Are You Being Served?

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to write an article for the BodyMindLife newsletter. Topic was whatever I liked. This always stretches me, I work well by being given strict guidelines that I can then run wild within. I like to take guidelines to their limit, and push them harder than they would have thought possible. But an open ender is always a struggle for me. Fortunately, inspiration struck a couple of days after the request, and this is what I put out (edited slightly by the newsletter editor):

Are You Being Served?

by Craig New, Jasper’s Village Resort

Students of yoga texts will be well familiar with the concept of serving. Rare is the guru who can get through a chapter comfortably without touching upon it. Swami Sivananda wrote, “Feed the poor. Clothe the naked. Comfort the distressed. Remove glass pieces from the road.” (He obviously lived in Surry Hills for some time.) Sri Chinmoy advises, “A seeker knows that each time he gets an opportunity to serve, he is nearing his destination.” Tolstoy, in his grand and eloquent way, wrote, “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”

These are good and noble statements. Serving ignites a fire deep within us that we cannot light by being right, being better, or being combustible. That fire will only spark if we throw in our egos with a bit of lighter fluid and allow ourselves to forget ourselves for long enough to focus on someone else.

But how long is enough? How long can we forget ourselves in the pursuit of assisting others? Is it possible to become mesmerised by the flame of service and, like a moth spiralling helplessly in to a spitting light bulb, burn up in the heat of devotion?

These thoughts occurred to me today whilst I was serving nobody but myself. I sat in a café eating lunch, a magazine on the table in front of me. This was my first day off in weeks, and I’d been looking forward to it eagerly. It was a chance to relax, let go, and stop thinking about others for a few hours whilst revelling in the selfishness of personal time.

After a few minutes, I noticed something about my posture. One hand was curled around the fork, mechanically stabbing my food with all the fervour of a sociopath. The other was clutching the edge of the seat, knuckles white, fingers cramping. My legs were crossed at the ankles, one foot incessantly tap, tap, tapping on the floor. My torso lunged into the table as if bracing against a strong and howling wind, my back locked and neck tight. I read many sentences two or three times, constantly distracted by the conversations around me, the layout of the menu, and the shadows flickering past the window outside.

It turns out my relaxation time was as calming as a root canal.

In scientific fashion, I studied this behaviour silently. What was I afraid of in letting go? Was I worried that the concentrated release of all my muscles would lead to a bowel evacuation or weeping session? Was I fearful that the slightest slip in posture would cause all those yoga practices to be null and void, curving my spine into a never-to-be-straightened pretzel? Was I simply ill at ease in the anti-yoga practice of, to some degree, not being? I attempted to let go and couldn’t. Then I hunched back, put down my fork, and uncrossed my legs. I gingerly let go my death grip on the chair. And you know, I almost did feel like weeping.

I once heard a story about a man who was sucked from an airplane when the door blew out and held onto a rail until landing. They had to prise his fingers off with a crowbar once he was out of danger. That’s how I felt in letting go, as if to do so would be to fall from some great and noble height.

But what does this have to do with serving? Sometimes we can get so caught up in the concept of being there for others and being the one who always says yes, that we can forget we need support just as much as anybody else. And while it is indeed a beautiful, wonderful, and basically good thing to serve others, even Tolstoy’s greater humanity, we can only do this to our full potential if we allow a little time to serve ourselves.

So try letting go. The drop isn’t as far as it looks.

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