It’s not always easy to help others when we ourselves suffer. Sometimes we need to tend to our own needs before we can truly be of service. But sometimes, helping others not only serves more people, it is the key to healing ourselves.
What are your tendencies? To hide out alone in your house? To lose yourself in others? And what does it truly mean to be of service?
I remember one afternoon years ago I was really down in the dumps. At the time I was teaching Aikido to children, and the clock was ticking closer and closer to class time, but I didn’t think I could bring myself to go. I didn’t think I had it in me to run around or to inspire anyone, and I didn’t want to spread my pain around.
But, I knew no one I could call to teach for me on such short notice, so I literally dragged myself to teach. Once there, we played tag, we practice punches and somersault-like falls, we played “guess who”- an awareness practice that involved “guessing” which member of the class was grabbing one’s wrists from behind. And by the end of class, I was laughing and smiling and had totally forgotten the pain I’d gone in with!
That day was a turning point for me. I have always been so sensitive that it’s been easy for me to become whatever I was feeling and in cases like that day, become immobilized by it. From then on I realized the power of stepping outside my own feelings and choosing instead to help others while doing something I truly loved to do.
Most of us think we feel pain because we don’t get what we want. As my teacher Michael Tamura helped me to see, it’s more painful to NOT GIVE what we have to give than it is to NOT GET something. Whether it’s romantic love, art, music, our thoughts, or an act we do to help another, giving what is already inside us literally gives us energy.
In his book Entering the Tao, Hua-Ching Ni offers these thoughts:
“…all of you suffer from something; all of you have one shortcoming or another. The trouble is that you pay more attention to your suffering than to the rest of your life, thus aggrandizing the suffering. You don’t know how to utilize what you have already achieved. If you focused instead on the satisfaction of your present achievement and continued to cultivate yourself by doing good deeds, both for yourself and for others, this would be both a personal remedy and salvation as well as a way to mend your shortcomings and suffering.”
So how do we discover which good deeds to do? How to wade through all the voices in our heads—family members, partners, bosses, teachers, religious leaders, doctors, friends, self-help books, the media, and more—all telling us what we “should” be doing for ourselves or others?
Here is what I have discovered- Get really quiet, behind the buzz of all those voices, and imagine you can ask the Universe. Imagine you get an answer back, and then TRUST YOURSELF to follow it.
How can you be sure you’re not hearing an unhelpful voice? You will know because true universal guidance, while it may be a little surprising or uncomfortable, will always come with a feeling of peace and will also help others, or at least do no harm.
Erich Schiffmann, a wonderful yoga teacher and author, teaches a “free form” yoga class in which he does not “teach” in the traditional sense. Instead, he invites students to listen inwardly for guidance and then do the poses they are drawn to do.
This I find is wonderful training for life. How would your life be different if when you sat down at your desk and instead of plowing through your “To-do” list or getting distracted by emails, you first got quiet and asked the Universe what it would have you do first?
How would your relationships be different if you paused before broaching a difficult subject and asked for a vision of how to best proceed to serve everyone involved?
If you have several choices circulating over and over in your head, try getting quiet and then, one at a time, imagine yourself choosing one and then imagining the outcome. This is different from fearing or worrying or fantasizing about an outcome. See if you can observe the difference.
Imagination, at it’s finest, is the gateway to intuition. We so often underestimate our powers to know things by saying “I’m just making it up.” This is warranted given the pitfalls of imagination distorted through fear or fantasy. However, I have seen miraculous readings by my students who swore they were just making something up.
If you have trouble telling the difference, try at least not to make major decisions when you’re feeling lousy. Through practice you will learn to trust yourself more. In the meantime, DO consider going out and doing something you know to be good, for yourself and/or others, during your low moods.
Both indulging in your own process and suppressing your feelings create problems if overdone. By learning to listen quietly and then trust your instincts about how to truly serve, you will ultimately know your own feelings as well as offer something beyond yourself. Your inner being, your relationships, and your place in the world will all be in balance. Try it and see.
copyright 2007 Ann O’Brien- All Rights Reserved.