Monday, April 26, 2010

Learning to Give from the Overflow, not from the Well

There is a wise Sufi saying, 'Give from your overflow, not from your well.'  I interpret this as meaning give from a place of love, joy, and abundance, not suffering and self-deprivation.

Today in New York City its a rainy Moonday, which feels good.  Its like a snow day for gardeners.  I'm taking some time for myself after spending a large portion of the last two weeks working on a massive volunteer project.  I'm the director of a kid's community garden on the Lower East Side called the Children's Magical Garden.**

 Kids love worms. They get super excited whenever they find one.

Kids, teachers from the School for Global Leaders across the street from the garden, parents, other garden members and I have been putting in a rain garden, a small native wetlands that soaks up the water in the garden's lowest point.  When the plants have grown up some, it will not only look like a wild, beautiful place, but will also create habitat for more song birds, humming birds, bees, dragonflies, and butterflies... increasing the wildness in the city by just a little bit, and providing an amazing outdoor classroom for kids and adults alike. 

All of this warms the cockles of my heart and so I haven't minded all the hard work, even though it has involved digging three feet down into ground consisting of broken brick, brick dust, rusted metal and the like.

My hands look, to quote a literary friend, "very Pearl S. Buck" with the ground-in dirt (even after scrubbing) giving them a mottled appearance.  On the upside, I can feel my hands getting stronger and think I would do alright in an arm wrestling contest.

This community garden is one of my greatest spiritual teachers.  Sometimes its lessons have been frikkin hard. 

Its a large unpaid undertaking and has the potential to suck up all available time-- very dangerous for an entrepreneur and writer with a penchant for procrastination.  There have also been so many seemingly hostile elements to overcome such as--
  • Toxic soil. (Most NYC soil is poisoned with lead from paint and must be painstakingly amended or replaced with new, healthy compost.) 
  • Endless rubble.  (The garden was build on the foundation of a burned down building and has been sinking into that crushed foundation over the years.)
  • Ignorance.  (Very few people have any gardening experience, and therefore greatly underestimate the challenges the space provides.  They think it is simply a matter of planting flowers and watching them grow.) 
  • Personal conflict/ toxic relationships.  Toxic environments produce toxic relationships.  It has been challenging to say the least to work through personal difficulties with other gardeners.  In the end, however, it has also been deeply rewarding and transformational to all involved.  These transformed relationships have made this next, more productive phase of work/play possible after years of two steps forward, one step back.
What I have strongly come to believe is that service, to be truly effective, must involve the concept of what my Dancemeditation teacher Dunya calls dynamic reciprocity.   This means that the work actually feeds you.  The work leaves you feeling joyful, inspired, re-energized, more creative, more full of juice for your own projects.

Forget selflessness.  For most of us, its a trap.

Dynamic reciprocity goes beyond feeling good because you are "making a difference".  That attitude of self-righteousness has the potential to slide into its own flip-side, an attitude I've felt many a time... martyrdom.  "I'm spending all this time and not getting paid.  My work isn't appreciated, and yet its now somehow just 'expected' of me by the community.  The garden doesn't look beautiful yet and so people don't see all the hard work I've put in..." blah blah blah.

Then there is "Oh my gosh!  Look at me with my big ego wanting credit!  I'm not selfless enough!  This is about the earth, the children..." blah blah blah martyrdom.

I decided that this year I was going to pull self-righeousness and martyrdom out by the roots and compost them.  I've been planting joy and contentment in their place.

I've made it a point to focus on activites I adore such as mentoring a small group of local kids I've known for years who are committed to the garden and to listening/working with the earth.  I'm learning to better delegate the tasks that I dislike, such as contacting the parks department. (I actually much prefer removing rubble by hand than organizing on the phone.)

I have also reminded myself that it is because of this project that I was sponsored by the community to go to school to become a permaculture designer, something that has dramatically increased my happienss.

The past two weeks I haven't had as much time to write, but all of the additional physical activity has magically worked out all kinds of kinks in the third draft of my play and first draft of my novel.  My third eye feels very open, and I feel tremendously grounded and focused in my herbal consultations after working so intensely with the earth.  Dynamic reciprocity is happening, and its truly awesome.

For this Moonday, I would as always love it if you have art/poetry etc. to share in the comments, and am also interested in where you have found dynamic reciprocity or rooted out self-righteousness/martyrdom in your own life...

**Children's Magical Garden website still under construction.  Find lots of pictures of the garden on the facebook group, Children's Magical Garden Community and Supporters

Thanks to friend, fellow Dancemeditator, and novelist Karleen Koen who first introduced me to the phrase 'give from your overflow, not from your well'. I've been pondering it ever since.


rutherv said...

Hey Kate,

I'm glad you're back blogging - I'd missed your posts.

Is there a way to attach a photo as a "comment"? I actually made some visual art last week, a drawing of a dancing Ganesh, and wanted to share, but didn't know how to attach

Kate T.W. said...

I don't know how to do it, Ruth. You could upload it in flickr or another image sharing site and post a link...
I'd love to see it. Everyone needs some dancing Ganesh in their life!

dervish said...

Beautiful post. I love its unfolding and, as you know, this idea is core to my life. I find myself unable to engage long in that which does not have dynamic reciprocity. As if other ways are not the way to go...Another related old Sufi saying -- "Go where there's no doubt." Thanks, Kate.

Sandi Longhurst said...

Kate - I wish I would have read this post 5 years ago when I was trying to save the world (not that it would have sunk in then because I was on a mission). I grew up with an old church hymn pounded into my head: "have I done any good in the world today... if not I have failed indeed". I recently switched the words to the same tune to something more nourishing: "Have I done any good for myself today, have I honored my hard work with play? Have I taken a bath or some time to relax. If not, it is time for me?" It's a good reminder when I get in the crazy take care of everyone else at the cost of me phase. Giving and helping others is a fabulous thing to do - from the overflow.

I'll post my strand tests of blue hair on facebook as the comments won't allow links. Watching people's reactions this morning with most of my hair blue has been fun. I can tell the not creative people by their horror and head shaking.

rutherv said...


Here's a link to the Dancing Ganesh drawing I made as a part of the Art Party (where friends were invited to come over and make art for my birthday). This pink Ganesh is in his traditional impossible Indian dance pose - with a pink rose, and a little rat Mooshika at his feet
Hope the picasa link works!

Kate T.W. said...

Sandi... I think I'm going to have to interview you about your naturally blue hair so that everyone can see those pics!

Dervish... I am never sure what I love most about Dancemeditation practice... developing the witness self, dynamic reciprocity, finding joy and contentment, generally gettin my groove back...

Ruth... That is a fantastic drawing! Makes me so happy. And I love the rose Ganesh is holding while he dances, and adorable little Mooshika rat. Thank you.

Sandi Longhurst said...

Kate, sounds like a plan. I will email you the links.

wholly jeanne said...

this post conjures up so much. i started a comment the night it was posted, then something came up. have thought about it all week and will be back over the weekend when hopefully my thoughts have distilled.

Kate T.W. said...

I always love reading your thoughts Jeanne :-)