The Place of Generosity: acts and words of kindness on leaving and arriving

Clouds from air

A couple of days ago I left the UK for the beginning of a trip of several weeks. It is a trip that I expect to be filled with new places, sounds and sights as well as with yoga, meditation and voluntary work.

Time for a taxi

Arriving at Gatwick Airport late on Tuesday evening for the start of our journey to Greece, my companion and I needed unexpectedly to catch a taxi. Given the lateness of the hour and the deserted nature of the bus stop area, we were joined in the taxi by another traveller who’d also been caught out by the sporadic bus network.

Swapping stories

We chatted amiably over the short car ride, he explaining the purpose of his trip to Iceland, where he would be the expedition doctor on a group hike, and us saying a little about our upcoming two months. The doctor, who’d journeyed up from Cornwall to take his flight the next day, probed further about the voluntary work we’d mentioned. I described the olive picking that we’ll be doing in Palestine in October, saying, in answer to his question, that it would be the third time I would be going there for the harvest.

Strangers and kindness

At the end of the ride I gathered my things together in the back of the car. By the time I was standing outside, lifting my rucksack on to my back, our new friend the doctor had already paid the taxi fare. When my companion and I protested, he replied saying, “put it towards the voluntary work”. I felt touched by this spontaneous act of generosity and was also happy to take it as a good sign for the trip we were embarking on.

Greeks and generosity go together 

Arriving in Greece the next day, a sense of generosity, ease and kindness felt palpable from the outset. Once again, a taxi ride was the backdrop for a warm exchange, this time with the driver who was friendly, informative and relaxed, an attitude that has generosity at its heart.

Space invasion

At the family-run campsite where we’ve put up our tent, everyone seems to be similarly easygoing, down-to-earth and helpful. Yesterday I needed to make a dull but necessary phone call back to the UK. I knew it would probably take some time and so chose a bench on the campsite in the shade, away from the lovely but loud sound of the cicadas. I was soon joined by someone using an outdoor shower close by that I hadn’t noticed. I continued my conversation, not having the headspace in the middle of a complicated discussion, to think about moving on. It was only later that I realised that the man washing the sea salt from his body was one of the owners of the site and I’d unwittingly planted myself in a cosy, discreet corner usually used only by the family who run the campsite.

My home is your home

When I saw the man later, I apologised for blundering in to the family’s private space. With a broad smile and eyes particularly bright for being set in a summer-kissed face, he replied, “No problem at all; come back there tomorrow!” Once more, I was touched by such a genuine and spontaneous response. It was a reaction free of possessiveness and power. It felt refreshing and reviving.

Taking a break

I’m coming up to a big birthday and one of the stimuli for this trip was to mark this point in my life by taking a break from routines and responsibilities. As well as having a rest and being lucky enough to enjoy a change of scene, the idea was to open up new sides of myself: Traits I’d like to develop more, as well as characteristics I’d like to manage better, all of these are easier to notice away from the structure of familiar, daily activities.

Generosity begins at home

In buddhism, generosity – translated from the Pali and Sanskrit word ‘dana’ – is highlighted as being an approach that leads to other virtues such as patience, focus and wisdom. While all of these feel very much a work in progress, I’m happy that the beginning of this trip has been bookmarked with such lovely and simple acts of generosity that lit up my day and increased my sense of connection to those around me.

By taking this time out, I feel I’m giving to myself. Sharon Salzburg, an Insight meditation teacher, describes the act of generosity in her recent article Generosity’s Perfection as a ‘letting go’. My hope with this trip is that in letting go a little I’ll become increasingly skilled at giving to – at being generous with – others.

Generosity is not in giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is in giving me that which you need more than I do — Kahlil Gibran, ‘Sand and Foam’.

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