Most of us have a desire to help other people in some capacity or another. The challenge that many of us face is learning how to find some sort of balance between meeting the needs of other people, while not neglecting our own needs. When we say yes too often to requests of our time and energy, we may find that we’ve over-committed and that we are unable to do anything well. It’s important to look at the motivations behind our desire to help. Perhaps we value achievement and have a tendency to take on too much at any given time. Maybe we have a deep need to please people, to be liked, or to be appreciated for what we do. Or maybe we have a fear of what will happen if we say no. I’ve experienced most of these motivations at some time or another.
No matter what our motivations for serving are today, what if we ground our desire to serve in love and compassion? When we serve and give in love, we cast our eyes on meeting the needs of other people, AND we make sure that we have the capacity to do the giving. Serving in love shifts our perspective away from our need to please the other person to a desire to help the other person from the goodness of our heart. We commit only to what is ours to do and what we have enough time and energy to follow through on.
We are honest about our limitations in fulfilling the need and when we are unable to help, we verbalize this with kindness and compassion. If possible, we might offer to help at a later time, or in a different way than they requested. If, however, we know that we are not the right person to help for any reason, we say “no” with love. Serving from the heart removes the discomfort and eliminates the feeling that we should help just because they asked and creates a better situation for everyone involved.
We spend much of our life trying to force everything into discrete categories. Am I an introvert or an extrovert? Do I want to be successful at work or do I want to be satisfied at home? Do I focus on my self-care needs, or do I give unselfishly to others? Do I follow the rules or break them? Am I living in fear or acting in courage?
In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote that the dualistic mind compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns, cancels out contrary evidence, and crucifies with impunity. With comparison comes judgment and condemnation naturally follows. Dualistic thinking leads to a decision that one thing is good and the other is bad. Rather than seeing the whole picture, we see only a part of the story - that which affirms our view of the world and the story we have told. Forcing discrete choices with dualistic thinking is not helpful in most of life’s situations and may create turmoil in our relationships.
Non-dualistic thinking, on the other hand, involves wholeness. We move away from either-or in favor of both-and.
Non-duality is incredibly important when we are in times of change or deep personal growth. Real, lasting behavior change takes time; it does not happen overnight or over the course of a few weeks. When we get trapped into non-dualistic thinking, we see ourselves only as passing or failing, changing or not changing. In reality, sometimes we are going to be the person we want to be and act the way we want to act, and other times, we are not. We’re going to slip. We’re going to take two or ten steps backward. We are going to make mistakes.
But failing does not make us a failure. We are imperfect human beings, who throughout the day are subjected to any number of external situations and environmental issues that impact our behavior and the choices we make. As we learn to practice present moment awareness, we’ll notice more quickly when we are getting off track so we can try again. Rather than scoring ourselves pass or fail, we see that we are doing the best we can given the situation and grade ourselves an “A” for our best effort.
In A Course in Miracles, we are encouraged to look lovingly upon the present, for it holds the only things that are forever true. Focusing on the past, we experience anger, sadness, or regret. Focusing on the future, we experience anxiety, stress, or fear. It is only by focusing on the moment that is available to us now that we can fully experience joy, love, and peace.
Our past is important - it’s gotten us here. We need to know where we’ve been and what we’ve learned so we don’t repeat our mistakes. We also need to look ahead; we need to feel the motivational pull of our big visions, dreams, intentions and goals.
But when we are overly preoccupied with what has happened or what will happen, we miss what is happening now. So, yes! Pursue your dreams and create meaningful intentions and goals. Just remember that life is a journey, not a destination. As you hurry through each moment to get to the next one, don’t miss the beauty of what is unfolding around you right now.
A common definition of compassion is having a desire to help someone who is suffering, which includes pain, distress, and hardship. We all experience suffering at some point in our lives. When people are hurting on the inside, we may see it in their behavior. When we encounter an “unloving” or “unkind” person, our natural impulse may be to respond in kind. But if we see them as someone who is suffering in some way and we feel moved by their pain, a natural desire to help emerges. Choose to extend them compassion and love instead of adding to their suffering. The people who act the most unloving may be the ones who most need to receive love.
Transforming our relationships begins with us. Through compassion, we are practicing presence, acceptance and forgiveness and we leave people feeling noticed, accepted, and embraced. This is where the miracle occurs. As we extend compassion to others, we may notice a shift within ourselves; we may feel more connected, more loving, and more joyful. Another miracle occurs. Our offerings of grace, love, and kindness may be mighty or they may be small. But even the smallest offerings can have a big impact on the people in our lives, and we may never know how our small acts of caring changes the trajectory of someone’s day.
What small offering can you make today to help another feel loved?
Usually when we think of abundance, we think of it in terms of having more than enough money or wealth, a bigger house, or a better car. Or perhaps we think of it in terms of having plenty of time to get everything done each day.
What if we broaden the definition of abundance beyond financial or material matters? What if we used the term to describe how much love, peace and joy we experience?
When we are running low on love, peace, and joy, we sense an inner lack or emptiness and we attempt to fill it from outside.
So we put limits on our love, because we are afraid if we share it, we are giving it up. We tell ourselves that there isn't enough to go around so we guard it carefully. We only extend it if we are going to get it back, or if we have already received it from another.
When instead we experience an abundance of love, we see that it is limitless and we realize we can share it freely - there is more than enough to go around.
We don't allow ourselves to be happy, because we think we don't deserve it. And if we don't deserve it, we surely don't have the capacity to offer it up to ourselves. We aren't really sure what even has the capacity to make us happy, so when we go searching for it outside, our quests leave us unfulfilled.
When instead we experience an abundance of joy, right now, we see that in fact we do deserve to be happy and that true happiness comes from within. We stop seeking approval or validation from others - not because we don't care what they think, but because we know ourselves well enough to know what we need. We trust ourselves enough to follow our own heart.
We long for peace, but through our daily actions, we choose sadness, anger, and fear instead. We make up stories about why people do the things they do to us (That driver cut me off on purpose! My doctor is always making me wait for my appointments. My child never listens - she really knows how to push my buttons!). We don't stop to consider the alternatives (The driver didn't see me there because I was in his blind spot. My doctor is very thorough and always wants to make sure he answers all of his patients' questions. I'm not listening to my daughter and what she really needs).
When we instead experience an abundance of peace, we choose it now and always; we don't let petty annoyances or frustrations ruin our day. We stay open to possibilities about why things are unfolding as they are. We stop seeing the other as the enemy who is out to get us. We pause, we breathe, and we inquire so we can better understand and see the real truth of the situation.
There are no limits to how much love, peace, and joy we can feel any given day. That which we long for is in abundant supply within us, right now and always.
This has been my journey. To stop searching for love, peace, and joy outside of myself. To see that they are already here, right now. I'm not perfect. It's not always easy. Emotional reactions happen quickly and I've got 40-some years worth of unlearning to do. But I'm tired of holding myself back. So I'm allowing small miracles to happen every day. Each time I choose love over fear, joy over misery, and peace over stress, anxiety or anger, I get one step closer to living a truly abundant life.