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.
When I was walking to work this morning, I saw this man stretched out on the grass in Stanton Park. It was drizzling, but pleasant. I did not feel any need for an umbrella. The man was definitely breathing, and he had put some cardboard on the ground before lying down. Had it been sunny and had he been lying on a bench or a spread out blanket instead of on wet grass, I would not have wondered at all whether he might need help.
Would he want “help” that would include waking him up? Would it serve to call emergency services when his lying out in the rain did not seem like an immediate matter of life or death, though did raise questions about whether the man was ok? If all calling did was trigger police waking him and telling him to move actually have made things better for him? Because I could not answer these questions and because he had made himself the pallet of cardboard–leading me to think he had chosen the spot rather than fell, I decided to leave him be. I cannot know whether that was the right thing to have done.
This debate in my head did raise questions about the conundrums of offering charity and service and whether and when we can ever serve selflessly, unclouded by our own preconceived notions of what is right and good.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
Hanuman, the monkey god, is one who reminds us to serve. When Hanuman was a kid, he was rather full of himself. That was not surprising, really, as he had wonderful and magical powers of strength and agility. When he got too audacious playing with his powers against the bigger gods, he was cursed to be able to remember his powers only when he was serving with true love and devotion. When he was serving Ram and Sita, then, the full force of his powers were available to him to help in their dilemma. (Yes, this is a rather creative summation).
Some of my strongest memories from childhood were observing my father when he was providing draft counseling for those conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. My father did not talk on the phone because it was tapped, but we heard a lot of conversations about whether to be a soldier, be a conscientious objector, find a basis for deferral, or otherwise protest or avoid the draft. Although I was raised to think that war did not serve humanity (though my parents engaged in debates about whether all wars were bad, discussing the difference between fighting against Hitler and fighting in Vietnam), I was also raised to believe strongly that we all have a duty to serve. I meet many in the military here in Washington, DC. What I find is that those who have chosen military life have a strong sense of service. Even if I do not believe in most of the basis of the service (just as I don’t hold much truck with whom Sita was expected to be and the basis of the battles in the Ramayana — more on that some other time perhaps), I respect that those who were conscripted and felt they had no alternative or those who chose to be in the military put their lives on the line to serve.
I try to think of Memorial Day as honoring those who have served and not, as I did when I was younger, dismiss it because it was more societal indoctrination to perpetuate the war machine. When Natalie and Joe Miller invited those at Willow Street to join them in service by helping to clean up part of Long Branch Creek, I signed up. I appreciated their way of making it easy both to honor peace (by helping the environment) and those who have served (by ourselves serving). We will be taking our yoga of the mat and into the world with a morning of seva— selfless service.
There is a specific sequence to the major Anusara alignment principles even though ultimately we are doing all of the alignment principles simultaneously. “Organic energy,” the action of reaching out and making offering is the fifth of the physical principles. We do not reach out until we have softened and listened (opened to grace), intentionally drawn in with nurturing, focused embrace (muscular energy), expanded with discrimination (inner or expanding spiral), and drawn in again with discrimination and awareness to concentrate the energy (contracting or outer spiral). We do, in fact, need to be aware and open, to be nurtured, and to study and expand with refinement, to enhance our ability to make offering and to serve in the most optimal way. So we take care of ourselves and draw inward as much as we reach out to keep ourselves in balance.
Once we have taken care of ourselves, though, it has been my experience that without reaching out, there is no true strength or meaning in either a yoga pose or in life. Organic energy as a physical principle is expanding from bone to muscle to skin, expanding outward from the midline, and reaching from the core to the periphery. How I experience organic energy at its most supporting is a true reaching out, an offering of the energy created and refined by the other practices.
What is the point of a self-embrace or personal enlightenment if it is not used to serve, to offer the love and wisdom cultivated by the practice? Organic energy is what changes yoga (on and off the mat) from being enjoyable “navel gazing” and being a source of power that helps us brighten and shift not only ourselves, but our relationships and all around us.