Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. --- Robert Kennedy
We are all in this together. We may fool ourselves with borders, gated communities, polarized political parties, and assorted languages and skin colors but we are truly beginning to grasp an understanding of our interconnectedness. While it is true that we must take care of ourselves, we must also take the same responsibility for each other. We find ourselves and expand ourselves when we give of ourselves.
I have known individuals and groups that are quite focused on the inner healing or spiritual journey, but unconcerned with the environmental or social justice issues in our “outer” world. And I have seen environmental or political activists who do not know themselves, and completely sidestep any spiritual questioning. And then there are those of us -- myself included for many years -- who avoid exploring the inner or outer landscapes, living narrow and mundane existences.
Healing the World from the Inside Out
The ideal, though, is a balance of inner-outer work, where we heal the world from the inside-out. We meditate, pray, or go to therapy, and we recycle, serve, or speak out. We take our expanded self into the world as a being of service. We can learn, as Andrew Harvey says, to “combine the wisdom of spiritual teachings with the passion of an activist.”
As we remember our relationship with everything and everyone, we no longer live with our small self in mind, but with our expanded Self in Mind. We use the gifts that we have, which were given to us not to personally enrich us, but to serve the greater good. Whether paid or unpaid, this is a sacred activism, the source of the joy and satisfaction we truly seek, being a part of, and doing our part in a thriving and connected community. As Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life.”
A Longing to Connect and Serve
Intuitively, we all feel a longing to connect and serve, and on some level we all love to help. This instinct is alive and experienced the instant we hear about someone in need, or someone who is suffering. We get the gut level response -- how can I help? When we disconnect from that feeling, we suffer. This genuine urge is what we feel when we come across a homeless person asking for a coin, although this empathy can be quickly squelched if we let the mind and ego jump in with their fearful chimes of separation: “I can’t afford it,” or “they don’t deserve it.”
With public service, we step out of our little worlds. A healthy balance is what we seek, providing enough for ourselves without slipping into self-indulgence, and serving others without martyring ourselves and becoming bitter or depleted. What we give we get, and it is said that, “the fragrance stays in the hand that gives the flower.”
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Serving by Doing What Gives Us Joy
Many of us have a misguided belief that volunteer work has to be something painfully difficult. When we do what we love, it does not feel like work. Ideally, our best service, paid or not, is doing what gives us joy, sharing our gifts, so we feed the community and ourselves. Rather than heavy and draining, activism and service can be fulfilling. Just be you.
I have heard that the difference between a healthy empathy and an unhealthy empathy is like this: Say we are walking through the jungle and hear shouts for help, and see that someone is stuck in quicksand. The unhealthy reaction is to jump in to “save” the person, in which case both get sucked under. With compassion, we take a deep breath, keep our center, then respond by throwing a vine with which the person can pull herself free.
In the United States, we lack ritual. Perhaps we could implement some form of national community service as a rite of passage for our youth as they complete high school, or reach a certain age. Rather than urge them too quickly into an often self-serving career route before they really have a chance to know themselves, why not one year of public service? We could open up other options beyond the military to include environmental, peace, and various other social services. What a great transition this would be into adulthood and our community. Young people might become engaged, informed, and active world citizens, patriotic in a truly global or universal sense.
Learning to Give of Ourselves
As we see in times of crisis, humans are givers and healers; the response is open-hearted compassion. We care about one another and we want to help. Aside from the rhetoric to consume and compete, deep down we know this is not who we are. While we are taught that the more money we make and stuff we acquire the happier we will be, some studies suggest that the more we give away or spend on others, the happier we feel.
Learning to give is hard when we are struggling or suffering, but this is one way to both feel good and change our poverty mindset. When we give, we are saying, “I have enough to share.” If we presently cannot afford -- or do not feel comfortable -- giving materially or financially, we can practice giving compliments or smiles, as the energy is most important. This is an expression of the abundance of who we truly are: spiritual, limitless beings.
There is really only one way to become fulfilled and achieve joy and contentment: by giving those very things away, becoming a being of service. In the simplest of terms: me hurts and shrinks us. We heals and expands us.
* Practice giving of yourself. Choose something that is doable (it can be time, compliments, money, etc.) Do you notice that when you give of yourself, you actually expand?
Contemplation: Sacred Service
* Reflect on times when you gave in service. How did this feel? How would you enjoy being of service?
Reprinted with permission of Roy Holman,
Holman Health Connections. ©2010.
Healing Self, Healing Earth: Awakening Presence, Power, and Passion
by Roy Holman.
About the Author
Roy Holman is a certified Yoga, Meditation, and Healing Instructor who has been teaching personal growth and Earth stewardship for over ten years and leads retreats to Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Sedona, and in his home state of Washington. Roy also spent several years abroad doing human rights work in Central America. Visit his website at www.holmanhealthconnections.com.