During one of the coldest weeks of the winter, The New York Times reported department stores H&M and Wal-Mart have been destroying unsold clothing rather than donating it to shelters or charitable organizations.
A passing student who discovered bags of clothing the stores had paid employees to slash and put holes into described, “Gloves with the fingers cut off, warm socks. Cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor. Men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.”
Meanwhile, “On its Web site, H&M reports that to save paper, it has shrunk its shipping labels.”
Hmm. How much do you think those cute eco labels offset landfills full of ruined clothing or the resources used to make them?
It’s not that we’re disingenuous
though we may suspect H&M or Wal-Mart to be, but that somewhere between our beliefs, our intentions, and our daily actions, the how-to of a non-exotic, everyday dharma is hard to figure out.
The Four Word practice is not about changing yourself, or being a “better” person; it’s about investment, development, and freedom. Four Word practice is about happiness as a radical path, a root dharma.
Once you are focused on knowing what you want and preparing to receive it, it’s only natural that you begin to feel the flow of resources around you, like the tug of a current when you’re standing in water. The Four Word practice helps you set your intentions and clarify your priorities. When you are practicing development in this way, it’s inevitable that you’ll begin to feel a strong need for others to be able to develop freedom as well.
The impulse to fund someone else’s freedom can feel frightening at first. It’s easy to fall away from your Four Word practice and seek the familiarity of a zero-sum view of the world-
there’s only so much and you want to hold on to yours
Yet the experience of what comes to you as you practice your meditation makes it compelling to begin to experiment with philanthropy: with setting other people free, too.
The first rule of Four Word philanthropy is that the investment money has to have no baggage. Like other forms of yoga, it’s a good idea to start slowly and build up your practice with awareness. In the same way that it’s better to do 10 minutes of yoga everyday rather than one 90 minute class a month, it’s better to put aside fifty cents here, or two dollars there than to suddenly write a check for $100 you don’t really have to spend.
To create capital for investing in the world, you can look in places where you might be able to give something up temporarily – say for instance one month of Netflix or one dinner out a month. In the same way you think about which Charitable organizations you want to fund, you think about and make a commitment to how often you are going to fund them and exactly where that money is going to come from.
It’s absolutely not about martyring
or blaming yourself for things you enjoy. Instead, Four Word philanthropy is like a scavenger hunt. You are looking for a little cash to invest, looking in places where you won’t necessarily miss it, and that can be part of the enjoyment, part of getting to know yourself.
Temporary restraint of expenditure, in a funny way, is like the compression you feel in some yoga postures. You wouldn’t want to feel that sensation as punishment. In fact, if someone told you that if you tried out down dog you had to stay in it for twenty minutes for it to “count” a lot of us would likely skip it. Instead, a certain amount of asana nourishes bones, body, and self awareness, and an appropriate style of philanthropic engagement will have the same effect on your foundational sense of purpose.
Our nervous systems respond positively to pleasure: we seek to repeat pleasurable experiences, and it’s easy to make an effort to repeat them. Pain causes us to avoid things. If we set up a situation for ourselves where giving is something we “should do,” our discomfort with our own feelings of shame or resentment will undo any useful re-patterning of our experience of freedom. We’ll think of ourselves as gullible, or soft headed instead of as a future minded intelligent entrepreneur.
Genuine abundance doesn’t come from binge giving
that deprives us of our own hard earned dinner, it comes from seeing all of the uses of money that don’t actually give us the pleasure that’s promised us and purposing that expenditure to something that will.
Unlike shaming yourself, philanthropy is taking an active interest in your investment in the life of the world. You set aside time a few times a year – maybe even quarterly – to read up on the charitable foundations you are funding. Start a file with each organization’s name and literature, including annual reports. (At our house we do this electronically, but if you aren’t into the internet, you can do it through the mail.)
We like to look at how much even the small amounts we donate can do, and we keep track of how our investments are performing. How many people did we provide food, clothing or medicine for? How could we do better? Sometimes it means finding a more effective organization (check out charitynavigator.com) and sometimes it means finding a way to put a little more aside to fund special appeals.
Every month we think about what we can change
for just one month in order to create this flow, and every month, something we gave up the month before comes back into our life after a brief hiatus.
We enjoy watching movies at our house, and we keep a constant flow of them available with Netflix. One feature of our account is that we can suspend it once a year. That $18.50 goes into the investment kitty.
We like to have a glass of wine with dinner some nights. Once a year we go wine free for a month and set aside the cash to pump up our charitable grant making.
We enjoy the wine or the movies even more than before we put them aside temporarily, and we painlessly created wealth to share.
The point with Four Words philanthropy is not to play the blame game, not to tangle up with judging ourselves or anyone else. The goal of Four Words is to ease the fears we have that we don’t want the “right” things; we learn to trust ourselves. It’s essential to explore without force – to play. We work with our own best feelings about ourselves to create a positive relationship, one in which we encounter our basic goodness, our fundamental soundness of heart, and the true nature of our kind souls.
As Chogyam Trungpa wrote, “We are remarkable people. We just have to learn to let ourselves be.”
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.