I've written a lot lately about various ways in which I'm increasing my capacity to be of service. Many of you have commented that you are similarly engaged. Today I want to talk more about what that can look like at various levels, to help us all see more success and satisfaction from our efforts.
Serving Physical Needs
At the most basic level of our existence as physical beings in a physical world, people need things and sometimes we can help them get those needs met.
- A baby cries because it is hungry. We feed it.
- An old man drops his cane. We pick it up for him.
- An injured person needs a seat on the bus. We give them our seat.
- A friend is moving and doesn't have the money to hire movers. We either help her move or hire the movers for her.
In these sorts of situations, increasing our capacity to serve is generally about making sure our own physical needs are taken care of so that we have the ability to help others. We can't help someone move or give them our seat if we ourselves are injured or weak. We can't hire movers if we ourselves don't have the money even to eat. Even feeding a crying baby is a level of service that not every caretaker rises too, generally because there are various unmet needs within themselves that cut them off from that which would move them to appropriate action.
We see that for serving others' physical needs, the most important thing to do beyond cultivating the desire and intention of helping is to take good care of ourselves. Increasing our self-care is how we increase our capacity to serve others.
Serving Other Needs of Individuals
Increasing my capacity to serve individuals in non-physical ways is important to me. That's why I invested the time and money in getting an MA in Counseling, becoming a Reiki Master, traveling at great inconvenience to receive Medicine Buddha Empowerments, and so on. I have done and continue to do a lot to add new tools to my toolset when it comes to helping others with psychological and spiritual well-being.
As noted previously, most of the service I've provided to others in this form has been by donation, though briefly here and there were periods in which my self-care required I charge a set amount that could support me, whether as salary in a job or fees in private practice. Honestly flowing between the different levels of service and capacity building is key if our life of service is to be sustainable.
When you look back over your life, what investments of time or money did you make into increasing your capacity to help others mentally or spiritually?
Thinking about each time individually, were there sacrifices involved, or did it feel more like a blessed path laid clearly before you?
In my case it felt inevitable each time. Sometimes harder to achieve than other times, but always it felt there was no real choice. Just clarity and forward motion with resolve.
Even if at some levels sacrifices were made, they didn't feel like sacrifice. I had to become more capable than I was previously, and growth usually feels uncomfortable or challenging in some way, but the inspiration and conviction was so much stronger that that was the dominant takeaway.
I have to wonder if anything that doesn't feel like that really is serving others, and not some misguided egoic idea about an identity as "the one who serves."
Serving Larger Systems and Society
When you think about service to the world, what comes to mind?
A lot of people may think of volunteering in a disaster zone. Or maybe planting trees. Perhaps participating in local community groups designed to make better outcomes for members, like the PTA (parent-teacher association).
In those scenarios, what does increasing our capacity to serve look like?
Some things I can think of include:
- Improving our communication skills, particularly in our ability to speak to people who have different beliefs and perspectives than our own.
- Increasing our neurological system's capacity to deal with emotional stress and possibly also physical discomfort.
- Learning the practical requirements of whatever the service is (e.g. what are the rules for how PTA meetings are run and decisions made?).
- Crucially, practicing resourcing ourselves well psycho-emotionally, then stretching ourselves into a zone of discomfort, then regaining equilibrium and self-regulation. Building the inner muscle of facing more strain without breaking.
These are all important ways to work on oneself. But the most overlooked way in which we increase our capacity to serve is in committing to a story of coherence and well-being in how we see the world system and all its sub-systems down to the system of each individual person.
A Healing Vision
When we see the world as sick and broken, and ourselves as fatally flawed beings navigating broken systems made by other fatally flawed beings, we do the world a great disservice.
Imagine this instead: You are fundamentally a self-healing system of body, mind and spirit. You are an emanation of perfection that has taken a diversity of forms, some more or less pleasing to you in a given moment. You live within a system of systems, each with a natural equilibrium that is always working to return it to healthy, harmonious flow. The most useful endeavor is in increasing our capacity to work with those powerful, natural correcting mechanisms, instead of focusing on what's wrong and trying to coerce reality into what our limited human minds can conceive.
As children we are taught not to trust anything as dreamy as "a self-correcting system." We are taught that anything that can't be proven with our logic is not to be believed, lest we be fools tossing salt over our shoulders and avoiding black cats.
While I for one love black cats (despite allergies) and keep my salt for my food, I also recognize, to quote Shakespeare, that "there is more under Heaven than is dreamt of in your philosophies."
There is more here than meets the eye.
Human understanding and our sciences advance more and more each century. What hubris to think that because something is beyond our ability to scientifically explain right now that means it must be magic or falsehood. A little humility goes a long way for any student of life.
I won't even make an attempt at proving the above. Let me simply appeal to your own observation, and perhaps there within your experience you will find resonance enough to get you to give it a try.
We all have had experiences of not seeing something simply because we didn't expect to see it. I once even drove through a solid red light (in front of a cop, who was so kind as stop me to point it out to me) because it simply came too soon after another stop light for me to believe it could possibly be there. I just didn't see it. My mind edited it out.
I personally have had experiences of others editing me out. Literally not seeing me there.
We are so trained through evolution to focus on the negative. We are crisis averting. Problem solving. Alert to danger. Ready to fight, flee, or freeze.
This has kept us alive through many generations and iterations to be who we are now. Yet, what are we editing out when we do that?
What about the beauty?
What about all the acts of love and charity?
What about the smiles among strangers passing on a street? The person with a lot of items who lets you go ahead of them with your few at the checkout counter? The friendly neighbor who helps you up as a kid when you fall off your bike? The advisors, mentors, teachers and others who help us all along our lives, with absolutely nothing we can offer them in return?
What about how skinned knees heal? Broken bones mend, hopefully set correctly when they do. Immune systems fight off all kinds of daily assaults. Arguments get worked through. Wrongs are forgiven. Families put up with each other.
Despite how much falls apart, the center of so many systems actually does hold far more often than it does not ... day after day, year after year, century after century.
This is not a mess of a world. It is a grand symphony of glorious ballads, operas, arias, and more, all being played out at once. Sure, there's a bad chord hit here are there. Some tragedies in the operas for sure. But perhaps every tragedy is actually trying to become a tragi-comedy, if only we'd be willing to let ourselves see the good as much as we're conditioned to see the bad.
So much has to go right every single day for you to stay alive!
Realize, and rest in not just gratitude, but faith, confidence, and ease.
Stop your war against the present moment, your present body, your present family, workplace, nation and/or world, by realizing there never was any assault. Nothing has gone wrong.
This is a system of systems, constantly flowing, pulsing. Sometimes with harmony and ease, then moving into discomfort and even challenge, then finding its way back to harmony as something more than what it was before.
This is a system of systems that is always increasing its capacity to serve you and all life.
Realize, then rest in that. Focus there as often as possible, and you will be guided in how to serve at levels you never before imagined were possible for you.
(All text and images (except the AT logo) are by the author, unless otherwise credited. This is original content, created expressly for HIVE.)