Something has always troubled me about our cultural interpretation of service. The action-oriented nature of service as we know it (the “official” definition via dictionary.com actually words service as an act of helpful activity) feels incomplete.
I bring up this contemplation here, because I think service is integral to the “spiritual work” we engage in—through yoga, meditation, and other forms of spiritual practice. The question that arises for me when reading this definition is: what is helpful?
Are We Actually Helping?
This is probably a question that every aid working organization has grappled with, from the Peace Corps to the Red Cross: is what we’re doing of any actual assistance?
I mean…wars have been justified under this guise—the guise of being “helpful.” The element of “help” is left to the devices of the “helper,” who typically understands very little about the situation in which he or she is trying to make a difference. Service in this context often only serves an agenda (be it personal or societal), rather than a desire to truly make-a-difference.
So…how do we help? How do we live life in Service?
I think the first order of business is to define service differently. Service, to me, is a paradigm (not simply an action) -- a way of seeing the world. Our actions of service (from this perspective) flow out of a vision of reality in which service is ubiquitous.
What kind of reality would place service not as a component of life, but as an inextricable truth—as a Way of Being?
A Reality Where EVERYTHING is CONNECTED.
From this perspective, passages that we find in the bible (Do unto others, as you would have them done unto you; love your neighbor as yourself), and other life guides take on a new dimension. Service isn’t just some project we did in high school, or when we’re feeling “up for it”. Service is a state of being, a state that informs ALL of our actions.
This is a deep shift. It forces us to relinquish certain myths we tell ourselves about the world. Things like…"I’m meant to maximize my own self interest," or "life is a competitive struggle," or "my purpose is to just make money to create my own security" —basically, anything that reduces service to secondary. Something we do on the side.
It’s a deep shift but we’re not too far from it. Look around. Reflect on your own questions. Are you asking how to more fully share your gifts? How to align your work with your purpose? How to be an agent-of-change?
For your journey, here are some suggestions for how to step more fully into being in service-- into Living Life as an Offering:
Ask the Universe
Ask: how can I be of help? Then ask again: how can I be of help? If you keep asking (and sincerely), sooner (rather than later) you’ll be gifted with the opportunities for offering your service (your gifts) to the world.
The simple act of asking begins the process of aligning your gifts with the needs of the world. Before you know it, you’ll be getting an email asking you to write a column for an online Yoga blog. A hungry puppy we’ll amble into your garden. You’ll wake up from a fitful dream with an algorithm for solving a global crisis.
The question, and the repeated asking of it, is the door to learning of your own opportunities for being in service. The universe will tell you. You need only ask.
Listening—I mean—REALLY listening is the key to being thrust into service. And sometimes the best acts of service are inaction. Listening to what’s happening in the world around connects you to what’s being asked of YOU—rather than simply acting on what you think you SHOULD do, or what the world needs.
Listening of this variety requires us to be present. It requires us to fully embody “a service mentality”, to go about our day as a vessel of offering. How can I help becomes a mantra (something repeated over and over) that informs what we hear.
Let Life Use You
When we listen on this level, our relationship with life changes. Rather than using life (as resources to maximize our personal survival), life begins to USE US. This is the “going with the flow” colloquialism that we often hear or cite ourselves as doing.
In order to let life use us, we have to detach from any notion about how things are supposed to go. No more concrete goals, no more “this is how it’s going to be.” Letting life use us is the act of being in service.
Heed the Call
In order to BECOME service, we have to be ready. Often, we’re not. Completely, that is. But we still have moments when we step into it. You know when you’ve been in true service because of how it feels. There is a sense of knowing that permeates our being when we are in service, a permeation that extends beyond ego-fluffing our any other form of self-aggrandizement.
You feel the chills. You feel tears. You feel…well, you know. You’ve been there. Keep doing what you’re doing. The action of service (the definition we currently use) is still a part of service. It’s just that…it’s only a part.
Ask, listen, be a vessel, and DO when you’re asked to do. Life is a gift, and everything is possible, and that includes Living Life as an Offering.