This evening I went for the first time into the Anderson House of the Society for the Cincinnati. I was attending an event for supporters of Casey Trees, one of my favorite local charities, which is devoted to protecting and expanding DC’s tree canopy.
I give because I believe it is an important part of a living practice (dana–charitable giving is a companion to seva–volunteer service). Getting to discover this garden was an unexpected delight, but not the goal.
How is it possible to feel lonely when the morning sun shines bright on lush gardens? What do we do, if we know we’re one of the lucky ones compared to most, and yet still feel some absence?
I find doing something for someone else (where both needed and welcomed or else it is not seva) helps remind me of my own presence.
This morning, a friend suggested that if he took into account the needs of others when making plans, all he would be doing is serving others, and he would never get to do what he wants. “Why would I want to do that?” he asked.
I think that’s a common enough question in this society. By uncanny coincidence, the teabag I selected right after the question was posed suggested a possible answer.
As we are taught by the stories of the monkey deity Hanuman, whose main characteristic is a longing for devotion that he demonstrates (while still being utterly himself) through service (seva) cultivating mindful relationship is the highest service to our own self and not just to those with whom we are in relationship.
To take care of our selves can be done with consideration of others without sacrificing our own needs. The answer, I think, is in how we assess and balance our own needs. For me, when I consider the impact of my planning on others with whom I am in relationship as well as my own needs, for example, of freedom, autonomy, and personal delight, I am also considering my needs for companionship, mutuality, connection, and respect. If I completely privilege the former, I may be neglecting the latter and vice versa.