Returning Joy To Giving
Tan Hwee-Meng

Unconscious Helping:  What you bring to the universe is consciousness, but any act itself can be unconscious or conscious. If it’s done unconsciously, then it just increases human suffering.

I see so many well-intentioned and good-hearted people suffer unnecessary through being unconscious about their efforts to help.  I also see many kinds of HELPING that create all kinds of negative feelings such as inferiority, hatred, anger, frustration and guilt in the recipients. 

I would like to shed some light into this issue of helping and explore what it is to help authentically so that both the giver and the recipient are nourished.  


Let us start by exploring our motivations for helping.

Kevin was a drug addict for many years.  He committed a lot of dishonest activities to buy drugs.  After he transformed into a spiritual teacher, he spent 10 years relentlessly teaching, healing and traveling the world.  One day, he woke up and realized that his spiritual work was an atonement for all the “sins” he felt he had committed during his drug years. His real dream was to be a scriptwriter.     

Like Kevin, many of our desires to help may be driven by guilt or some misplaced sense of loyalty or gratitude.  Here is a list of unhealthy reasons for helping: 

    • I think I should. 
    • I help out of guilt. 
    • I help because I am in so much pain or my life is so empty or my life is lonely. 
    • I want to be, feel or look good.
    • I want recognition or approval.
    • I want to go to heaven or gain karma points.
    • I am afraid of the other’s anger, rejection or disappointment. 
    • Others expect me to help. 
    • It has always been that way. 
    • One upmanship:  You owe me one or I feel superior to you. 
    • That is what wives or husbands or children are supposed to do.
    • I have never turned her down before. 
    • He said if I really loved him, I would do it.
    • They’ll think I’m selfish if I don’t do it.
    • If I don’t do it, they won’t think I am a nice person……
    • If I am really a caring person, I would do it happily. 
    • If I don’t help now, when I need help later, no one will help me. 

Examine your purpose in helping.  Are you coming from a place of love?

True helping comes from the willing heart. True giving feels joyous and enriches both the giver and the recipient.  When we are truly giving from the bottom of the heart, we are changed and touched forever by this act of love. 

Let your giving be a pure expression of “I really love to give to you because I really want to do this.”



  •  What is easy and joyful for you to do? 

Use your talents and resources.  I know someone who makes dolls for cancer patients.  I know another who loves giving free massages to the elderly in retirement communities.  I have another friend who loves to pay road rolls for the car behind because it is fun. 

You do not have to make grand and sweeping gestures of helping. Whatever you do is enough. 

I really love cooking.  I cook because it nourishes me.  It is an expression of my heart and love.  I love giving away my cooking.  Many people who have eaten have felt the love in the food.  This is how a gift can nourish both the giver and the recipient.  

  • Do not force yourself beyond your natural resources – in terms of energy levels – whether spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically or financially.

This is how we start hurting ourselves. 

If you are exhausted, say no.    If you are struggling financially, say no to giving money. 
If you are busy with young kids, say no to charitable activities.  Trust that there are other people who can step in easily where you find it difficult.

Recognize and respect your unique limits. What is your strength?  What is your weakness?  Recognize when your giving is depleting you.  You may be able to give in terms of your time but not your money.  Or you may be able to donate money but not time.   The key here is BE REAL in our giving and accept that we are very different in our ways of giving and in our capacities to give. 

If you are thinking or feeling any of the following, you have probably overextended your personal limits. 

  • I hate what I am doing. 
  • I wish she would go away.
  • I am so sick of this person ( who I usually enjoy spending time with).

When your ability to give feels shut down, strained, or your giving feels artificial, this is a signal that you are giving in a way that is not natural to who you are.  The recipient may also feel guilty and burdened by your giving.  Be compassionate to yourself when you find yourself in a place where your own needs overwhelm your capacity to give to others.  You need to set a limit and you will reduce the stress, resentment and anger that come from overextended giving.

Also, in terms of your helping, you cannot help everyone all the time.  You are not a robot that can produce kindness at will.  Be realistic.  You can only do your best. 



I want to introduce you to a specific kind of helper known as The Controller.  The Controller is focused on improving other people’s lives, whether it is his mother’s eating habits, his wife’s career, his children’s marriages or his siblings’ unhealthy lifestyle choices. He is constantly trying to make the world a better place and he thinks his way of life is the best way.  His intentions are good and honorable. 

However, the problem with the Controller in us is that we never ask if the other person wants this kind of help.    We always think we know what is best for the other person.  It is absolute arrogance.  And it also demonstrates a lack of trust in the other person.

The recipient of the Controller’s help often feels guilt, resentment or anger.    And the Controller in us feels unappreciated, and like a failure. 

For the Controllers, it might be helpful to hear what the other person is really asking for.
Sometimes the only gift that is needed is the gift of love and acceptance.   The Controller in us need to learn to trust people to manage their own lives.  They do anyway. 

I want to share some thoughts I learned from a famous Insight Meditation Teacher called Joseph Goldstein.

I propose an extremely useful distinction between the practice of “letting it go” and “letting it be”.  Often in meditative language we speak of letting go of things:  let go of thoughts, let go of emotions, and let go of pain.  Sometimes that is not exactly the right phrase, because letting go suggests that you need to do something.  A better phrase to work with is “Let it be.”  Let it be.  Everything comes and goes by itself.  We do not have to do anything to make it come, or make it go, or to let it go.  We just have to let it be.

I hope this article will generate reflection on your relationship to giving.  I leave you with 2 questions:

  • Does your helping hurt you?
  • Does your helping hurt the person that you want to help?