Less than a week ago, I asked for my readers’ help in achieving my dream of a trip to two events that I want to participate in. Yesterday I booked my flights. I’m going because many generous people made it possible. A combination of gifts and new business has helped me raise enough money for the trip.
It’s been a humbling experience to be the recipient of so much generosity and positive response to the work that I do. Here are some of the things I learned:
1. People want to help and they want to be asked. This is something I have to be reminded of again and again when I get stuck in my self-sufficient patterns. We are wired for living in community. We want to be of service to each other. It gives us a sense of value and belonging when we are able to help other people. It can’t be a one-way street, though – if you don’t give other people opportunities to serve you, you can’t live effectively in community.
2. It is possible to live in a gift economy. I have been intentional about including elements of the gift economy into my business – I give coaching sessions and workshop registration to up-and-coming leaders, and I’ve traded coaching sessions for editing services and other offerings because I believe that it’s time for us to stop relying so heavily on a financial economy that – when it runs rampant – contributes to a lot of greed, injustice and destructiveness. I also believe that entering into this different way of being in the world of business has opened the door for me to receive gifts from others to help me grow my work. It’s not based on direct exchange the way the financial economy is (the people I give to aren’t necessarily the ones who give to me), but when we give good things out into the world, it comes back to us in surprising ways. We CAN change the system! (For more on the gift economy, I highly recommend Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.)
3. It takes courage and vulnerability to ask for help. I had to think long and hard before I hit send on that request, and even after I sent it, I had moments of fear and trepidation. My pride and shame got in the way. “What if people think less of me? What if people think I’m not very successful at business if I can’t afford this trip? What if they write me off as a charity case rather than a serious writer/coach/facilitator?” All of those things went through my head, but then when I sent it, I got a LOT of emails from people saying “I am so inspired by the courage it took you to ask.” or “Thank you for your vulnerability – you have inspired me.”
4. People are surprised when we dare to step out of what the capitalist system teaches us about “every man for himself”. Though all of the emails I received were kind, some were quite surprised by my “audacity” and said they’d never have the courage to do it. To be frank, this makes me a little sad – that we have become so self-sufficient in our culture that it is surprising when people step out of that pattern and admit they could use help. How can we move back into the kind of community living where there is no shame in getting help from your neighbours?
5. There is a difference between asking for support in growing your work or asking for support to pay the bills. I think one of the things that made this easier for me to do was the fact that I wasn’t asking for money to buy groceries to feed my children. I do believe that people would still have responded to that kind of request, but it would have been much harder for me to ask because of the shame it would bring up in me. That’s something I still need to process further.
6. There are good people everywhere. Sometimes we get stuck in flawed belief systems that tell us most people are more interested in our destruction than our success. That is simply not true. There are many, many good people in the world, and, though there are some whose own broken stories cause them to do damage to other people (my husband works with some of those in prison), most of us want to serve the cause of good. I was quite surprised by the range of people who reached out to help – people who’ve known me for most of my life, people who’ve only read my blog a few times and feel connected to me through my words, people who’ve been participants in my courses and workshops, and people I’ve met at conferences or other places. I tried to find a pattern to who was giving (e.g. mostly people I’ve met in person, or mostly people who’ve received my services at some point), but there really was no pattern. There are good people everywhere and I feel deeply blessed to have encountered so many!!
Last Friday was a bad day – one of the worst I’ve had in a long time. I spent a lot of time worrying and stressing and trying to control the outcome of things that were outside of my control. I also spent a lot of time beating myself up for doing these things (because I know better), and then getting really down on myself for not being further evolved than I am.
I won’t go into all of the details of what was going on, but one of the things was my disappointment over low sales of Lead with Your Wild Heart. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on this program and many emails of interest, and I am completely convinced that it is a beautiful and meaningful program, so I let myself believe that those things would translate into significant sales. I was wrong. For whatever reasons (a saturated market, wrong time of year, marketing to the wrong people – your guess is as good as mine), sales were low, and that means that once my current contracts end at the end of June, I’ll have to work harder at finding more sources of income over the summer. Sigh.
Things began to shift over the weekend, though. I took a couple of long walks in the woods, visited the museum with my family, and walked the labyrinth where crocuses are beginning to bloom. The coming of Spring helped to shift my perspective. Life can’t be all bad when crocuses are blooming.
A few things kept going through my mind on the weekend. First of all, I reminded myself of an ongoing mantra of mine… “The outcome is not my responsibility.” In other words, I am not responsible for how many people show up to receive my teaching, I am only responsible for whether or not I offer my gifts and whether I do my best to make them available to people. I’m doing that. I’ve poured my heart and soul into Lead with Your Wild Heart and I KNOW that it is the best possible expression of my gifts. I also know that it is a deeply meaningful journey for people who choose to take it. I offer, people receive, and that is all that I am responsible for. The numbers have no relevance to the value of the offering.
The other thing that kept going through my mind was what we’re taught in Art of Hosting… “whoever shows up are the right people.” This is what I tell myself every time I teach a course, host a retreat, or throw a party. Even if only two people show up, they are the right people. Even if I show up alone, I am the right people. There is value in large gatherings, and there is value in small. If the offering is made, the right people will show up whether it’s two or twenty or two hundred.
And so I spent my weekend surrendering, trusting, and letting go. I walked, I prayed, I released, and I trusted.
Now, there are some simplistic versions of this story that we all want to believe in, and one of those versions would be this: “After letting it all go, I attracted abundance, hundreds of people showed up and I was rich.” That’s the version you might seek after focusing on things like the Law of Attraction or The Secret. I hear that version ALL THE TIME on the internet and I cringe every time I do.
That version has a limited view of what “abundance” means. That version sees abundance as monetary gain, or all of those things that make life easy and smooth.
The real version of the story is still about abundance, but it has nothing about money or fame, or even ease.
Only a couple of more people registered. No crowds were knocking down my door. Abundance showed up in different ways.
On Monday, it suddenly occurred to me that there was absolutely nothing on my calendar on Tuesday. AND I didn’t have any projects due or papers that needed to be marked right away. WHAT?! How could that be? My calendar has been over-crowded for months now, and there is almost always a to-do list a mile long.
Not only was the day wide open, but the weather was stunningly beautiful after many long months of snow and cold.
A free day AND beautiful weather? That sounded like abundance to me!
I dedicated the day entirely to self-care. After dropping the girls off at school, I packed my journal and camera, bought a chai latte, and headed out to a provincial park not far from the city. I found a hiking trail and I wandered for hours in the woods. Then I stopped at the beach, and dipped my toes in the water, feeling like I’d been sprung from the prison of a long, hard winter. When I got hungry, I drove into the city, picked up some picnic food, and ate lunch at a special place called Oodena, a celebration circle near the forks of the two rivers that run through our city.
It was an exquisite day and I relished every moment of it.
But it got even better…
In the evening, I came home to find a package had been delivered by someone my daughter didn’t know. Inside was one of the most beautiful hand-knit shawls I’ve ever seen. I was dumbfounded. This was for ME?! I opened the letter in the package and discovered that it was a gift from a very special woman who’s been a student in my Creative Discovery class. She’d poured love and prayers into every stitch of it – specially for me. “Heather, I prayed that you and your family would be blessed with all that God knows is right for you and that He would guide you and give you the wisdom you need as you travel your path. His beautiful shawls seem to have a wonderful ability to heal, to encourage and comfort and to give solace and protection, especially in difficult times, and they give the most warm Divine hugs too.”
The shawl is burgundy and magenta, and this is what she learned about the meaning of the colour magenta: “Magenta represents universal love at its highest level. It promotes compassion, kindness, and cooperation and encourages a sense of self-respect and contentment. Magenta is the colour of the non-conformist, the free spirit. It pushes you to take responsibility for creating your own path in life. Magenta inspires change, transformation, growth and personal development.” And then she added: “Do you recognize yourself in all this?”
Wow. TALK ABOUT ABUNDANCE!
It was especially meaningful to receive this gift from someone I met through one of my courses. She has been touched by my work to offer her own gifts. (Her first book is coming out in publication next week!) What more could I ask for than to be an inspiration for other people so that gifts continue to flow in the world? I don’t need hundreds of people to show up – I just need the RIGHT people to show up!
And… I don’t need a lot of money, when I have abundance of another kind. I have the abundance of being part of a gift economy that can never be measured by monetary transactions.
Just one more story of abundance and the gift economy… this morning I went to yoga class at my favourite studio and I didn’t have to pay for it. Why? Because I have exchanged coaching sessions for yoga sessions with my coaching teacher! We are both sharing abundance and money has nothing to do with it.
Yes, abundance shows up, but it may not look the way we expect it to look, and it may only show up when we’ve walked through the fire of surrender and trust.