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my trouble with asking for help

I’m in the midst of clearing out a house which has been my home for 21 years. Physical restrictions, including fractures in the left hand and a right shoulder separation, make it difficult for me to reach and lift and deal with anything heavier than a paperclip. And there’s a deadline in 15 days, a busy volunteer committment in the city, and the fact that the house sits on an island a two-hour car and ferry trip away. Why not get some help?! you might ask. Why not indeed. Several people have offered and I’m slowly and reluctantly taking them up on their offers. Others, I’m sure, would come to my aid if I were to ask.

So what is it about asking for help, about receiving generosity from others? Having vowed to “be of service” ten years ago, and having lived accordingly ever since, I know of the joy and satisfaction that arises when I give to others. It has opened my heart in amazing ways, brought me closer to friends and strangers, and enriched my life in a thousand ways. But the flip-side, the asking for and receiving of kindness, remains problematic for me.

While ruminating on the question, I found an article by Alan Lewis, an Englishman who has lived as a Buddhist monk in the ancient Theravada tradition. I’ve abridged his story on receiving as a spiritual practice. It will appear on this blog over two days while I’m away clearing house and … learning to accept the generosity of helpers. Alan writes:

I lived as a Buddhist monk without money for 17 years – where everything I consumed, apart from water and toothpaste, actually had to be put into my hands – I couldn’t go shopping for myself, or raid the refrigerator. We could only eat between dawn and noon, and weren’t allowed to store any food. It was an amazing thing – a whole system designed to help you to let go and be with life as it unfolded, and let go of pulling to get this and pushing to get rid of that.

The Buddhist monastic rule was set up this way by the Buddha so that the monks would always be dependent on the lay-people for their sustenance. We weren’t allowed to grow food either. So the tradition was that every day you’d go out at dawn with your alms bowl, and the villagers would be waiting as you walked silently through their village to drop a small ball of rice into your bowl, or a banana or piece of dried fish, as you passed by. In this way you’d gather enough to eat for the day.

So it gradually dawned upon me that these people who came to the monasteries, sometimes every day they would come, sometimes every week or once a month, they did so to connect with their own religious aspiration, to give expression to their own yearning for Truth – however that manifested for them. And one very tangible way they did that was to ask you, “Venerable Sir, is there anything you need?”

to be continued tomorrow

Reprinted with permission © 2010 Zen Moments


4 responses »

  1. Peter,
    I’m not sure if you saw my comment last month about this – in case you didn’t, can I re-post it?

    About the difficulty of accepting gifts for which nothing is expected in return… I recognise this very well! I too struggled for many, many years with this, (and still do sometimes!) – but as I have a long term illness (M.E.) I have had to learn how to ask for help (accept gifts) – this has been so hard for someone very independent, like me, but good practice! 🙂
    I told a friend once that I felt awful about receiving so much help from her and not being able to give anything back. She said something which really helped to change my view. It’s stayed with me ever since and I’m forever grateful to her – “You may not be able to give ME anything back, but at some time, you WILL be able to give something to another person to help them, and that is what is important. Someone in the past helped me and I am now passing on that help to you”

    Wise words…given with loving kindness…which I now pass on to you…
    in the light of all you do for others, can you open yourself to receiving? I have discovered not doing so has been seen by others as me being ‘closed off’, ‘thinking I’m superior’, ‘stubborn’, ‘too proud’, or that I am perfectly ok without help! Which is certainly not the case! 🙂
    If I admit I need help, I allow help to enter (I admit it into my life)…
    Be kind to yourself.

    • thank you fiona, for sending a page from your personal story book. there’s another aspect i’m discovering about asking for help. it levels the ground on which we both walk: we’re interdependend.

  2. In a strange way you are giving when you ask others for help. If it is all clean and clear, the asking and the giving, then you are providing the ground for others to experience their own generosity. And as well as being a great joy,(as you know) to feel our own generosity, the giving lays the ground for them to receive generosity from others. I hope this makes some sense! It seems like an endless circle of generosity (with no giver or taker)

    I know in our culture it is hard for us to think of it in this way. We think we are imposing. We think in terms of opposites; giving and taking and add value to them; giving=good, taking=bad. It is easy for me to say this, but I know it is not so easy to do. Good luck in offering a space for others to be generous.

  3. so true, all of it, carole. now that the topic is up for conversation, my “helpers” tell me that they appreciate the opportunity to be of service, to give back.


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