Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Soul Work - Deeper Moons Focused on Others

In a previous post, I identified deeper Moons focused on God, others, and self. By Moons, I mean things that I deeply want to bring into my life and live into. This post will explore deeper Moons - Moons that involve important soul work - focused on others. Just as with the Moons focused on God, there will be an overlap. Some of the goals focused on others wind up also focusing on self.

The Moons focusing on others are GIVE, LOVE, and SERVE. Each involves a deeply ingrained attitude toward life, an attitude that I imbibed in the family where I grew up, along with needed family soul healing. Here they are:

  • GIVE: Heal a scarcity mentality, leading to hoarding, by developing an abundance mentality, leading to generosity
  • LOVE: Heal a judgmental attitude by developing compassion
  • SERVE: Heal an avoidance of service by serving in appropriate ways


I grew up with a scarcity mentality. I learned to hoard rather than to give. If I gave something, that meant more for someone else and less for me. Also, if I gave something, I might want or need it later, and then I wouldn't have it because I had given it away. In fact, the word "away" describes my feelings about giving. When I gave something, I gave it away, meaning that whatever I gave was henceforth away from me, no longer with me.

In addition, my parents didn't like to share things. They preferred to have things for their own exclusive use. When things are shared, other people don't take care of things, whereas when you have your own items, you can be assured that they will be well maintained because you are the one in charge of maintaining your own possessions. In other words, if you want your things taken care of properly, have your own things, don't share them, and take care of them yourself.

In spite of this, my parents were generous with close friends and family members. For example, my father gave financial help to his first cousin Helen in the later years of her life, and he helped his first cousin Ed considerably when Ed's professional office burned down.
(Because my father was an only child, he was very close to his first cousins.) My father and mother cared for my paternal grandmother at home in her last illness and made sure that she died at home in her own bed as she wished. My father was also a generous alumnus of his university, giving both time and money, because the university had given him a scholarship that had allowed him to be a first-generation university graduate, obtain a professional degree, and move out of the working class into a more lucrative and satisfying profession.

My father, though, did not like to accept favors. He seemed to operate within a system where he and his acquaintances traded favors. If someone did you a favor, you owed him a favor - and this was not so good because you never knew when that person might decide to cash in his favor. He might ask you to do something inconvenient at an inconvenient time - and you would be obliged to do it because you "owed him a favor." Favors couldn't be entirely avoided, but one did want to owe as few favors as possible.

As for me, I am not a naturally generous person. Giving, for me, involves conflicting fears. Giving money (beyond a "safe" amount that I won't miss) involves my fear of losing all my money or of wanting or needing that money later and not having it. Lending my belongings involves my fear that I won't get them back and that I might need them. Giving time involves my fear of losing the time I want and need for my own solitary pursuits, which is the way an introvert replenishes her energy. Giving space, such as having a house guest or sharing an office, involves my fear of not having the time I need to myself and not being able to concentrate on my projects because of the presence of someone else. In all these instances, I fear that I won't have what I need when I need it, so I tend to guard my money, my belongings, my space, and my time.

On the other hand - and here's the conflict - I fear being selfish and I fear the disapproval of others for my selfishness. In other words, I "should" be generous but I don't want to be - yet I also don't want to be seen as ungenerous. So what do I do? Do I give with secret resentment - so as to appear generous? Do I withhold giving, feeling guilty within myself, making excuses, trying to hide from others the fact that I'm not giving - so as to preserve my money, belongings, space, time?

I guess another way to put this conflict is like this: I feel that I am supposed to want to give, but in fact I don't want to. What I want - to keep my money, my belongings, my space, my time for myself - conflicts with what I believe to be society's (and God's) expectations of me. Society's (and God's) expectations define what a good person is: I should be generous because a good person is generous. The fact that I don't want to give means that I am bad, that my desires are warped, that I have a shameful innate defect at my core. I need to keep this shameful core defect (of which my lack of generosity is a proof) hidden from others.

Goodness! It seems that a reasonable solution here is to quit the pretense: to simply decide what I will and will not give and to let myself be comfortable with it. Besides, it's not really the case that I never want to give. There are quite a few situations in which I feel delighted to give - to give money, belongings, space, or time. The times when I don't want to give need to be okay, or at least not horribly shameful. It is also okay to admit that I am still growing in my capacity to be generous.

There are times when I don't want to give, and I really do feel okay about it. At those times, I find that I can say no in a polite but clear way.

There are times when my soul wants to give but my superficial grasping self does not. I have started to be able to recognize these times and to go with my soul. In fact, I think that there is a very important truth here. God is generous. The universe is generous. Generosity is part of the bedrock of Reality, as are compassion, beauty, and joy. Perhaps that is why I feel that I "should" be generous and that lack of generosity is somehow off-balance - it is because generosity aligns us with God. (Another reason is that society wants us to be generous so as to support its causes, and society is not above using guilt to get contributions. The same can be said of churches and universities and non-profit organizations.) Back to God, though - it is true, I believe, that growing in generosity draws us closer to God, to Reality, to the heart of the universe. So, built into my very nature, is the sense that it is good to be generous. There is nothing shameful, though, in admitting honestly that generosity is an area of growth for me and that, at this point in my growth, I feel able to stretch myself this far in giving but not beyond. In other words, I can say, "In response to your request for x, I am not able to give that full amount, but I will give y."

There are times when I have given away too much in order to appear generous. The best example of this happened when I was five years old. I had a wonderful friend in the form of a stuffed animal - a bear/rabbit (he was really a rabbit but I thought of him as a bear) named Blue Ribbon. I had heard about a collection of toys for needy children, and in a misbegotten fit of super-generosity, I gave Ribbon to this cause. This allowed me to feel good and generous, but these feelings did not last. It wasn't long before I realized how much I had given away - I had given away my dear friend, my play companion. I missed Ribbon terribly, but there was no way to get Ribbon back. I know that I gave Ribbon away just to have the good feeling of being generous. This was wrong - I could see immediately that I had given away too much and for a very wrong reason. There are things that should not be given away.

There is also such a thing as irresponsible giving. Giving away so much that one limits one's ability to care for oneself and for those who are one's responsibility. Giving without regard to our created reality, where society is not likely to treat us kindly if we do run out of money. Deciding that God will take care of me if I give away absolutely everything.

Unfortunately, irresponsible giving has been encouraged for women by the Catholic Church and also by society at large, particularly within marriage. Mary Catherine Bateson, in Composing a Life, puts it like this: Women are taught to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the marriage; men are taught that the marriage exists to support them. Women have been taught that their fulfillment as women is to be found in giving themselves sacrificially to serve their husband's and children's needs. This has caused women to sacrifice themselves constantly for their family, all the while castigating themselves for not feeling fulfilled as a real woman should. Since they aren't exercising self-care but only giving and giving and giving, they feel depleted.

I will move now to what Erich Fromm says about giving in The Art of Loving. Erich Fromm distinguishes three types of givers. One type of giver sees giving as depletion: Whenever I give, I deplete my own store; to give means to have less. Another type of giver sees giving as marketing: Whenever I give, I aim to get something of like value in return. A third type of giver sees giving as an indication of abundance: I give because my life is abundant; giving shows that my life is rich and full. It is not necessary to be wealthy to be this third type of giver; some givers of this type are actually poor in society's eyes.

There are times when I have wanted to give, when I have given, and when I have indeed felt abundant and rich.

So - what is my Giving Moon? Initially, I said that I desire to heal a scarcity mentality that leads to hoarding by developing an abundance mentality that leads to generosity. What does it look like to give generously? Giving generously comes from love. Hoarding comes from fear as does giving super-generously or irresponsibly.

Perhaps, at rock bottom, the Moons are about moving from Fear into Love. Love encompasses myself and others - otherwise, it is not love but something else, something out of balance. To favor myself at the expense of others is out of balance and involves fear of not having enough for me. To favor others at the expense of myself is also out of balance and involves fear of being judged selfish. A question to grapple with is one of balance: how much to spend on my own pleasure in a world with severe needs and how much to give while still exercising responsible self-care. The answer is not out there - the answer is within. So this also involves ceasing to look outside myself for the answer but seeking my own God-wisdom within. This doesn't preclude asking friends for help with these questions; friends can help to spot areas of imbalance in my thinking.

Here are some Moons about Giving that come to mind:

  • To reach and maintain a proper weight, a well-toned and agile body, and a high energy level through healthy habits of eating and exercise. (This is a Giving Moon because self-care enables one to give effectively.)
  • To grow into a person who gives from the desire to share joyfully the abundance of a rich and full life.
  • To look to my God-wisdom within to know where, when, and how much to give.


I have posted quite a bit about this lately, for example, in my Hospital Experience posts of June 2010. I will simply state my Moon.

  • To grow in compassion for myself and others.

Growing in compassion does not mean eliminating consequences for wrong behavior or acting irresponsibly from a misguided sense of love. For example, a dangerous convicted murderer does need to be kept firmly behind bars. Compassion can help us to understand how, given his circumstances, he did what he did, and compassion will lead us to treat him humanely - but compassion will not let him back out on the streets where he will pose a danger to others.


Service, of course, relates to giving - particularly in action. Service is not giving money or belongings or even space - but giving time and effort and action. Giving, though, implies something above and beyond what is called for - while service is part of what one does because one is part of a community.

At a university, faculty members do well to serve their department, the university, their profession, and the wider community. For example, a history professor might serve on the committee to hire a new faculty member (reading numerous resumes, interviewing applicants by telephone, coordinating campus visits for the top candidates), might serve on the faculty senate of the university, might edit a professional journal, and might give a series of presentations at the public library on a local topic of historical interest.

There are ways to serve one's neighborhood, one's city or town, one's nation, and our world. Military service, for example, used to be the norm for all young men. If one is a member of a faith community, it is well to serve the faith community in some way. In a church, one might serve by teaching a Sunday school class, preparing the altar for the Eucharist, greeting people on Sunday morning, setting up and taking down for a church event, acting as a host for church meals. If one is a member of a club, it is well to serve the club in some way.

In other words, one serves because one is part of a community and because one's service is needed for the community to function smoothly.

There have been communities and time periods when I have done quite a bit of service and enjoyed it. This was the case in the 1990s - for my local professional organization, for example, and for the church I belonged to at the time. Also, between 2006 and 2009, I did a certain amount of service for my university department and some professional service for the wider community.

Yet it is also true that I sometimes tend to guard my free time closely and to avoid certain types of service. In these situations, I let others carry the responsibility for the smooth functioning of the community. I benefit without contributing - or without contributing very much.

For some years now, I have faced a struggle with areas of service that I feel are important, that I feel I should be involved in, and yet that I do avoid. I avoid them because they have the potential to be inconvenient and to interfere with my free time and with plans I've made. My choice has been to avoid these areas of service, to feel guilty about this avoidance, and to try to keep others unaware of my avoidance. The other choice, it seems to me, is to engage in these areas of service and to feel constantly anxious about when I might be called on inconveniently in ways that interrupt my free time and my plans. So I can feel guilty but have my freedom, or I can feel anxious but have the approval of others. I've decided to go with guilty but free. There must be another way of approaching this, but I don't see it.

Sometimes it may be that we need to do something because it is right, not because we enjoy it. And yet I think that there is a certain amount of enjoyment simply in the feeling of rightness about what we're doing, even if the action itself isn't very enjoyable. In other words, the motivation or the reason for the action - the greater purpose - provides some enjoyment.

Doing something so as not to be judged selfish is simply not a motivation that will provide any enjoyment at all. Unfortunately, that would be my motivation for certain kinds of service that I currently avoid. I would like to get to the point where the rightness of this service would provide my motivation and at least some degree of enjoyment (the point where I may not enjoy the action but I would at least enjoy the action's rightness), but I am not there and I don't see how to get there. I am more at the point of dreading the loss of freedom that this particular service could entail, of dreading not having control over when I might be called upon, of dreading the possibility of having to cancel eagerly anticipated plans. The dread is strong enough for me to avoid the service, even though I feel guilty about avoiding it.

This is as far as I can get with this situation right now. So here is how I will state my Service Moons.

  • To serve in ways that give me joy, whether the joy comes from the action itself or from the rightness of the action.
  • To resolve my stalemate about the areas where I currently feel that I should be serving but am not by accepting my non-service without guilt or by serving with joy.

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