TRUE Serving is always Synergistic.
As difficult as it may be, you know you are receiving back personal growth, aliveness, and, most importantly, a greater sense of oneness.
Serving is a very necessary part of personal wellness and integration. Parts of our personalities and gifts emerge in serving that cannot emerge any other way. Also, while serving, a person intersects with “Living Love,” “Personal Growth,” “Relado (especially in relationship to self, others, and nature), “Discernment,” “Creating,” and when a deep quiet within is necessary to be fully present to another, “Depths of Being.” Especially when serving freely and committedly, there is an increased sense of aliveness even through the fatigue and depletion that can occur. Serving is one of the best sources of spiritual well-being as we live a humility of kindness, and a responsiveness that brings deeper experience of the “oneness of all.” From a young age, serving needs to be part of every person’s life. Please be fully aware that the capacity to healthily serve can take a long time to develop if parenting has not included this in a child’s life. Developing healthy egos is an important parenting goal. But also is developing the humility that to live is also to serve. Parents may have to learn what is to serve in order to then develop this capacity in their children. All humanity needs to develop serving to a much greater capacity if life on earth is to survive, let alone thrive. So you enter a crucial section of personal wellbeing and integration. One much more complex than the seeming simplicity of the word “serving.” Ultimately, serving requires living the vital energy of realizing the “oneness of all.”
Without serving, we place our vital energy into an awful ‘prison of self-absorption.’ People gain the greatest of wealth, the highest of positions, and yet experience a void that can lead to the ruination of all they gained. Literally or figuratively, they may find what prison self-absorption brings. (This poem is also part of the Poetry from My Journey section)
The Prison of Self-Absorption Loneliness
My life had become like one imprisoned in a dark damp prison cell.
Cold water dripped from its dank walls like tears for my suffering.
What windows there had been, were now encased,
with only a dim outlined remembrance of light.
And the door through which I was so cruelly thrown,
mocked me with its immovable hinges.
No one came, bringing warmth of intimate conversation.
What happened to easy companionship?
Where were friends who would care enough
to release me from the loneliness racking my bones?
The one companion I had was an inner voice
that only hammered me with accusation:
“What did you do that condemned you to this?”
“You most wretched being, your selfishness has condemned you.”
Then one day, crossing the one stream of light under the door,
I saw a tiny bug busily making its way.
In a voice that had been so silenced, I found myself croaking:
‘I hope all you do is successful.’
My inner voice of condemnation chided me:
‘Look what you are reduced to, which is more pitiful you or that bug?’
But I refused to listen, and instead thanked You, O Oneness of Love
for this tiny life that was freer than I.
And, as that little bug regularly crossed back and forth,
I continued to bless it in You.
Then one day the light under the door dimmed,
but a creaking spoke of its being opened.
Carefully checking the threshold for my busy friend,
I stepped out into the softly lit hallway.
I greeted the fly that softly buzzed by;
And stopped to compliment the spider’s web.
To the moths circling the candle’s flame I found myself easily saying:
‘Be of care, for that light you seek can bring more than you want.’
Finding my way out, I was greeted by the dusk sky.
I was overwhelmed by the life I could now take in, greet, and give to.
The sounds of the night creatures, the smell of day’s end;
and I cherished all the soil’s flourishing life swaying before me —
life that I had once thought beneath me to cultivate.
I laughed with joy and cried with realization.
O Oneness of Love,
I, who had thought only that only my own successfulness could sustain me,
was imprisoned in this until I became so bereft
that I sought the companionship of the tiny life of a bug.
I was not pitiful to have croaked my first sentence of blessing,
but Blessed with enormous Grace to recognize and serve such companions.
Now, here are all these lives for me to enjoy, care for, and Bless in You.
O Oneness of Love, what companions these innocent lives.
What Warping by Darkness that we so easily dismiss them.
What a cold deadened species we have become.
We are imprisoning ourselves as we destroy the life around us.
Such Loneliness drives us on recklessly.
May the Vision of the World so beautifully created, Break through our Prison
and May We Free Ourselves by Serving all Creation.
copyright 1989, Contemplative Life Foundation
Let’s begin with how serving connects with other aspects of personal wellbeing and integration:
- Serving is essential to personal growth to avoid that prison of self-absorption loneliness. People who are unwilling to serve because it does not contribute to their self-determined goals, will try to counter the inner void of not serving with compensations such as buying unnecessary items just to prove to themselves they can, look around themselves to prove how much better they are doing than others, and/or even strengthening their attitude that “others (all life forms) should/can take care of themselves.”
- A person cannot “live love” without serving that/who loved. Inherent to love is relationship; and a relationship in which there is synergistic giving to one another which allow the loved one to thrive. (A sure sign of a relationship that is no longer viable is when the synergy is gone. When this occurs in families, work to rebuild the relationship is called for, though may not succeed. In intimate relationships, discernment is needed to whether you need to separate, or allow the other to go their own way, realizing “letting them go” frees you both to thrive with another at some point.)
- Discernment is vital to learning “where, when, and who/what to serve.” (See section Below: Before You Take on Serving.) Discerning both our motivation and capacity of responsiveness is necessary, Is there a loving/caring motivation, or some internal or external “should” pressure? If there is a choice, unlike parenthood, discern how and if you can feasibly add this to your life. If you strongly feel you want to serve in a situation then both intuitive and logical thinking may be necessary to work out the logistics so you can. If you are a parent, then discernment of when you feel overwhelmed or need counsel to maintain a loving/caring attitude to a child. Always use discernment before “jumping” into serving. Because, unless in an emergency situation, to commit to serve and then back away is damaging to all involved, including yourself. Life can change and you may find that you no longer can serve. But, if you used discernment before beginning, you have the peace of mind that if life that your initial decision was the correct one. We all must serve for our well being and personal integration. Where, when, and who/what to serve develops our discernment, and the discernment helps us make the right decisions.
- Greatest Depths: When a person serves a life in great suffering, this provides necessary experience for entering your greatest depths. This is because a deep quiet within is necessary to connect to the deep suffering. So many shy away from such an effort because it takes them out of their “comfort zone.” (research term 🙂 A person must want to leave this comfort zone, not push themselves through self-guilt. How to enter into the greatest depths through serving means quieting one’s inner voices to fully perceive the need you are facing. Relying on intuitive thinking more than logical thinking is also essential in perceiving the needs and how to respond. And, then there is the willingness to commit to doing more than you thought yourself capable of. For those that are ready and do enter into the deep interior quiet to be present and caring, they find unimaginable knowledge, connection, and personal growth. (Remember, “depths” as a word means “below the surface.” And as an example, Oceanographers are still making amazing discoveries as they go deeper into the oceans.)Serving can draw on creativity. By being attuned to another life’s needs, you may become creative in finding ways to better the life you are serving. Many healthcare aids have come from such creativity.
- Serving has a strong connection to Relado. Serving other people sometimes is not as rewarding as serving other life forms. Our human relationships can be so complicated, and the receiver can take for granted the giving, and do not supply their energy. This is when discernment is necessary for how much you can healthily serve such a person. But caring for pets, plants, and nature, learning what they need; and then seeing them thrive shows the synergy. Serving nature is what exquisitely develops our relationship with nature. It is unfathomable that all too many humans still consider nature a “dumping ground,” “a source of money,” and of no special value in itself. The human hubris will lessen as humility to preserve, restore, and bring balances in nature occurs.
The serving that is an ongoing responsibility, such as raising children, owning a farm for livelihood, etc., is very different from voluntarily responding to a need. Any form of long chronically sick and dying can become personally depleted even with the synergy of true serving. They, and people who care for those chronically ill loved ones can sometimes become so depleted that there is no energy to give. This is why people in this situation must have ways to replenish their energy, and healthily and continually take care of that “relationship to self” For some, this is easier than for others.
To “serve self” is totally opposite of “self-serving.” Knowing the distinction is vital. To “serve self” is very much part of a healthy relationship to self. Your own physical/emotional/mental/spirit well-being directly affects the quality of your serving. Each person especially must take care of these during or after intense or long-term serving. A “self-serving” person puts themselves before others without regard. Indeed, they often think others should serve them, and complain if another is not serving them as they think they should.
Until one opens to serving other life, the benefits cannot be anticipated. The opportunities to serve are abundant because life occurs in relationship to others and nature, (no matter what, humans live to some degree in social culture; and we rely on the air we breath and the water we drink). In family situations, starting in childhood there are significant opportunities to help siblings and parents. If choosing to raise children there is set up a life-long serving of care and love. Caring, or providing for care, of aging parents and relatives often becomes part of our lives. These situations also can be the most difficult. Having pets gives you the opportunity to deepen your capacity to serve. Give them healthy care, not spoiling, and never neglect their needs because you are responsible for their lives. Serving nature can become part of daily life. In urban areas where nature often has no place, planting and tending natural life, even in window boxes or indoor plants provides a deepening of your capacity to serve. Volunteering in organizations to restore and preserve natural resources deepens your capacity to serve. Even picking up, carefully, litter, is a service. Look at your life and find a balance of serving yourself so you are healthy to serve others, animals, and nature.
Just as a matter of noteworthiness: It is not by co-incidence that “nursery” is used to describe a place for young plants and children.
What have been your areas of serving life? If you do not have any, chose something simple to begin with, remember SMART GOALS found on the Holistic Self Care page. On the other hand, if you are overburdened by serving, are there support systems you have yet to explore? Without serving, we place our vital energy into an awful prison. Without taking care of ourselves in the serving we have chosen, the quality of serving can be greatly diminished as well as the quality of life. I have had others tell me to go rest, I am overtired but do not even realize it. I pay attention because serving can often be consuming, and they are always right! So, sometimes, you have to pay attention to those who point out you are becoming too depleted.
2) Serving Begins at Home, We are all Children Once
A friend once told me: “Be very sure you want children before you take on what will affect the rest of your life.”
Whether we like it or not, and whether we are children or parents, serving needs to begin within the family unit.
Overall, home, whether with parents, relatives, or guardians is a vortex of energies. By serving you are exchanging such energy — very necessary. Whether anyone ever appreciates what you do or not, you have kept grounded in that vortex, and will stay both healthy and vital. But you do have to carefully measure out what you can reasonably do.
We are all children once, and thus have experienced relationship with our parents, relatives, or guardians. However, we must wisely choose whether to become parents or not. Culturally, getting married and raising a family has been a steadfast and demanded norm, especially for women. Truth is, that there are a good number of people who may use their discernment to realize they really do not want children, or they recognize within themselves the lack of a nurturing personality to raise children. A husband and wife, or two partners may stay within a tremendously synergistic serving of each other, and not have children. Judging people by whether they have children is a terrible disservice. First and foremost, this dynamic can force people who cannot for a number of reasons should not have children, which then produces a terrible environment for the children to endure throughout their childhood, and even affecting their adulthood. People who choose to not have children can be continually confronted with the question, “And, do you have children?” In a world of over-human population for the natural resources, and the significant percentage of people who simply do not have the personality for parenthood, this cultural expectation must be eliminated. Those who do not choose to have children may be neither selfish or isolationists; they simply may know their limits. If you decide to have children then serving begins at home with the family. Here are some of they many dynamics that are involved:
- One of the greatest tragedies is the portrayal of some great person who did great and wonderful accomplishments for others, but at the cost of their own families. Some books and movies have portrayed the tragedy of a husband/father or wife/mother working so hard to make a good life for his/her family that the partner and/or family lose the quality time with them, and the family members are left bereft of his/her personally serving. Single working parents who are too tired to serve their children may receive the rebellion of their children for not “being there” for them. Single parents especially must be creative in nurturing while surviving the strain. Just as an example of how simple love can be shown, my single mother would leave a glass of juice for me when she awakened me to get up. The juice helped get me going, and added that wonderful “flavor” of Love. The small square of dark chocolate to get me through until school lunch hour, did not require a lot for my mother to do, but I had both a reminder of that love, and the energy to get through to lunch. A special activity that is shared as a number one priority once a week can do much to offset the other days. A nightly ritual before the child goes to bed can be simple but ever so compensating for not having quality time during the day. A single parent who brings in another person into the family dynamics, must realize that the relationship with the child still must come first until that child grows up and becomes independent. Thus, I think back to my friend’s stern admonishment, “be very sure you want children (and the life-long responsibility this entails) before bringing into your life a child.
- Being part of taking care of elderly parents who loved and took care of you completes the synergy of their raising you. A wonderful circle of caring and love is completed as parents respond to their adult child’s care with love; and the adult child feels the fulfillment of giving back to the parent(s). These can be such enriching times for both. There is no question of how fatiguing and even depleting taking on one’s own adult responsibilities and as well as care of elderly parents, and this including finding the right care facilities for them when necessary. But, as parents have only so many years before a child becomes an adult, an adult child only has so many, sometimes months, or years to care for their parents. I However, abusive parents, parents who manipulate care through engendering guilt, or even demand your care and attention break the circle. Adult children who have become “self-serving,” will not “waste their time” on aging parents. They break the circle. It is inherent on both to serve with care and love for the circle to be completed. There are situations that this simply cannot occur. Neither can force the other. And, many times, we accept the situation as is, and care and love at whatever distance we can.
- Parents who compensate for not being personally involved with their child or children by just giving them money or objects, miss the the vortex of family synergy, and typically will have it come back on them later in life when the adult child has no personal relationship with the parent.
- Adult children often struggle with trying to serve both their children and their parents. This can be tremendously challenging, especially when the children have not yet reached adulthood. Great discernment is needed how to handle both. Great creativity may be needed. Processing with friends can be helpful. Getting help with aging parents who are in need of help is often the decision that must be made.
- When we live alone, serving opportunities are still very present with extended friends, families, even neighbors. As some very wise person once said: “There is no end to the number of good deeds and service a person can give as long as they do not require credit for what they give.” This statement has to do with our motive for serving. If the motive is self-serving, there will not be the synergy.
- This statement may sound odd at first — it did to me. But, then I realized the wisdom of how often we want serving to verify something within us. “Look what I did for …..” If we need to use serving as a means of strengthening self-image there can be disappointments, disillusionment, and even rancor at those who do not show enough appreciation. (The energy really is not flowing outward, but is still dammed inward.) Granted, given family dynamics, serving can be a challenge because of the unfortunate dynamics (energies) between individuals. Mothers who serve typically don’t get thanked enough for all they give, but they see their children thriving and receive that synergy. They are not looking for all they do to be always complimented. Fathers don’t get thanked enough for all they go through. (For those parents who truly serve their children, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day should each be a month, because that is more commensurate to what they are giving 🙂
- Children, especially adult children of infirmed parents, may not get thanked at all. Try to remember that whereas all individuals should be shown gratitude for serving, there are times when you serve without appreciation, but you receive back in recognizing the benefits of what you are doing. Using discernment and relying on personal growth maturity will help you decide if you should continue serving for any length of time, A dying person can still have great vitality of spirit, and you can discern that there is a synergy of love.
- Parents of adult children face quite a challenge when these adult children need to return home. Often, this is so necessary for adult children to regain their personal strength and head out again. Sometimes, these adult children decide “it is easier at home.” have decided just to be “children” who live off of your care. Parents need to use careful discernment. One good indicator to use is if that adult child is giving back in doing tasks, taking on errands, etc. This is a time to be careful not to let endless “thanks,” without action, fill a need to be appreciated within you.
In many respects, as the first place of serving begins at home, For children it is a chronological reality. For parents, whether or not they wanted to give birth to a child, they did; and they have the opportunity to grow in “serving” as they devotedly care for their child. For parents and children one of the first acts of serving is to show appreciation at all times. Never go to bed with telling each other “I love you.” Sometimes this will have the addendum of “I love you, but I am still angry with you.” And, if you start at home, you are fairly sure to be in an environment that you may not get a lot of thanks, which will help you check yourself whether you serve for self-satisfaction, or for the good of other family members. All that goes on in this vortex of family goes out into the world in who children become, the support of loving siblings that helps people take on improving the world before their journey ends, and parents providing wisdom not demands on their children, thereby either continuing to nurture their lives, or depleting them unnecessarily.
3) Before You Take On Serving
To serve begins first and foremost with discernment. (If you have not learned about discernment, that is needed before capably serving. Great discernment of your motives is needed. Pampering children as a “safeguard” for having someone who will look after you when elderly is self-serving not synergistic giving. and most often leads to a breakdown in the relationship with the adult-child. Taking care of parents who were abusive is not healthy until they acknowledge and take personal accountability for their actions (often does not happen). However, there may be ways to find them the care they need, without exposing one’s self to a continuing abusive parent.
However parenting children, even when there are times they do not like you at times because of your parenting, is synergistic if they are thriving and developing as individuals with a strong sense of self. Discernment is needed when a child or young teen is not thriving. This is when seeking parenting help is crucial, and humility that others are needed, is necessary. Parenting can be tremendously rewarding in nurturing to adulthood a child (just do not expect them to stay around to thank you… they will be off taking on their own lives; but you will always know their love.)
Discernment is very necessary here for choosing if you are ready or not, as well as if this is the right situation to enter deeply into. Opposite to this dynamic are those who seek others’ sympathy and consoling attention for “all they are enduring by serving. Obviously, to seek to serve with the intention of gaining some twisted view or self/and or others’, admiring, and consoling attention from the effort will not create the synergy, There is not real interest to attune and respond to another life; rather it is more of imposing one’s will on another.
Adult children facing the failing health of their parents or other elder relatives face such a difficult situation. Problems occur if a person feels pushed into serving. The result can be a resentment that only increases through length of time or increased demand. Another problem can be that the adult child of a parent/relative may see the situation as a way to punish the parent/relative for wrongs done to them growing up. Discerning motivation for serving is so important for entering it healthily, and gaining personal wellbeing from it. Elder abuse is only now getting the attention needed. Discernment can help an adult child of parents/relatives discover these potential negative dynamics.
Are you following the healthy inner voices, or ones of “guilt,” “obligation,” or “pressure by others,”? Besides your own inner voices, other people may be strongly suggesting, or even pressuring you. Codependence (research term) is a spiraling downward of two individuals’ capacity to become independent enough to become interdependent (yes, another research term 🙂 Once you discern that someone or something is a call for you to serve, then conviction, responding to need, even going beyond what you think are capable of doing is what you take on. There is a saying that “You receive more in giving than receiving.” That is true if you are truly taking care of yourself during your time of service. In Relado, you learn about your relationship with yourself and others. A person can actually be punishing themselves as an unspoken/unrecognized motive for serving. To have the best experience and personal growth from serving, have a strong and healthy relationship with yourself. (See Relado sections on “Relationship with Self and Relationship with Others.”
Staying committed to whatever service you take on is also vital. Discernment may lead you to making arrangements for others to take on what you have been doing. Or, a situation or person they may no longer require your service. If in a group/organization, you see that others are just as capable of stepping in to fill what you did, let go, let them take over, and move on.
While serving, a complete commitment is required. There can be no intermittentness or giving less than what you can give. To give less than your best is a disservice to your spirit (you will have a sense of unease and/or guilt which even rationalizing will not remove.) You are also doing a disservice to whomever or whatever you committed yourself to serve. Because of the commitment and giving your best is required, another essential element of service is replenishing yourself when you can.
There are times when serving almost completely depletes you. Yet, you must go on in commitment. In the previous sections there has been discussion about families. Serving does extend beyond. Serving other life that requires urgent and immediate saving cannot be portioned out. A dying plant, shrub, etc., cannot survive with a “I will get to you tomorrow.” You work until all is resolved. A person who has had serious surgery may have complications. You have to see the person through. To be totally depleted by serving another’s need definitely can occur.
The replenishing comes two ways. First, if your service is an urgent short term, you plan for time that you will rest into replenishment. And plan you must, or other life activities can take this away from you. If you are serving in a long term situation, then you must work with the situation to find the necessary replenishing times. Arranging for other caregivers, someone taking over your responsibilities in an organization, and even cutting back on how much you take on can be necessary. You have to think your way through situations that require your serving. Many times the synergy of giving/receiving is its own form of replenishment. Seeing another maintaining or gaining life quality is a synergetic replenishment. Finding that you are personally growing through the serving is a form of replenishment.
What to constantly discern is if the person or organization is burdening you without giving back in a meaningful way. If you a re serving a terminally ill person, is their spirit vibrant despite what is happening physically? Whatever form of long-term serving, even when the person is in a coma, you must continually discern your motivation, and nurturing caring is present. This is vital for healthy serving, and replenishes. If no longer feel that nurturing caring, do not prolong what may only drain you. Planting and tending plants in terrible soil that die each year is not healthy serving them or replenishing yourself. A voluntary service organization that keeps adding responsibilities over time is not respecting your needs, and the situation not only does not replenish but also is not healthy.
4) In Conclusion
Serving is vital, but demanding. Serving is often called for, but skilled discernment is called for. Serving can be rewarding even when unacknowledged. Serving can be life-giving and totally depleting. There is a Zen saying: “If you are going stand, then stand. If you are going to sit, then sit, but whatever you do, do not wobble.” I think this can be well adapted to serving, If you are going to serve, then serve with commitment, integrity, and caring. If you do not serve, do so without been burdened by guilt. Whatever you do, do not wobble with intermittences, uncaring, or lack of deep commitment.
And most of all, remember that there are few activities more life-enriching than serving. There are few activities more “counter” to our ego’s need to control, gain, and attain. Taking on serving healthily balances your ego and enriches your life — how wonderful!