I recently spent two months at an ashram in British Columbia, a life-changing experience where I practiced karma yoga, but also rediscovered my love for mantra, prayer, bhakti yoga, and met incredible people who have given me the courage to continue on my path.
When I arrived I was struggling with how I should do some good in the world. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do a bunch of volunteer work or donate all my money. I was searching for my way to serve, and had only a very narrow idea of service to build from. Because that idea didn’t feel right at this moment in my life, I’d feel stuck, then guilty I wasn’t doing enough, then I’d try to motivate myself to serve again – it was an increasingly frustrating cycle.
So in one of our workshops when we were asked to bring forward a concern, I asked:
How can I best help or show compassion to others?
To clear our minds, we chanted for a few minutes to Shiva (Om Namah Shivaya) and an answer formed itself in my mind, the mantra acting as a lens so I could focus on it:
Be humble, dedicate everything you do to Me, and be an example for others. Don’t be scared, I’m with you.
This answer came so insistently from my Internal Teacher I couldn’t ignore it. So let’s break this down.
Be humble – I’m not going to change the world. I am one tiny person. Chances are, no matter how much pressure I put on myself, I am not going to cure cancer, save the rainforest, or stop cruelty to animals in this lifetime. I can give my support and a little of my resources to these causes, but I don’t have to be up to my elbows in them all the time. It doesn’t hinge on me. Humility has kind of a bad rep these days in our hyper-competitive world, but to me it’s become very closely related to freedom. I don’t have to carry the world on my back: it’s not my job to save everyone, and I’m not capable of it anyway. It’s a relief, not an insult. God has given me my own tiny part to play and the rest I don’t have to take on. I can be concerned, I can be compassionate, I can be filled with indignation about what’s happening in the world, but I don’t need to bully myself into thinking I need to solve it all. My small contribution of light is enough. My presence is enough.
Dedicate everything you do to Me – When I act with the intention of serving Spirit instead of myself, I surrender the results. If my motivation is getting the paycheque, or the dream partner, or the vacation, I try to control the process. Instead, I strive to allow it to be. And so it unfolds with far less effort and suffering, and less stress for myself and those around me. When my actions are in service to the Divine, I hold them loosely, knowing they aren’t mine, and I’m better able to release them when the time comes. I trust that whatever happens is for my Highest Good.
Be an example for others – To me this means implementing my beliefs, showing outwardly what I’ve learnt through my practice. It’s trying every day for kindness, understanding, patience, all the things I value. It has so much more power than I give it credit for. I know in my life where a kind word has been a catalyst that took me down a different road, gave me faith in myself, or showed me a new perspective, but I discount my own power to do that for others. My ego likes to tell me it’s not enough, I’m not enough. But we are enough. We always have been. And there’s nothing we can ever do to lose that.
Don’t be scared, I’m with you – I’m not alone in anything I do. I am supported beyond what I can conceive, even when it doesn’t feel like it. God and fear can’t coexist in the same moment, because God is love. And love is the opposite of fear. Every time I am lost in fear (about a thousand times a day), the universe is patiently waiting for me to realize my unity with it again.
So for now I’m trying to stop pressuring myself to save the world, and just surrendering all my ideas of what I think I should be doing. Give it all away, so I’m hopefully left only with love, so whatever I do is putting light into my little corner of the world. It might be helping my mum with the groceries, it might be encouraging a friend through a rough day, or perhaps it might be through poems, love, and prayer.