We hear the words “being of service” a lot these days in the writings of many of our spiritual teachers and there are several differing articulations of what it entails in practice. For the past several months, I have been engaging in my own inquiry as to what those words actually mean. What does being of service actually involve? How can I best serve others?
At first, I found I was pushing myself to do things that I didn’t really want to do in the name of service. Agreeing to spend time with people I didn’t really feel a connection to and doing my best to give them all my love and keep my heart open; responding to requests for help that far exceeded my own boundaries of time and energy available; answering my phone or agreeing to engage in deep conversations when I wasn’t truly able to be present because someone else needed me to do so.
I quickly discovered that this kind of service would not be sustainable and that despite getting some brownie points for martyrdom in my own mind, I wasn’t really serving anyone by showing up with anything less than a true desire to connect, give and a fully open heart.
I also took every opportunity to give to those in obvious need whenever they came across my path. As much as giving spare change or offering food to the homeless were fulfilling and gave me a sense of being closer to an authentic experience of service, I still felt as though something was missing. In a strange way, the fact that it felt good to give in these ways almost caused me to discount them as service. It was as though my inner critic’s measuring stick of service deemed these acts to be too easy because they didn’t really require any “true effort” on my part and because they made me feel good about myself.
This is when I began to realize that I had service all wrong. My initial understanding of what it meant to serve was that I had to make some great sacrifice, and that I had to struggle for the benefit of another. And because I’m extra hard on myself, I unknowingly added the stipulation that if I got any immediate joy or satisfaction out of doing it, than it didn’t count. With a definition like that, it was not very likely that I was going to be able to serve in any meaningful way, let alone sustain it over the course of my lifetime.
So I began to reevaluate and reformulate my understanding of what it means to be of service. What if we can serve others by doing what we love? What if being of service isn’t meant to be such a struggle and it can be done with ease and grace? What if being of service means bringing joy to others, while being fulfilled at the same time?
These conceptions of service may sound obvious, but they certainly evaded me for a good while. Asking these questions got me going me in the right direction and for the past few months, I’ve been experiencing service as a much more effortless and self-perpetuating practice. The more I opened myself up to this reframing, the more I found myself ready and willing to serve in ways that felt good.
I’ve always believed that doing the things we love and expressing ourselves fully is one of the greatest contributions we can make to those around us. I have always felt that giving our love and sharing what’s in our hearts is one of the greatest joys of being alive.
This past weekend, I was having lunch with a sweet friend of mine and she reminded me of a beautiful truth that really helped me to see what was missing from my understanding of service. She said: “Being joyful is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to the world.”
Ahhh yes. And there it was.
The best way to be of service, to help others and make a difference is to enjoy life wholeheartedly.
So many of us, myself included, make our lives so much more difficult and complicated than they have to be. We create unnecessary struggle, we hold onto problems, and we don’t give ourselves permission to be happy, believing that we are doing someone else a favor by suffering. But that just doesn’t work and it’s not sustainable.
Anyone who’s been flipped off by an angry driver or who’s stood in line next to a miserable person knows that how we feel and the energy we harbor within emanate from us and affect others around us.
In the same way, when we are happy, others can feel it and feed off it. We don’t need to suffer or struggle to be of service. Smiling, singing, dancing, enjoying life and doing what feels good and lights us up…those are the truest forms of service!
So if you want to be of service, if you want to help others, if you want to make a difference in the lives of those you love, start by doing whatever it is that makes you feel good and then share that goodness.
The greatest gift you can give the world is your own joy.
Published by The Daily Love (Aug. 4th, 2013)