Is it Giving … or Barter?
by Brenda Shoshanna, PhD – New York City

wrapped present

The Holiday Season is upon us. Many are planning holiday dinners, meetings and thinking about gifts. Oddly, this often causes anxiety and sorrow, rather than delight.

Most of us give with one hand and then wait to see the outcome. Did our gift have the intended consequence? Is the person we gave to grateful? Will we gain favor in their eyes? What will be the outcome?

This kind of giving inevitably leads to anxiety and disappointment. Perhaps the person we gave to behaves badly later or forgets us? Perhaps they do not warm to us, no matter what we give? Resentment naturally arises.

Or, even if our gift hit the spot, it might not be enough. They may want more and more of it. Deep inside many feel that once they start giving, they cannot stop. There’s no end to it. What started as a gift turns into an obligation. How strange that giving a gift can end up tying us in knots.

But a great secret comes to us from the world of Zen about how to give fully and wholeheartedly, without burnout or disappointment. The secret is called Mushotoku. This means to give one hundred per cent, with no concern for the outcome. None! The outcome is not our business. Only giving with a full heart. This giving includes gifts of all kinds, physical gifts, gifts of time, love, energy, and inspiration.

When we live or give Mushotoku, we give our gift to all with no reservations free of expectations. In that way our giving is thus given to God.

To want something in return is not true giving, but barter. It is part of the marketplace of life, a business transaction. I give you four scarves and you give me three umbrellas, it’s a different kind of exchange. Nothing wrong with that. But to live a life of fulfillment, free of bitterness, it’s not enough.

Let’s try something different. Let’s open our hands and heart and just give. As we do, soon we will realize that the giving becomes the gift itself. And the reward cannot be contained or counted.

Brenda ShoshannaBrenda Shoshanna, Phd is trained in psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, humanistic, and transpersonal approaches. Dr. Shoshanna has spent nearly 30 years working as a psychologist who integrates Zen practice into everything she does, including working with clients. Each week on her podcast, she takes a new look at daily issues and problems, To join the community, register on

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