The Transformative Power of My 29 Days of Giving By: Carol Nadasen
Finding the book “29 Gifts” was, itself, a gift. Before I set off on a recent road trip to Michigan, I stopped at the library. It’s rare for me to have numerous hours in the car alone! I had but a few minutes to look through the audio books, so I used the technique that usually works for me when I’m shopping a great clearance sale in a few spare moments: “What is calling out to me?”
“29 Gifts” presented itself, and I checked it out. I was hooked when the author began her story by relating her MS diagnosis. I’m a clinical massage therapist and bodyworker, and have worked with MS clients since day one of home practice as a bodywork student 14 years ago. I have a lot of compassion for my clients, and I help them maintain mobility the best way I can. My career is one of giving. I help a lot of people, and I’m very good at what I do.
For ten years, I was a single mother of two. During those years, I worked, volunteered at school, led a Mom’s group and gave my children as much time and attention as I could until they went to bed each night. We vacationed with friends and family, achieved family goals, and had a fulfilling life. After ten years in an abusive marriage, being a single mom was a cinch.
When I got remarried and had two more children, I instantly forgot how to live, and regressed to reacting. My personal culture of thinking of everyone else first grew into a monster that devoured all my energy. I recognized the lack of joy and the bitter that accompanied every sweet. My journal entries are full – not of amazing giving experiences--but of exasperated questions like, “when will I feel loved? What am I afraid of? Why am I holding back, as if I’m going to be sucked dry? How can I live proactively?”
My need to do something different in my thinking and actions peaked during the past six months. I’d been working hard to overcome stuck ways as an alternative to giving up on my marriage. Like many others who are overcoming “co-dependent” living, I discovered the birthplace of being sucked dry was my undefined self.
Part of the healing process is to learn to identify, “What do I think? What do I need? What do I feel?” Then, to find the courage to speak this unnatural language--with conviction--with the people who knew me the best. I took pride in caring about what everyone else feels, thinks and needs. Discerning my own voice seemed selfish and took an inordinate amount of time and energy. I was feeling weary of this hard work when I began the 29 Gifts challenge. Treat depletion with more giving? I’ll try it.
We co-dependents are a bunch of over-givers, giving to everyone all the time at the expense of ourselves and typically feel continually unappreciated. While I am very good at giving in this habitual way, I was astonished to discover that I am not very good at intentionally giving from the heart. I keep the treasures in my heart safely guarded away from others, and just experience them secretly.
I began the challenge on April 14, 2016. On my second day, I gave a bouquet of daffodils from my garden. I picked a small bouquet and put them in a cute plastic vase. I gave them to the woman who works at my gym. I look forward to her warm welcome. I’m intrigued: how does she seem to personally know everyone? I take mental notes on how she shows great interest in the gym patrons. She’s the first person I thought of giving something to. When I delivered the gift, I found myself handing it over like a little kid giving a grownup dandelions from the yard…”these are for you”… but I didn’t tell her why I’d thought of her. I felt really sheepish. She was a gracious and boisterous recipient, and thanked me for making her day.
However, my feeling of shame persisted. I remembered experiencing this same feeling as a small child. I had taken my nickels and shopped the neighbors’ garage sales to buy gifts for my parents and four siblings. I couldn’t find something for my Dad, so I did what I’d seen him do when he tried to give spontaneously to five kids: give one the money, if a suitable souvenir wasn’t available.
I put the gifts on their dinner plates and put the nickel I wanted to spend on my Dad under his plate. I explained to him that I couldn’t find something for him, so he could look under his plate for a surprise. My mom loved her bud vase, and still has it. I don’t remember my siblings’ reactions, except that my goofy little brother was happily intrigued with his new little toy.
I imagined my Dad would glow with pride, recognizing I had used his very own fairness technique. Instead, he sweetly declined the gift and gave it back to me. Heat quickly rose from my shoulders to the top of my head, creating hot eyes full of tears. I focused on staring down and not blinking, to keep those tears from dropping in a noticeable way.
I spent time understanding and journaling about how this event may have begun a journey towards detachment. Many subsequent life experiences confirmed that giving with my heart unattached was a safe and rational way to live. On Day three, I wrote “Do I always live, just shy of feeling the feelings that go with it? I’m grateful, and that’s good enough? I just ‘know’ I love, and that’s good enough? I just know we’re having a nice time, and hold at that?”
On day four, I created a beautiful card for someone I love, and expressed my true feelings in writing. I noticed later, I stopped short of the tears when writing, suppressing the same feelings within myself that I wanted someone else to know.
I have studied my reflections from day six many times since I journaled. Here is part of it:
Have I lost momentum and need to start over? No – this is probably exactly the deep nature of why I need to take this giving challenge.
I want to learn to connect. I want to live life and register the people and events in my memories with feelings. I want to overcome my fears, whatever they may be. Overcome my pride. Overcome my reserve. This is what I have unknowingly been praying about for years.
God, thank you for this challenge, and I pray help me give with gratitude, connection, feelings and generosity. I’m learning how to connect with people from a proactive-giving place instead of interacting solely as a reaction to someone else’s initiative.
Somewhere in this 29 days, I’m to give something I never thought I could part with. How about my ever-present shield of fear, pride and detachment?
So, what to put out there? What, instead of afraid, proud and disconnected? (and then I spent quite a while looking up antonyms and definitions on my phone!) Self-confident: trusting in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment Humble: a small and intended part of a much greater whole Open: allowing access, passage or a view through an empty space, not closed or blocked Connected: joined together so as to provide access and communication.
I knew that this is the one gift I needed to give – to myself – that I never even knew I could part with. When I’m feeling stuck in old patterns, I breathe in the new and out the old: In – trusting my abilities. Out – fear. In – trusting in my qualities. Out – second-guessing. In- trusting in my judgment. Out – fear. In- humility. Out – pride. In – I have a place in a much greater whole. Out – fear and hiding. In – God means for me to have this place in the much greater whole. Out – self-reliance. In – Openness, allow people to see me. Out – fear. (etc.)
During the remaining 23 days, I experimented with giving tangible gifts, encouragement, eye contact, time, money…. I had not lost momentum: I had begun to experience the momentum of good energy, life energy that can come from connecting with confidence, humility and openness.
Day 28 was my birthday. I wasn’t sure what my gift would be, since my youngest daughter made sure everyone she talked to that day knew it was my special day. I received smiles and birthday wishes all day. My daughter led a singing parade after school, in which several other children joined in. I tried out being a boisterous and gracious recipient, which actually felt like giving a gift.
When my neighborhood friend’s daughter heard it was my birthday, she made me two special cards, and hand delivered them with a bunch of tulips. I said thank you. She was standing straight as a board, looking at the floor when she blurted “you’re welcome” in her raspy little voice. Then I recognized the glow waiting to happen, the same glow I anticipated from my Dad when I gave him my precious nickel.
“Did you make these yourself!?” I began to gush. She nodded, smiling with her whole face. “Wow! Look at all these letters and numbers! You must have spent a lot of time writing all these numbers in such a cool pattern! “ She was standing straight, but glanced at me for a moment and continued to burst with a smile that couldn’t get any bigger. “And all these words! I knew you were a good speller, but I didn’t know you knew so many words!” She made eye contact, “I know.” “Oh, thank you so much! These are so precious to me! I’m going to keep them forever! And I love the flowers! They’re beautiful!!!” I was getting more boisterous, and she was filling up with helium as the glow-fest grew.
By the time she left, she was hugging me and blowing kisses. A few days later, when I had her over while her mom was working, I invited her to have a little girl time with me on my favorite yard swing. The conversation seemed short to me, but it was a long enough moment to blow away the dark cloud of crankiness she rode in on. She blew me kisses when her mom picked her up. “You’re beautiful!” she shouted, as she got in her car to leave.
“Whose child is THIS?” laughed her mom, as she left to take her home. This is a budding relationship, I realized. And in my little friend’s raspy voice, I heard my mind shout, “I DID IT!” I connected. Receiving was my gift that day. What I received in return was priceless.
I treated my lifelong questions as designated companions: “When will I feel loved? What am I afraid of? Why am I holding back…?” I don’t know how it’s possible, but I didn’t expect people to be involved in the answers to these questions.
I grew strong arms from taking the initiative to give from my heart, arms strong enough to begin climbing out from under the tonnage of life’s debris. In my new field of vision, I see there are many loving arms waiting to help pull me out the rest of the way. I am freed to help them, too.