The Art of Reception – Asking for Help in Our Self-Sufficient World

Recently a friend of mine told me an amazing story.  A few years ago she was diagnosed with cancer.  Her treatment called for daily trips to Rapid City, an hour’s drive from her home each way.  My friend and her husband owned a campground at the time and this occurred during the peak of the summer season.  Compounding the stress, my friend’s mother-in-law also became ill and was unable to stay by herself, so she moved in with my friend and her husband for their assistance.  Between the stress of having cancer, daily drives for treatment, tending to the campground business and caring for her mother‑in‑law, my friend quickly became overwhelmed.  She found herself in a position that most of us find untenable:  she needed to ask for help.  Not knowing where to turn she reached out to her mother‑in‑law’s church.  The church ladies went into immediate action.  They organized daily rides for my friend to her treatments and arranged for someone to stay with my friend’s mother‑in‑law so that her husband could be free to tend to the campground business.  Although a certain amount of stress remained inevitable, the load was greatly reduced by all the shoulders who were willing to contribute to its support.

All of these people were out there holding their skills ready, waiting for someone to put them to use.  When any of us hears of someone else’s crisis our first question is usually, “What can I do to help?”  We are so willing to give when someone else needs help. Yet we are often so afraid to display our own vulnerability that we don’t give anyone a chance to put their talents into action and help us.  We’re all really good at giving, but we are lousy receivers.  For whatever reason we deem ourselves unworthy of assistance, or, perhaps worse, we think we can do it all ourselves.  But here is something to think about:  being unable to receive denies the giver a chance to shine.  Do you really want to refuse someone else that opportunity?   Being a poor receiver is disrespectful of the giver.  Thinking of it this way it is hard to believe that I could possibly say “no” when offered help.  Yet I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to trying to do everything myself.  Where does this notion come from?  Why do we think we need to be so self-sufficient?  Wasn’t there a time in human history when we recognized our interdependence?  Didn’t humans originally form tribes for the purpose of helping each other survive?  When did we lose this concept?

Although I’ve certainly been through hard times in the past, I’ve especially been reflecting on these notions through this past year  So many people have been so genuinely willing to provide whatever I might need night or day – sometimes before I even know I need it.  And yet still there have been times when I’m tempted to stoically say, “Thanks, but I’m fine”. It has become a practice opportunity to remind myself that refusing means that I am in some way telling the giver that their gift is unworthy.  Looking at it that way, how can I possibly say “no”?  As Brene Brown has said, vulnerability takes courage.  She says, “Truth and courage are not always comfortable, but they are never weaknesses.”

We South Dakotans (although we are hardly unique) fancy ourselves as independent and self-reliant.  We are quick to point fingers disdainfully at anyone who appears to be irresponsible, unwilling (or so it seems) to take care of themselves, expecting others to do it for them.  Yet there comes a time in everyone’s life – everyone – when we need help.  None of us – no matter how well prepared or independent – can manage all of life without help.

Einstein said: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space.”  As part of a whole, we each have a role to play and we all need each other.

This is not something we should denigrate, but rather something to celebrate.  A chance to express solidarity with our fellow human beings, to recognize that we are all minute creatures “hurtling through deep space on this tiny rock called Earth.”

A recent article in Tricycle by John Tarrant, Director of the Pacific Zen Institute, talks about the concept of generosity and how necessary it is for each of us to do things for others.  He says,

“When someone gives you something precious it means that, beyond the usefulness of the gift, you are precious. The gift marks a moment when you are welcomed into the other person’s heart. . . . Generosity keeps faith with our appreciation of each other, it stems from a natural empathy with everything that, like us, has the courage to take a shape in the world.”

And, finally, a quote from Buddhist monk and author, Matthieu Riccard:

 “The notion of interdependence makes us question our basic perception of the world . . . Thus knowledge of interdependence leads to a process of inner transformation.”

Getting Back to Full Strength

As many of you know, I have completed chemotherapy and am now working at getting back in shape.  At times it’s like a little dance:  two steps forward and one step back or, worse, one step forward and two steps back.  But this has become an excellent opportunity for me to practice some of the techniques I’ve been preaching throughout this blog.  Examples:  take it slow; start where you’re at and move from there; be patient with yourself; etc.  Someone commented to me recently, “Now you know what your students feel like!”  Yup – it’s been a good reminder.  So it has become clear that even though we are not all recovering from something many of us are still in the same boat rowing uphill and occasionally over rapids – that is, trying to get back into shape after a long hiatus.

There is good news and bad news about warmer weather:  the good news is it gets us outside doing things we haven’t done all winter; the bad news is it gets us outside doing things we haven’t done all winter! This past week I’ve been hearing various complaints about soreness resulting from over-doing long dormant activities – gardening, yard work, exterior painting, even cleaning (yikes!)  Those of you suffering from these ailments might want to take a lesson from our half-marathon training.  That is, we have worked up to it gradually, adding a bit more effort each week.  Our weather here is so unpredictable that it is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to do everything at once.  When you’re tempted to “swallow it whole” it might serve you well to remember the question “How do you eat an elephant?” and the answer, “One spoonful at a time!”

All of this applies to exercise, too.  Temper your expectations.  If you’re just beginning, or just getting back into it, or resuming an activity (like biking) that you haven’t done for a while, don’t expect to be perfect all at once.  You probably will not be able to just pick up exactly where you left off.  Ease back into it.  And be kind to yourself while you’re getting there.  Just getting out there and trying puts you ahead of all the millions of sedentary people out there who aren’t even trying. Give yourself a pat on the back and just keep at it.  In the Tricycle article “The Progress Question”, the author, Ken McLeod states:

We call [it] “practice” for a reason. Any form of practice consists of doing something over and over again and failing at it over and over again. Through this process, we gradually build the capacities that make it possible to do what we are practicing.

And one more thing that might help you as you ease back into classes or any warm weather activity – reacquaint yourself with the pleasures of child’s pose.  You can use it any time in a class but you can also use the concept as a metaphor for taking a break.  Here’s a great article called “Why I Fell in Love with Child’s Pose” that may help you find new meaning and more fully enjoy the little breaks you allow yourself.  Child’s pose is a gift.  You would happily give such a gift to someone else.  Just for today, give this gift to yourself.  You can always push yourself tomorrow!