18 October 2015

The Joy of Service



To make the decision to live consciously is a very noble, challenging and courageous thing to do. Not everybody is going to give you a pat on the back for doing it and you should certainly not expect one. These are not easy times, even though we are the most fortunate human beings to have appeared throughout history and we are the most fortunate group of human beings right now, and we find life hard, we don’t find it easy! But in all history there have never been human beings who are as well provided for as we are, who could so easily take for granted the basic requisites that support our life.

The Buddha talked about 5 fortunate kammas, but let’s just say the 5 good fortunes without which life is a struggle on a daily basis. And most of us have all 5 of them. We are born of sound body and we are born of sound mind, we are not born in a time of strife and conflict, we are not struggling daily for food and shelter. And the teachings, encouragement, towards ways by which we might live considerately and responsibly are available to us, and that is not always the case. It’s very often not the case.

This fortunate human life that we have now, it’s so hard to fathom how much good fortune, how much merit you must have to have been born as fortunate as you are. In the greater scheme of things its like coming in with a huge bank balance that this much comfort and ease we can take for granted, so that our main concerns are whether we’re getting what we want and whether we’re not getting what we don’t want. Whether my friends like me, or whether I’m doing the job that’s really meaningful to me. We don’t have to walk for 2 hours to get water, skin animals to keep ourselves warm, fight with each other for the rights to the land and all the other things that might make life actually a real challenge.

So it is worth stopping for a moment and asking ourselves the question, that in spite of the fact that I might find life a bit overwhelming at times and it might be pretty challenging, what am I actually going to do with it now that I’ve got this extraordinary life because it doesn’t last for long, a few brief years and it will be over?

It’s very easy in those few brief years to come in with that huge stock of good fortune supporting this life, failing to recognise how rare that is and to not invest in the time that we’re here so that we might have used up our good fortune and leave with an overdraft having taken more out of this life by far than we put back.

The planet is creaking under the weight of our taking out and not putting back. It’s not creaking under the weight of those people who are struggling to find the requisites by which to support themselves, it’s creaking under the weight of carrying those who are already so well supported. It’s us, we are that most fortunate group of human beings in all of history and alive right now. We have to be here for a reason, there has to be something that got us here. What do you think that might be? In all the times that you could have been born on this planet and all the places that you could have found yourself in and all the places we could have been born what could have put you here?

Think about that. Yes, you are very fortunate. Which means that somewhere inside of you at some point in the past you must have decided to give of yourself for the benefit of others and give back more than you took out. Because nobody ends up this fortunate without doing that, that’s for sure. The tragedy is that we don’t know that, somehow we arrive here having forgotten what it takes to get here. It is a kind of a paradox isn’t it that those who don’t have it in their hand to make a difference would probably long to be able to, and that we who have it in our hands have forgotten what we came here for.

It’s difficult, it’s very very difficult, the inertia, the momentum behind our forgetfulness is so strong that turning it around takes so much effort. I know that everyone at some point would have been moved beyond words by something, a longing to do something that would make a difference to others, and still in spite of that, it is so hard to get to the point where we do.

The Buddha said, when asked who is it who fares well upon the path, is it the fortunate, is it the intelligent, who is it that fares well, that finds peace and happiness easily? He said, “it is those whose needs are few and who are easy to serve.” And if you were to strip life bare of all its bells and whistles it’s nothing but an invitation to learn to be of few needs and easy to serve. Now that is wonderful for one who has little and is looking for a way to make peace with the fact that that’s so. But it is far more wonderful when those who are well provided for and have far more than they need get to the point of being of few needs and easy to serve, because think what they could do for others.

I don’t that often do one on one counselling or consultation type sessions with people and but when I do the people that I tend to see a lot of people who are depressed. The one thing time after time, after time, that comes up when I say ‘what’s up?’ Is – “I don’t know what to do with myself, I can’t find something meaningful in my life and I’m depressed about it.”

Now I don’t know…but how can it be that we have reached a point where we consider that making our life meaningful requires turning ourself into somebody that other people are going to think is special in some way. What it is we think is worthy of the admiration of our peers and what it is we feel is not. Something seems to have gone horribly wrong by the way in which we compare ourselves to others and decide whether our life is meaningful or not.

Nothing gladdens the heart quicker than the delight in doing something for somebody else. Nothing gets you over that being all in a muddle with yourself than turning your hand to something that is for someone else’s benefit. And yet for some reason it’s not obvious to us. Learning this delight in simplicity does require breaking our addiction to being stimulated and it’s a painful withdrawal. To get to the point where you can really really deeply enjoy simplicity, and having space your mind has to withdraw from, being so used to being stimulated, distracted, gratified in some way… that’s the problem that we’ve got to break …. It is so worth trying to do this because there’s a bit inside all of us that just longs for peace. It doesn’t need to be seen, it doesn’t need to be famous, it just longs to be at peace. And yes there’s another part of us that can’t sit still for 5 minutes.

Once you do withdraw from being stimulated, the heart starts to open and it is that which gets us in touch with the joy of simplicity. And from there if we really sit down and think about it we would delight in the idea of being able to give of ourselves in this life and it would be nice if our needs were less and we could get by with far less than we do. It’s when our hearts are open that these things occur to us and we are likely to be moved by those sorts of sentiments and go out and get jump in. To get in touch with everything that we could be and to be it, which is what we’re all longing for and to give everything we could give, its what we’re all longing for.

The challenge is finding that critical mass of energy and motivation to just cross over the threshold of inertia that keeps us blocked so we can find the courage to move in such a direction. What’s it going to take?

So why don’t we all make a start at trying to just find ways to do things for other people. It is more important than anything else. Honestly, and I’m a meditation teacher, if you said if you had one spare hour a day what would you do with it? I would say one day meditate and one day go and do something for somebody else. That would be better for you than an hour’s of meditation every day. And if you have 3 hours to meditate every day then meditate for 1 and give 2 hours to somebody else.

So let’s start to delight in service. Or get together and say ‘what can we do for others’. And when there is a few of us suddenly there’s a tremendous amount you can do. It is difficult to find ways as individuals to do things that make a difference. We can do little things, like do the shopping for your neighbour or whatever. But once you get together in groups and start pooling your creativity and your ideas instead of thinking about what can we create that the world needs, how about, what can we do for each other?

The point is it doesn’t matter how you get going, it’s about sowing the seed in your heart and turning your mind in that direction so you start thinking that way. Anyway we are beings of great resource we’ll find a way to give back once we put our hearts to it. Get your mates out. Start to do things, try being outside more, making yourself more robust physically, be intelligent about the way in which you use your consciousness, and share it, try little projects just giving wherever you can. Then the world will start to change with you, a little bit here and a little bit there. Thats how change comes about.

So don’t wait for everyone to get on the same page, just start to respond to the call in your own heart, to go out there and find out what you are truly made of.

5 Responses

  1. Russell Teesdale

    Thank you Burgs for the motivation – it is a strong reminder. Are you able to provide some insight into what is the cause of us arriving here having forgotten what it takes to get here?

  2. Anne Mears

    I have just read this blog after spending all day today helping at the Food Bank, which is in the village where I live.
    This takes care of every Monday for me and I really enjoy being able to contribute to my local community as part of a group.
    My meditation practice on these mornings is usually short and sweet and although I often resolve to sit again when I get back home quite often I prefer to just make myself a cup of tea!

  3. Andy Raingold

    Thanks Burgs, really insightful, start with the little things and build from there x

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