The Gift of Time
by Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi
First published on: December 6, 2016
The gift of time, attention, presence. Listening. Being.
In the traditional Buddhist texts, the presentation of the paramita of generosity includes several components: giving of material things; giving the Dharma; giving protection, or fearlessness; and sometimes the generosity of loving-kindness is included.
How do we offer loving-kindness to others? With our time. With our attention. Just by listening, and being present with others.
This is one of the most profound kindnesses that we can offer to others. This is so much more precious, and for most people, in much shorter supply, than material things. Can we really offer others this gift? Put down the phone and the other devices, set down our own agenda and our own ideas, and meet others with attention and a loving presence.
I am writing these words the week after the presidential election, when many are still reeling with shock, and many are feeling profound fear and despair. In the last few days, I’ve had to set my own despair aside to just be there for the people who have sought me out, hoping I had some kind of wise council. I don’t feel that I have – I’m still trying to sort out my own feelings – but I’ve tried to offer them empathy and deep listening, listening to their fear and pain and disillusionment. And in some small way, it does help to ease mine.
Despite the proliferation of social media and instant communication, so many people in our society are missing human connection, and feel a profound loneliness. It is an epidemic, with rates of depression and anxiety skyrocketing.
Since my ordination as a Buddhist nun, I have realized that I need to schedule much more time for my errands and other business, if I’m planning to be out in public. People are so hungry for connection, and there are so few people who have the obvious badge of “clergy,” which signals to people in our culture, “I will be there for you.” Total strangers often approach me in airports, coffee shops, and other public places to talk about their sorrows, their difficulties, and this is one of the things I find the most rewarding about being a nun. To be able to offer the gift of that presence in the world is such a blessing for me.
Can we all slow down and meet each other with spacious presence? Without any agenda, just being there for each other, with deep listening, empathy and understanding? This is the most valuable gift we can offer to others, and takes no special skills or abilities – just offering the gift of time.