ice bucket challenge" in support of ALS/MND. It was a lot of fun for us all (I held the camera) and afterwards we each donated to one of the MND charities. We have no personal connection to the charity and I'm not aware of knowing anyone with the condition. Like millions of others, we took part, and donated, because of the viral nature of the campaign. Nothing wrong in that, right?

I certainly don't begrudge the attention which has been focused on this debilitating condition, nor the monies which have been raised to fund research and support those who live with it. Others have chosen to use the same "ice bucket challenge" format to raise money or focus attention on other conditions or issues. Some huge amounts of money have been pledged (even allowing for those who may have posted videos of themselves being doused and forgotten to donate).

There's surely a sense in which "a pound is a pound is a pound" (feel free to replace with your national currency) irrespective of what motivates the giving. But it's easy to get caught up in taking part in, or contributing to, such fundraising (and fun-raising) events without ever truly engaging.

On a personal level, that is largely true of the zip-line challenge I did earlier this year in aid of the homelessness charity Crisis. It was a lot of fun, I met some lovely people, and personally raised over £700. But I'm not sure how much more engaged I am in the issues facing homeless people on the streets of Newcastle, or elsewhere. Hopefully the money I raised will make a real difference for others, but how much difference did the experience make for me?

Next month I will take part in a 10 km walk to raise funds for the Alzheimer's Society, and will be supporting Fran in the NAMI walk she's doing on the other side of the Atlantic in aid of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The NAMI one is different in that I do feel genuinely and personally engaged, but so far I haven't taken the trouble to find out more than the little I already know about the impact of Alzheimer's disease on those living with it, their friends and families. I will raise some money, isn't that enough?

Something tells me it may not be.

Fran and I are on week three of a 21 day meditation course presented by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. Yesterday's meditation was entitled "Being of Service", with the key message "My soul expands when I help others."

Today in meditation we activate the sense of service. But instead of approaching service in the conventional sense, as a sort of obligation, we will look at it from the perspective of higher states of consciousness. In this view, service is not only a humanitarian effort, it is a path of joy and self-realization. It is an opportunity to grow in happiness, not a duty. (Deepak Chopra)

Looking at things this way, our intention in giving service (financially or otherwise) matters very much. "A pound is not necessarily a pound". True service, true giving, blesses and enriches both giver and receiver, and more deeply and meaningfully than an ice-cold soaking or a 23 second zip-line slide across the Tyne. It doesn't have to be a big thing, but it can be a heart thing.

Or, as Fran puts it:

In giving, caring, living, every little bit counts..



  1. I have read extensively on both sides of the issue, and finally decided it comes down to personal experience for me. I have periods of deep depression. I also have periods of sped-up thoughts, flights of ideas, increased goal-directed behaviour, and feeling out of control in which I tend to have poor judgment and act in ways that are out of character for me. For hundreds of years, patients with symptoms similar to mine have been observed. Call it whatever you want -- Manic-Depressive Illness, Bipolar, etc. -- they are just names, but in my very experienced opinion, they are names that describe a condition that is very real. My condition responds to medications, and psychiatric treatment increases my quality of life. In the end, that is all that I need to know.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. My own view (also Fran's, if she will allow me to say so) is that everyone's experience of illness, including mental illness, is different. Any single approach to treatment and management of conditions as complex as bipolar disorder is not going to work uniformly, if at all, for all. My experience as Fran's friend is that it may take a mix of approaches (which is likely to include medication for at least part of the time, also therapy/therapies and other strategies) -- but that balance is going to be individual for the person, and is also likely to change over time.

      As you say, the important thing is finding what works for you.


  2. What's curious to me is that the focus of this article is on giving and service, supporting those with illness, not just mental illness. This anonymous response seems to be just an attack and rant on bipolar. The energy feels cult like, hurting, and authoritative, allowing for no interaction. I think it's sad when one cannot even sign one's name to one's beliefs. What they posted gives me the same feeling I have when bombarded with those crazy weight loss schemes of empty promises and lies..

    1. Fran, I agree that the tone of the comment that was posted is hard, cold and devoid of empathy or compassion. It is a dogmatic statement of belief -- of one person's belief. I can respect their belief (whilst disagreeing with it pretty much completely, which won't be any surprise to you!)

      But you make a VERY important point about the impact of it (specifically about how harshly it was delivered) on those who are exposed to it. It is a truism that we are all ultimately responsible for how we respond to things, but we all also bear the responsibility of awareness.

      That responsibility is at the heart of empathy, compassion and caring. It is not possible to go through life not hurting others in some way. I don't even think that would be a good way to approach life if it were possible. But if we move from a place of heart, of compassion, then we will be moved to state (and to live) our truths in such a way as to be mindful of other people and our impact on them.


  3. If I'm wearing a red dress and someone tells me it's green, what color is it?..