My 60th birthday is coming up March 7th, and I’m going to celebrate it horizontally!

The last time I had a major birthday party there was a ritual that blew my mind and heart wide open.

Here’s what happened.

“Humble yourself to receive, before you can truly give.”

-Native American Saying

Like most of us, at an early age I absorbed the notion that it was far better to give than to receive, that there was something selfish about enjoying receiving. Perhaps the dogma was started as a clever marketing plan conjured up by certain religious institutions to increase the blessings bestowed in the bowls!

A week before my 33rd birthday, as I was making plans for a celebration, an idea came to me, quickening my pulse with a mixed cocktail of excitement and fear. It had to do with how I had always found it strange and sad that people usually waited for a loved one’s funeral to express their deepest acknowledgement and appreciation, and not before when it could have meant so much to the dear and now departed.

At my party I wanted to buck that tradition by having friends gather in a circle around me, and one by one share what they appreciate about me and how knowing me has enriched their lives.

My inner critic immediately barged in, anxious to crash the party before it began, armed with an urgent Cease and Desist order: “Are you crazy? That’s the most egotistical notion I’ve ever heard! You always have to be the center of attention, don’t you?

Ouch. I put the idea on the back burner. A few days before the party, I considered it again. I brought the matter up with a different consultant, the ever wise, loving, inner voice within. As is often the case, its guidance didn’t quite match that of my party pooping inner critic.

“Scott, your gracious receiving of your friends love and support will be an act of humility and service, not arrogance or ego run wild. Many hearts will be touched and spirits uplifted. It is only your sense of unworthiness that is feeling threatened. Let that part of you tremble and protest as it will, do your best to surrender it, and move forward with your plans.”

Dealing with multiple doubt dragons the days before, I ended up committing to maybe going through with it or maybe not, depending on how I felt in the moment. (commitment?)

The night arrived, and the party was going full steam; people were mingling and enjoying themselves. Gathering everybody and asking them to say nice things to me seemed completely inappropriate, the outlandish actions of a control freak/narcissist gone mad. Who was I to step in and interrupt their flow?

Then, across the room, I saw Helice Bridges.

Helice is a remarkable woman whose life has been committed to teaching and spreading the power of acknowledgment. She created and distributed blue ribbons that said Who I Am Makes A Difference, along with a ritual in which many thousands of people young and old have used the ribbons to reach out and make someone’s day with heartfelt words of appreciation.

Spotting her, I had a change of heart, and my enthusiasm for the idea returned.

If Helice was on my team I knew I could find the courage to go ahead with the love circle. I took her aside, told her my what I was hoping, mentioned my apprehension, and asked for her support.

Without a moment’s hesitation or preparation, she sprang into action. In a tone and volume that silenced a room full of rowdy conversationalists, she called out, “EVERYBODY GATHER IN THE LIVING ROOM! WE’RE GOING TO DO SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR THE BIRTHDAY BOY!”

The crowd gathered and settled in. Spying how nervous and uncomfortable I was, Helice firmly held my hand, calming and grounding me as she told a few ice-breaking stories about how freely and boldly expressing acknowledgment has touched people in miraculous ways around the world. She then explained that whoever felt inspired would, one at a time, approach me and share their appreciation in detail, nothing vague, and to please speak in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.

Helice suggested that I not respond to people with words, not even a thank you, but focus solely on receiving, on letting in their love.

And that’s what I did.

Two and a half hours later, the last person finished speaking. I spent that time breathing, shaking, shivering, and crying. I had never been so emotionally opened in my life. At first I was embarrassed by my public display of tears, but soon I was not caring at all.

The process was touching many, and tissues were passed around. Sometimes I wanted to say things like “You are wonderful, too!” or “I’m just a reflection of your own beauty.” Although these statements might have had truth in them, they would have been subtle ploys to deflect the love I was being offered. Unworthiness can have quite a crafty way of masquerading as humility and spirituality.

Eventually the ritual ended, and the room morphed into song and dance. I sang, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to. You would cry too, if your friends honored you!”

That night I went to sleep feeling rocked and lulled by each friend’s verbal blessing. The next day and all through that week, people telephoned and emailed to share how the circle had touched them.

Since that night, I have been much more likely to express appreciation to others, knowing how easy it is to make someone’s day with loving words. And when someone appreciates me, I take a deep breath and let it in, graciously accepting their gift.

Yes, my critic still pipes up on occasion, trying to remind me how undeserving I am, quickly throwing some praise back at the giver before theirs has a chance to land in my heart. What I like to say to the critic is almost the same thing I say to the person before me, “Thank you for sharing!”

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