Service: A word from someone who misunderstood

The cards I drew today were about our Divine Will – our purpose here on earth – and a reminder that it always involves service. Everything we accomplish and accumulate is supposed to be enjoyed, and shared. Both. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Service in this sense means primarily that we are here to help each other. Common sense tells us that we have to make sure we’re ok first – our mental and physical health gives us the basis from which we can reach out in a truly helpful way. Have that bubble bath. And humility, of course, plays a part because you are always humble when you put aside what you want in that moment for what someone else wants.

I spent several years volunteering at a spiritual centre. It was an amazing experience in so many ways. I made lots of wonderful friends and was able to give service and practice in a beautiful setting. But the person I worked with, who was in charge of the centre, was a narcissistic saboteur. Nothing you could do was right … even if it had been right yesterday. Changing the goalposts undermined everyone and set us all up to fail. Of course this also meant that the centre itself struggled because nothing solid could be accomplished, but what little progress I saw encouraged me to keep going.

This person used the teachings that she knew I wanted to keep power over me, doling them out like bait to keep me in line. She would shame me if I actually asked a question. Should spiritual teaching be like that? Ugh. But I went back, and I kept going back even after I had to take breaks to recover, because I thought that’s what service was in the larger sense: suffering to purify. In our culture, we are used to the militaristic idea that real success only comes from being broken down first.

So I’m here to tell you: Don’t do that. First of all because there is no point. There never came a day when I had done enough or suffered enough. I learned a lot from that experience, but the main thing is that I had the wrong idea of what service is.

Service is love, given and received. I gave with love and devotion, and while I don’t think my time was wasted in the larger sense of what I contributed and also gained, it was not what my Spirit wanted in terms of offering service. The Universe doesn’t want you punished, and it doesn’t want you to suffer. So what is service, then?

Real service is humble and kind, but it’s not a doormat. It says “Hey, quit it” when someone is rude, and then it looks for someone else to connect with because there are plenty of people and places in the world that can use a little love. Service is not self-debasement because the Universe does not want you to humiliate yourself.

Altruism is giving without expecting anything in return, or even wanting anything in return. You let someone on the bus in front of you because they look tired and harassed, and that is the only reason. You hold the door for someone just because it’s nice, now and then, to walk through an open door. And it’s OK to feel good about these things. You’ve done something good! That’s what it’s all about. Don’t get stuck in this idea that to be ‘truly’ selfless, you can’t get a little perk yourself. Life is about love, and that includes you, so if you get the warm fuzzies when you ‘pay a coffee forward’ at your local café, then do it! Then get yourself a cookie to go with yours.