Wednesday, May 17, 2006

TITHING: IT'S NOT (EXACTLY) WHAT YOU THINK IT IS

Last summer, I decided to do some exploratory work around money. In short, I always felt like I didn't have enough of it and that I needed to cling dearly to every penny. While it's true that I've never had a big salary, I knew that there was something more to the chronic "glass is half empty" feeling that seemed to pervade many areas of my life.

So I did a couple of things. I took a seminar called The Fiscally Fit Female led by Galia Gichon, founder of Down to Earth Finance (http://www.downtoearthfinance.comng/). With Galia's help, I was able to re-evaluate and modify external habits around money. The best part was walking away with a monthly spending and savings plan.

I knew I also had to go deeper to look at the internal habit of perceiving and thus perpetuating scarcity. I turned to Paula Langguth Ryan's book Giving Thanks: The Art of Tithing (http://theartoftithing.com/). Here's some great stuff I picked up from Paula's book:

1. Tithe means "tenth." The act of tithing a tenth of one's income "at the point or points where one is being inspired [...] predates the Bible by centuries and has been practiced in various forms by all cultures." In fact, tithing stems from Jewish law!

2. Tithing is about giving a percentage of everything that comes your way to the people and places which inspire you. It's not limited to giving to a religious institution. Ideally, it's given out of a sense of thanksgiving, not charity.

3. "Practicing the art of tithing allows you to give up the emotional struggle that surrounds financial issues. Tithing teaches you how to release your attachments to the abundance in your life. When you release your attachment to the prosperity that flows in and out of your life, you allow that abundance to glow more freely."

4. "Stagnation is death. Circulation is life."

This last point really hit home with me: Stagnation is death. Circulation is life. As a professional organizer, I had been teaching people to let go of belongings - papers, books, clothing - to make room for new people, opportunities, sources of joy and pleasure. I never thought about how the same principle could apply to letting go of money.

Excited by the book, I decided to start tithing in the form of flowers. Using a flower delivery service, I sent bouquets of flowers to people who had been inspirational or supportive. Some of these folks included Cheryl Henson, children's book authors Maira Kalman and Faith Ringgold, my great aunt Rene, my friend Cecilia.

Next, I began to support places and organizations which inspired me - the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and The Project for Public Spaces.

Don't get me wrong - I still have my struggles around money, as most folks do. I still worry and pinch and number crunch. Still, it must be said: tithing in the form of both funds and flowers has resulted in a heightened sense of joy, pleasure, abundance, generosity, and appreciation for all the sources of inspiration which surround me. It's a practice I plan to keep in place for life.

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