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THE BALANCE OF GIVING AND RECEIVING: Like breathing in life-giving air, and breathing out carbon dioxide that is needed by the trees and plants, we have to learn that while giving is more celebrated, it cannot exist without receiving--we can't have one without the other. The trees give what we need and we give what they require. Many people are focused on being active for others, often at the cost of their own well-being and health--they feel uncomfortable accepting praise or service from others even when they really need it.

If we aren't doing or being active we think we aren't living. This idea is like the air in our fast-paced modern society, and is often emphasized by religious leaders quoting scriptures. Devotees of Krishna and its institutional leaders also get caught up in this by measuring someone's worth by their visible service at a place of worship or in outreach. Some of us have learned the hard way that to be consistent givers, we need to be able to gauge our personal needs and attend to them, or we will often become resentful or burn out. It isn't just the giving that is important, but how we give, and the spirit behind it--that we are joyful givers who give in a way that is sustainable and takes into account our needs and stages of life.

Personally, throughout my life I have been more of a taker than a giver. Thus a big part of my present push to speak and write is my attempt to give to others what I consider most essential. As I write I have the pull of my necessity to chant and my family responsibilities, and my need to give to you through writing. My writing is both giving and receiving and yet I have to really make the time to write or it doesn't happen. Writing is self-expression and my attempt to encourage others. Speaking is more difficult for me, but is based on the same idea, that I have to do it for my fulfillment and peace of mind, as well as in the spirit of service to others. At the same time I have to fulfill other obligations to take care of my body and mind, and family responsibilities. Balance is required in every aspect of our lives.
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Ideally we see every action and thought as service to God, or Krishna for me--even maintaining our body, which is given to us on loan, and often requires considerable care especially as we age or with the coming of a difficult disease. In the right spirit our giving is also receiving, and yet we are required to have a mature vision; this can't be artificially practiced, or only mentally believed without realization. We have to see our giving to ourselves, as well as being kind and loving to ourselves, as a way to be able to serve others consistently and for the long haul. Our body and mind are Krishnas and ideally we see what we do to remain strong, healthy, and psychologically balanced, as part of our service to him. Additionally, we have to be able to accept service from those we have helped, who out of gratitude and the natural desire to reciprocate our help, want to offer appreciation, service, or some gift. Thus we can become generous givers out of the fullness of our heart, and gracious receivers, knowing that we encourage giving by our being able to accept and reciprocate in the dance of giving and receiving. So give and receive to live!
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PERSONAL GROWTH COMES IN LAYERS, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A "LIVING ALTAR." My wife and I spent the weekend at an Enneagram workshop, and while it was excellent, the most important part of it for me was to better realize an area I still need to work on in terms of my past, or as part of my "die before dying," new life protocol. During the Friday evening and Saturday part of the workshop, I was not present mentally/emotionally in the workshop, which my wife also felt. This was my pattern growing up and I have spent a considerable amount of time learning to me more present, and less disconnected from my body and life.

I had no understanding as to why this was happening, so my wife helped me sort that out by asking questions and having me reflect on them. What I discovered was that the presenter had the same Enneagram sign as my mother, and that she was triggering me as my mom did. Now I have done extensive work around my parents and my mom in particular. I felt closure around her, and was at peace with our relationship, and I think this is true to a large extent. Part of a successful life is to not be in reaction to events or people completely based on our past relationships. So here I was in reaction to the presenter as I might have been with my mom, as the wounded child! I was able to process this with the result that on Sunday I was very present and my energy was light and energized, and I connected with others and learning as I usually do.

One of the points of sharing this is that we have layers of growth in dealing with our personal relationship issues. During my decades of this work, I have found that you reach a point, that you can't seem to go any further, and you might even think you are done. However, it seems that we require some time to integrate the learning more deeply before you are ready for the next level. I have done this a number of times, and I did think i was done. Not so apparently. That this was a great gift of attending this workshop.

An unrelated topic is that in our lives as aspiring Vaishnavas, or spiritual practitioners, having a living, vital altar, is a huge help in staying the course of bhakti. I am appreciating this in a general sense, with our beautiful and powerful home altar, but also on the road, with my makeshift altar. While Radha and Krishna are present in their holy names, having an altar also helps us feel our connection to them and our path.
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