How can I help? Ram Dass and Paul Gorman wrote a book entitled that, in 1987, with the subtitle, “Stories and Reflections on Service.” Service may not be an appealing word, but as this book, countless volunteers and innumerable true friends assert, service at its core is love in action.
For the previous month, and more, I’ve been exploring, with the help of friends and clients, what love is. I’ve explored the importance of attachment, the place of self-sacrifice, and the potentially fatal effects of trauma in interrupting our ability to connect intimately. Love is a basic drive too powerful to ignore, and any attempts to suppress it will not only fail, but backfire. What happens, then, when we give in, do the work, and allow in our bodies and spirits the innate capacity to love? Real love demands to be given. That is its drive.
This is what I believe. One of the primary markers of a truly healthy person is the desire to give, and the willingness and motivation to act on that desire. Not in order to be loved in return, or for other gain…for that, given health, has already been received. Yup, by my definition, if you’re selfish, focused primarily on what serves you, needing attention directed primarily on you, taking more than your fair share, you’ve got issues. Ironically, the people reading this who most fear they’re selfish are most likely the ones who self-deny, given messages received by either parents or the dominant culture that they had no right to receive. The most selfish among us are also the least likely to recognize this in themselves. Perhaps it’s cold comfort, but the hearts of thieves are small and miserable things.
Dass and Gorman have a basic assertion: unity. As you serve, you are not separate from those whom you help. It is this shared humanity that lends dignity to your generosity. It is a wonderful cliché: those who serve find they receive more than they give. I’ve volunteered, I’ve encouraged clients to volunteer, once they’ve built strong enough boundaries, and the results are consistent. As we engage with others to strengthen them, they share with us the strengths they do have. In the humility of our mutual failures, we accept and find acceptance. And in a good example of “fake it till you make it,” our tangible acts of generosity allow us to access the loving-kindness of our hearts in a way our imaginations never could. There is deep, deep satisfaction in feeling the love that expands from our core, like an inner sun, in these acts of service.
A NOTE ON THE ABOVE PICTURE: Jessie Rees prepares JoyJars to take to sick children in the hospital. Even while she was very ill, Jessie asked about about children with cancer: “What can we do for them?” She made JoyJars!
Next will be a guest blog on the subject by Nancy Weaver, inveterate explorer of all things intangible.