I’m reading Norman Fischer’s book, The World Could Be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path.  I’m in the section on Generosity, the practice of the “perfection” of generosity.  We can begin by being generous with ourselves, open to the abundance that is here.

Norman writes, “One of my teachers taught me to practice generosity by taking an object in my left hand and giving it to my right hand.  This seemed a bit silly to me, but when I tried it, I detected subtle feelings of gratitude or stinginess, various tiny clenchings of holding back or grasping, and sometimes, the ease of delight and joy. The inner details of actual giving are more complicated than you might think.”  

He goes on to say that the practice of self-generosity is not easy, requires “that you care about yourself in the same way you care about others – not more, not less.  This is not easy to do.”

I’m struck by this because I came to my teacher of Sensory Awareness through Norman Fischer.  I was in a poetry class with him and we weren’t cohering as a group. He requested we stand in a circle and touch the shoulders of the person in front of us.  He guided us to mindful touch. We then went outside to the grounds of Green Gulch Zen Center and wrote. When we came back together to read what we’d each written, we sat in a circle and went around the circle reading.  What we read was all of a piece. It was as though one person had written the whole. In touching each other, we’d bonded, cohered. 

He said if we were interested in what had just occurred, we should sign up for a workshop he’d just taken with one of his teachers, Charlotte Selver, and do it soon because she was very old.  At the time, she was 92. She lived to 102, practicing all the way. I signed up for a Sensory Awareness workshop with Charlotte, and was so entranced, I then followed her to a fishing village in Barra de Navidad, Mexico to study with her for a month.

Charlotte liked to work with stones.  We’d choose or be given a stone and become attached to it.  We might do exactly as Norman says here, practice giving it from one hand to the other, but then the big test came, giving it to someone else.  How is it to give the stone, this precious stone, to another?

One time in Barra, the stones were of various sizes, some small, and one so large and heavy I would call it a boulder.  One delicate woman went right up to it, hefted it up in her arms and struggled around the room, unwilling or unable to pass it to another, which was the task of this particular experiment. The idea was to know and bond with a stone for awhile and then either willingly or begrudgingly, but certainly with care, give it to another while receiving a different stone in its place. 

I’ve never forgotten the symbolism of watching this woman struggle to carry the burden of one huge stone. She held it close to her chest; she couldn’t let it go.  

In my book, Airing Out the Fairy Tale, I talk about meeting Charlotte and what her work has meant to me. I find her work well-expressed in these words of Eckhart Tolle.

To bring your attention to a stone, a tree, or an animal does not mean to think about it, but simply to perceive it, to hold it in your awareness.

Something of its essence then transmits itself to you. You can sense how still it is, and in doing so the same stillness arises within you.  You sense how deeply it rests in Being – completely at one with what it is and where it is. In realizing this, you can come to a place of deep within yourself.

I went to bed last night with news of one shooting and rose to read of another.  I suggest that each of us find a stone and pass it from one hand to another, perhaps find two stones and do this with someone else, passing stones back and forth for as long as is nourishing for you both.

There are many ways to heal. May today bring the changes we want to see, a unifying knowing we all are one.

Rock from Monhegan Island, Charlotte’s Summer Home

One thought on “Practicing Generosity

  1. Posting this, I learn that Hawaiians believe all stones are sacred, part of the sacred land, the ‘aina. Of course, that makes sense, honoring the earth we are, and the earth of which we are part. We are all stones, all part of a net.

    I learn about a celebration, an honoring of connection, and copy this from a website:


    An ‘ūniki, a real ‘ūniki, marks the successful transmission of a traditional body of knowledge. An ‘ūniki is built of old stuff passed on in the old way, one step at a time, the foundation first, then the house. An ‘ūniki says: “These hula, these dances of my teacher, my teacher’s teacher, and the teachers before them, have again been learned as they were taught. They live — teachers and dances — for yet another generation,”

    An ‘ūniki, a real ‘ūniki, makes a small stone of you. A stone placed on the edge of a mat. A stone tied to the bottom edge of a fishnet. You help to hold things down, keep them in place when the wind rises or the current tugs. It helps, of course, if you aren’t the only stone on the mat or sinker on the net.


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