It's a time when much of the western world is thinking about gifts, and some are even thinking about the birth of Jesus who literally offered his own life as a gift upon the cross.
Recently flicking through a friends book on her guru Amma and then listening to a podcast from Andrew Cohen prompted a reconsideration of how I can relate to life and each moment, base on the concept of 'gift'. Amma's followers' practices include puja — acts of worship, offerings and 'gifts' — and Andrew Cohen's podcast was on his 5th tenet of enlightenment — "for the sake of the whole" which directs one's attention to being an embodiment of this highest intention. I'd contemplated the 5th tenet lot, however may attention being drawn to 'offerings' led to a slight re-interpretation of the same concept.
The distinctions I drew were between life as a gift you get, life as a gift you give, and life as a gift you are. Each speaking from a different position (conceptualisation of identity) and to a different intention, resulting in a different experience (in my experience).
The discussions I've seen around the idea that "Life IS a gift" seem to emphasise the preciousness of what we get and have given.This one life, this precious breath of animating life force that has given energy to the body being that one is. Received with all appreciation and preciousness, to enjoy as much as possible. 'Life is a gift' expressing in words gratitude to the universe or god for parents for giving us this time on earth to enjoy, just once.
'Life is a gift' does seem to emphasise the act of receiving. The phrase "Life AS a gift" could be interpreted the same, but also shifts the attention from "I" as the subject receiving something to I as the giver offering something. This concept that a life could be spent making a contribution. A quote attributed to Jonh F Kennedy comes to mind: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them".
This quote and this interpretation of life as a gift speaks to the potential for every word and every action, and even one's whole body-being being given as an offering. Not offering some part or some object, rather taking the same care and reflective consideration in every moment. Rather than contributions (blog posts, projects, gifts, objects, words) that are made, what if one's whole life as an intentional contribution, AS a gift, an offering, puja, "for the sake of the whole"?
As beautiful as this sounds, I noticed that this sort of thinking induces a sort of flushed, tingling sweating as I become overwhelmed by the challenge of consciously living up to, integrating and embodying all that I admire in others, and all the gifts of wisdom, insight and care I've received. Partly that's because I tend to want to do things perfectly which can lead to procrastination, so there's this arising sense of implication and obligation, a tightening, a narrowing: "Given all the kosmos' natural resources, cultural knowledge and human energy being offered and consumed, why don't I continuously offer the same gifts back, in gratitude?! What would it mean to live as and create offerings that were a continuous generative gift back to humanity?! Jeez, I'm really falling short of the mark in all my past and planned practices and offering..." etc.
Recently, rather than leap into frantic activity in response to the tingling sweating, there's this pausing, relaxing, and smiling that tends to defuse that sort of stressed reaction caused by the perception of massive separation between current life patterns and "shoulds" or aspirations.
One reason for relaxing is that the subtle energetics of giving a gift matter. The universe and people can tell when a gift is given out of a sense of obligation, or when a contribution is made under stress. Part of any gift is the sharing of the mind that extends the invitation to receive, the subtle energetic qualities transmitted at that moment of giving, and to whom the gift is being given. I recall listening to an interview with Adyashanti, where he answered a question about the 'transmission' people receive from spiritual teachers — that causal, subtle and even gross 'feeling' and 'mind' you can receive in their presence. Adyashanti remarked to the interviewer and that everyone, every person on the planet, is "transmitting" their consciousness all the time. So whether you're aware of what your contributing to others or not, you're doing it!
Which leads to a further distinction could be that life is not just a gift you can give, but something that you are. The shift is from selectiveness, objectification and self-identification of what is contributed towards wholeness, ever-present-ness and decentred-attention AS the gift itself. That is, whether you like it or not, whether you are conscious of it or not, you ARE always, evermore an emergent artefact of humanity. Then there is no sweating tension, no intention that needs to be clarified before one makes a contribution — you are already being it, continuously! You are not the centre of attention is yourself, but one visible edge of the unwrapping potential of all humans.
Rather than a dynamic of contribution (neutral for you, positive for humanity) our attention can shift towards enabling and expressing holistic generation (without self-other separation). Rather than intensely-cultivated intention based on prediction or projection, there can be a slight relaxing in our posture. Perhaps something like "How can we do the best we can, with what we've got, where we are...now?" No pressure (!), no affirmation required, just a continuously ever-present invitation to be continuously being part of the 'unwrapping' (the very definition of 'development') humanity's potential through your questions, words and actions.
We are the gift. Life is the gift. Humanity is the gift.
As the gift, one can relax, pay attention and inquire into how reality in this moment is emerging beautifully through you and where your inquiries and actions can help the emergent potential continuously unfolding through us. With no distinction between giver and receiver, no self and other, the gift giving/receiving gives way to gift 'being'. Caring, loving, listening, striving, appreciating, celebrating, praying, over-eating and even 'giving'....all done effortlessly as, in, with, for humanity.
Welcome to humanity: we are the gift already being unwrapped, continuously, beautifully....