Photo credit to Robert Thurman and The Africa Yoga Project
The gift of giving
In my family there was always a certain sprinkle of magic as Christmas approached. My Muslim father would climb into the loft and we would steady the ladder and try not to breathe asbestos as he tugged on boxes and bags that had been carefully packed up 11 months earlier. My Jewish best friend would be there beside me, her eyes as full of wonder as ours as we carefully unwrapped tinsel, fairy lights and baubles. My mother would share the familiar stories behind each precious piece and we would listen enchanted as if it was the first time hearing those tales. Dad would plug in the fairy lights and we would hope they were still working as they were awakened from their annual hibernation. We would also pray they did not explode or set the house on fire. The years when we had more money we would visit the gardening centre and choose a tree. Squishing it into the ford cortina, trying to keep branches and pines intact. The sharp, fresh smell of pine and the dusty decorations was a reminder of connection and togetherness. Of dad being home and cooking turkey in cream and white wine sauce, whilst mum unwrapped avocados from the airing cupboard praying they had ripened to perfection on time. The winters always seemed so long but the days leading up to Xmas were magical and cosy. Togetherness, love, gratitude, warmth, oneness.
My mother claimed giving was better then receiving. I tried hard to get it but was sure she was ill informed. Receiving a much longed for “girls world” whose hair would grow when I turned a dial on the side was a dream come true, it certainly beat giving any gift to anyone. I liked shopping for others, carefully thinking about what they would like, saving my pennies. I loved seeing friends look of glee when a certain gift was received but still receiving what you longed for was way better.
This December, by chance a project I have been working on for a while was bought to life. I had been talking to product of prisons about volunteering with them and offering yoga within the prison. Initially this was seen as a treat and I was asked why prisoners should be entitled to yoga. This got me thinking of the benefits to the prison as well as the prisoners. See separate blog. With some gentle encouragement and determination I finally had an introduction to the welfare wardens and an opportunity to talk to the prisoners. The meeting went exceptionally well. The Ugandan yoga teacher who I mentor came with me and together we demonstrated and led a practice designed to ground, uplift and motivate. I was held in down dog for way too long, butt in the air (thankfully I had worn my floppy pants) and thoughts of having my throat slit certainly crossed my mind in cobra. But this was all in my mind and I was aware of that. I reined my wandering mind in and stopped myself thinking bizarre thoughts.
A few of the inmates had heard of yoga and were enthusiastic. We spoke to them about the benefits in a variety of languages and as I was about to leave a prisoner confessed he had been suicidal after receiving a long sentence. He wanted to know if yoga would help him. I looked into his eyes that had been sparkling with enthusiasm only moments earlier and were now watery and desperate. We sat together and I spoke of the gifts the discipline of yoga offers us. Acceptance, tolerance, compassion, courage, how through practice we learn to become more present and to acknowledge the meaning our life has to others. I asked him what he would do when he was released? His answer was instant “look after my son and give him a beautiful life.” He commented that never had he thought of the meaning of his life or these virtues as being in his repertoire. I promised him his life was meaningful and that they were. He asked me to describe “life outside the prison.” I did so. It was time to leave. We connected once more looking deep into each others eyes.
Finally the gift of giving became alive within me. The giving of yourself to another. Selfless service.
As I walked away I realized I probably had more to learn from them, then they from I and herein lies the magic!