Core Gifts are the most tender places inside us. We find them wherever we feel the most vulnerable, passionate and authentic. As I describe in my book Deeper Dating, they lie at the very heart of our creativity and our love. If we open to them, they guide us inexorably to what matters most to us. To ignore them is to commit an act of quiet violence against ourselves. This post will help you discover your own core gifts, and will explain the five great hungers of these essential parts of ourselves.
WHAT ARE YOUR CORE GIFTS?
To discover your own core gifts, (the work of a lifetime!) begin by asking yourself these three questions:
• What qualities in you have led to your greatest experiences of joy?
• What sensitivities in you have led to your deepest suffering?
• What do you long to create or do in the world?
Your answers to these questions will point you in the direction of your core gifts.
Our core gifts have profoundly deep roots in our being, and they need to be fed if they are to flourish. To thrive in this world, each gift needs to be nourished in these five ways. As you read the next section, notice if any idea strikes a deep chord within you. If so, I invite you to take a few seconds to simply reflect on its personal meaning for you.
1) BEING VALUED
First and foremost, our gifts need to feel accepted by their ultimate parent figure--you. But that's not always so simple.
Were you ever frightened by the intensity of your passion?
Did you ever feel your heart was just too tender to survive the cold commerce of day-to-day life?
Have you feared that you would be rejected or misunderstood if you shared what you really think and feel?
Most of us have been deeply hurt--many times--in every one of these ways. So we learn to treat our gifts gingerly, to create airbrushed versions of them that won't get us in trouble. Most of us feel ambivalent toward our core gifts. We know that they are the truest parts of ourselves, but they scare us.
My parents were holocaust survivors who learned the hard way that weakness meant death. Growing up as a boy in the 1950s and 60s, I was especially ashamed of my sensitivity, embarrassed by the way I was moved to tears in movies, humiliated by my intense emotional response to another person's suffering.
I knew then that my sensitivity was a weakness. I know now that the opposite is true. My real weakness was my lack of respect for my own sensitivity.
That sensitivity is one of my core gifts. I believe that my best writing and my best work as a psychotherapist springs from those very qualities I had always thought I had to hide.
The work of deep self acceptance doesn't involve building some larger-than-life self-confidence. It's more about a moment-to-moment acceptance of the currents of experience and emotion running through every moment of our days. Our core gifts are always trying to get us to listen, sometimes in a gentle whisper, sometimes in a painful shout. As long as we are alive, they will be waiting for us to love and accept them, and to finally give them their freedom.
2) BEING SHARED
Giving and being given to are not luxuries. They are imperatives. What water is to a plant, generosity is to your gifts. We hunger to give. We long for children, we long for pets, we long for loved ones, because unfettered giving is one of lifes absolute joys. Our core gifts must be given, and must touch others. And we must must see this happening, before we can ever feel like we are truly worthy.
In my many years of practice as a psychotherapist, I have seen that my clients who are generous are the ones most capable of happiness.
Which of your gifts do you long to share?
3) CULTIVATION OF THEIR OPPOSITE
In order for our gifts to have legs in the world, we need to develop their complementary opposite quality within us. Our tenderness needs bravery in order to be shared in the world. The visionary needs to cultivate practicality in order for her creations to come to life. The practical person needs to cultivate his dreamer-self in order to create beauty in his life. The generous person needs to cultivate her "no."
On some level, most of us would just rather not do the work. It's a hard uphill battle to cultivate the opposite quality of your dominant gifts, but when we do it, something magnificent happens. We find our self-respect growing. We feel more solid, more self-confident. We like ourselves more. We feel more like adults, but we maintain the child inside as well. Our core gifts will probably always remain dominant, and that's fine. Perfection isn't the goal. A rich life is.
Here's something really interesting: The less we have cultivated the opposite quality of our gifts, the more we will be attracted to people who carry that opposite quality in extreme way. For example, a person who is generous of spirit but can't set limits, will tend to be attracted to someone who is great at taking but not so great at giving back. The more we cultivate these complementary qualities within ourselves, the more we'll find ourselves attracted to people who appreciate our gifts, and who won't take advantage of us.
Our Core Gifts long to be respected enough to be developed. They hunger to test themselves, to push past fears, obstacles, and "obstacle-illusions."
A gifted child hungers to have her gifts seen and acknowledged. Our gifts hunger for a mentor who honors them, delights in their flights of excess, shelters their vulnerability, and then sends them out into the world to be shared. Creating that sense of inner discipline is a rare accomplishment which takes time and effort. In the words of the great abstract painter Arthur G. Dove:
We have not yet made shoes that fit like sand.
Not clothes that fits like water,
Nor thoughts that fit like air.
There is much to be done
Our gifts aren't stagnant. They long to take us somewhere. They compel us to take a risk, to turn the next corner, meet the next enemy, to devour our next limitation.
And when we learn to call them gifts instead of imperfections, they find freedom from our crippling carefulness. That's when they become joyously, ferociously hungry for the next new learning. And that's when life becomes truly exciting.
Our core gifts hunger for greatness. But as we rethink the meaning of "gifts", let's also rethink the meaning of "greatness".
Greatness is not fame or success. It is something much more humbling, and much more challenging. As we feed the great hunger of our core gifts, we find ourselves touching the hem of some kind of greatness, one which might not even have words. We sense that we are closer to some unnamed native land, a place with an open sky so broad that we may never fully emcompass it, but for which we have been homesick our entire lives.
Our love of fame is a cheapened expression for this hunger for personal greatness.
Sometimes, when I'm cooking in the kitchen, just chatting with my son, I'm hit by a happiness that almost burns, boundless yet endlessly simple. That's greatness to me.
What is the greatness your gifts yearn for? Take a moment to answer that question for yourself.
Please write in and share your insights, thoughts or additions to these ideas. I welcome them, and so will my other readers!
© 2012 Ken Page, LCSW. All Rights Reserved
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