This weekend, after feasting on homemade pastitsio, avgolemono soup and zucchini fritters as part of a festive Greek-style Thanksgiving, I was humbled to receive a beautiful and shame-inducing email from my older brother, Nick.
I share it with you today with his permission, in the hopes that his story will inspire you to think differently as another Christmas fast approaches.
I do not want you to get me any material presents for Christmas this year. None. Nadda. Zip. No sweatshirts, no beard oil, no shoes, no mittens, no technology, no socks, no nothing.
I have every material thing of consequence I need. Meanwhile, my spiritual practice encourages selflessness, non-attachment, egolessness, the cessation of craving, and generosity, and I have a notion that not receiving any material possession for Christmas would be an instructional experiment for me. It's not that I don't want anything, it's that I'm interested in exploring my want for things.
In short, please give me the spiritual gift I ask for by refraining from giving me material gifts.
But you are not off the hook. Because there is something immaterial that I want from each of you. And since you are all such wonderful, thoughtful gift givers, I would ask you to apply the same humbling thoughtfulness and generosity that you normally reserve for my gifts each year.
So here is what I want for Christmas:
I would like you all to commit 1 selfless act between now and Christmas. By selfless act, I mean some action committed on your part that benefits someone else without expecting anything in return.
Be very mindful in committing your act. Doing nice things for people can actually be selfish. I'll give you an example:
I visited a friend a few weeks ago. On the surface level it appeared that I went to see her for her benefit. In actuality, I did it for mostly selfish reasons. I wanted her to not be displeased with me, and I wanted to reinforce my own image of myself as a good friend, or at least not a bad one. When I look deeply at it, I know that I didn't give a lick if my visit improved her life at all, so long as I was fulfilling what I saw as my obligation to her. Going to see her had a lot to do with benefitting me and little to do with benefitting her.
In this way, I did a nice thing for someone else that in actuality was quite selfish. This is still a nice thing, but it is not a selfless thing. And I am asking you to do your best to do something truly selfless. It's very very very hard, so just try your best and don't stress out too much.
So the first requirement is to think long and hard about whether your act is genuinely selfless.
There is a second requirement. Your act of selflessness should make you uncomfortable.
The more uncomfortable the better. With this act, I would ask you to grow your capacity for generosity. And as Jess taught me in India, you can't grow any capacity without being outside your comfort zone. Thanks, Jess!
So in summary, I only want one gift from each of you for Christmas. It is your best attempt at committing 1 selfless act. Before committing it, you should ask yourself if it is truly selfless.
When committing it, it should make you a little uncomfortable.
If you'd like to share what happens with me, I would love to talk about it. If you would prefer to keep it private, that's okay too.
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing, but this is by no means a definitive list:
1. Volunteer your time with people who need it.
2. Take one of your more cherished possessions and give it to someone else who has been admiring it.
3. Think of the person with whom you have the most difficulty being generous and be generous with them.
4. Think of the person with whom you have the most difficulty being attentive and be attentive with them.
5. Think of someone and ask yourself what you could do to really make a difference in their happiness. Then do that.
I'll be attempting the same thing this Christmas. I thank you all in advance for making my Christmas wish come true, and I hope this is a positive experience that contributes to your peace and happiness. I love you all!
I would love to hear about your selfless act, or about the resistance you might feel to committing one. Share yours in the comments below!