Three years ago I attended the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. Chris Guillebeau, who puts on this conference for four thousand "unconventional people doing remarkable things", runs it as a non-profit so when he found that he had money left over at the end of the conference he decided to give each and every attendee a crisp hundred-dollar bill with the caveat- go out and make a difference in the world. I'd been sitting on that hundred-dollar bill for three years.
A year ago I stopped for breakfast at a Denny's in that same area on my way back from an all night gong concert in the desert at the magical Integraton. My server was distracted and overwhelmed but I felt called to show her she was seen and valued. I didn't have enough cash in my wallet to tip her a hundred dollars so I gave her a twenty and set the intention to bring that hundred-dollar bill with me on my next trip to the desert.
My first job waiting tables was at a truck stop in Jamestown, North Dakota. I used to bring home a Styrofoam cup full of change on Sunday afternoons, all the while envious of the far more experienced blonde waitress whose cup always seemed to be filled with dollar bills instead of change. Our Styrofoam cups sat right next to each other on the counter by the coffee machine. I wasn't jealous. I was inspired. I hoped that one day I would also be worthy of dollar bills instead of change.
As I packed for another gong concert a few months ago I found that hundred-dollar bill languishing in an old Moleskine notebook. I put it in my wallet, excited to finally allow this money to fulfill its destiny of making a difference in my little part of the world.
I coerced a friend into having breakfast with me this time. We stopped at a diner I'd never been to before. It was textbook Americana, with red vinyl booths and a black and white checkerboard floor. We slid into a booth. I was in all black yoga apparel, and my friend, who is far more serious about yogic tradition, was dressed in all white with a turban.
Our waitress was prompt and thorough, blonde, polite, and attentive. She was young and eager. She reminded me so much of myself at that truck stop in North Dakota. As my friend and I discussed the prevalence and future of sound healing and Kundalini yoga she filled our coffee cups and made sure we had enough jam.
After we paid the check I called the waitress over and told her the story of how I had been charged with the responsibility of giving away this hundred-dollar bill. As I passed it to her I explained that I felt called to give it to a server in the desert and that I had chosen her.
Tears immediately came to her eyes. She asked, "Do I need to give this to someone else?"
My friend said, "No, you don't have to pay it forward. It's for you."
"You can use it for anything you like," I said, "Buy yourself a little treat, use it to pay a bill, it's totally up to you."
She looked from side to side, weighing her options. She was crying. She hesitated and finally said, "I feel like I shouldn't take it."
I could see how conflicted she was in that moment. I imagined what kinds of things were going through her head- What do they want? Is this a trick? Is there a hidden camera somewhere? Can I trust this?
I thought about all the ways I've been resistant to receiving in my life. From letting a friend buy me dinner to accepting praise, I have tended to push all gifts away, as if doing so makes me stronger or more accomplished. It doesn't. What it does is create distance and alienate me from the people I love.
"Look," I said, "For me this is an exercise in giving. For you this is an exercise in learning to receive. Can you receive this?"
I saw her shift when she decided to take the money. She softened. Her shoulders relaxed and she looked up and said, "Thank you."
In seeing her accept and appreciate such a simple act of generosity I see that I too can learn to receive, whether it's in the form of an unexpected gift from a stranger or a compliment from the checker at the grocery store.