I want to talk about giving today.
Nearly all of you reading this give something to a cause that matters to you—whether time or money. But do you do so reluctantly or with thanksgiving? Ever since I read this Buddhist kōan I’ve thought regularly about that question:
The Giver Should Be Thankful
A merchant offered a bag of gold to the Abbot Seisetsu.
“This bag contains five hundred gold pieces. They are for the expansion of your monastery.”
“All right. I will take it.”
“There are five hundred pieces of gold in the bag.”
“You told me that before.”
“Even for me, a wealthy merchant, five hundred is still a large sum of money.”
“Do you want me to thank you?”
“You ought to.”
“Why should I? The giver should be thankful.”*
Now, sometimes we give out of obligation. To the organization we work for, to a charity that a friend asks you to support, to the Girl Scouts when they show up on your door selling toxic (but for many, nostalgia-inducing) cookies. Or worse, when a cashier asks you to roundup for the Whole Foods Foundation after giving you a free horseradish root because she couldn’t figure out its code. How can you say no at that point, even though you fear that that money is actually going to help pay for Jeff Bezos’ space tourism?
But that’s the point, no matter how much we give, we should stop to ask ourselves, am I thankful giving this gift?
It’s the Act of Giving That Matters
During my brief stint as a development director for a foundation that paid far more in foundation salaries (including mine) than actual grants (hence why the stint was brief), I read a great book called It’s Not Just About the Money. The point of the book—which, for a person like me reluctant to ask for money, was important to hear—is that many people who work full-time, have children, elderly parents, or other significant time commitments cannot devote their time and energy to stopping climate change, fighting nuclear proliferation, promoting sustainability, fighting local social and environmental injustices hurting their community, or the many other causes that require more than a full time commitment. But they can support others who do that work—either in small volunteer ways or (often more realistically) with money that they earned with their time and that then frees up time for someone else to fight these good fights. The act of giving enables them to be part of a movement that is meaningful to them while helping to build that movement.
I have been lax to ask you to support the Gaian community these past two years, as my focus has been to encourage you to give of your time: from reading these reflections (no small ask considering I send you a new one every week!), to participating in our monthly conversations and book discussions, and our community listserv.
But in truth, while I don’t want to build an expansion to a monastery, I do find myself struggling to keep this all going—and growing—without support from others. I have given about half of my work time to developing the Gaian community these past two years—freely, thankfully, and with joy—but I realize that without help, I’m not doing as good a job as I could. I could be spreading the ideas further, asking additional others to share their voices, better connecting with those who are interested in learning more about the Gaian Way, organizing more community events, supporting those who want to start local guilds, and as resources allow, even taking on some bigger community projects (a scholarship fund perhaps or maybe an eco-anxiety hotline—Gaia knows we need one).
So, today, I officially start asking you to support this endeavor: the website, the weekly reflections, and developing the Gaian community. Over time, we will make this a formal nonprofit organization, but in the short term, I’ve set up a Patreon account for the Gaian Way. No membership perks or tiers. All writings and events, as always, are available to everyone.
How Much Should You Give?
The easy answer to that question is 500 pieces of gold. At current gold prices, that will do a lot. But assuming you don’t have 500 gold pieces (or even 500 electrum, silver, or copper pieces—sorry, Dungeons & Dragons joke), you should give however much feels right. Jesus said it best when he pointed out that the few copper coins that the widow gave had more value than the larger gifts the rich put in.** That is true. If you value this but can afford just a few copper coins, then share that. If you can afford more, then share that—but if and only if, upon reflection, that gift would give you joy. Please do not give out of obligation but out of a feeling of thanksgiving. If you cannot do that, then do not give. Find a cause that makes you truly happy to support and support that. And whatever choice you make, you will always be welcome to keep reading and joining our events—as your time remains your biggest gift.
Go with Gaia,
**“21 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.” From Luke 21, 1-4.