6) Do good deeds & save the world. This was traditionally called karma yoga. But most people who practice it do so from the wrong understanding and get nowhere with it, in terms of their own awakening. Typically, karma yoga is practiced from the point of view of ‘what can I do?’ Every action is taken based on ‘what can I do?’ and so every action reinforces the position that it was generated from, which has ‘I’ at the center of it. ‘What can I do?’ is centered on the ‘I’. True karma yoga asks, “What needs to be done?” Notice that there is no ‘I’ here at all. One has already surrendered the ‘I’ for the sake of the larger need. This kind of karma yoga becomes a practice of ‘not-I’ and develops the sense of not-I. Done long enough with enough sincerity, the sense of not-I will keep going deeper until it becomes the living reality in the core of that being.
– Ric Weinman in The Nature of Awakening Part 2
We are always in service to something.
Sometimes, it’s beliefs, identifications, and unquestioned/unloved fears.
Sometimes, it’s love, life, and reality.
And often, it’s a combination.
It will also change over time. In my late teens and twenties, I lived a life of service to community and ecosystems. My circle of concern was my community, all life, and Earth as a whole. Then, during the dark night phase, my circle of concern got much smaller. I lived in service of this one life, mostly just trying to survive from day to day. This was a period of quite serious health problems, and a great deal of unprocessed material surfacing, so it made sense to focus on myself during this phase. (Not that I really had a choice.) Now, my circle is gradually expanding again, while including myself more than I did in my twenties.
Not surprisingly, for me too there has been – and is – a mix of being in service to life and identifications.
Being in service to life can look many different ways. Sometimes, it means caring for myself and those close to me. Other times, it means focusing on the wider social and ecological circles.
Even being in service to identifications is, in a way, being in service to life. It’s love. Worried love, in service to life in the way it best knows how. It’s how service to life looks when filtered through unquestioned and unloved fears and identifications.
As I become more aware of this, service to life can include meeting these fears and identifications with presence, love, and curiosity.
However we live, we live in service of life, since it’s life living itself. And we can live more consciously and intentionally in service of life. We can meet our own fears, beliefs and identifications with love and curiosity. We can, as best as we can, live a life that’s in support of the wider social and ecological systems, and future generations.
I watched The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies last night.
After Laketown has been laid waste by Smaug, there is a scene where Alfrid crawls onto shore among hundreds of other exiled Laketown residents. They are all in the same situation, and yet Alfrid says why me?
It’s not very subtle, but it’s a good illustration of what many of us sometimes does, including me.
We experience what’s universally human. What millions or billions of people have experienced before us, and what billions may experience after us. And yet, we feel we have been singled out. Somehow, life is especially unfair to me.
There are several reasons for this experience.
One is that most people show the lighter and more glossy side of their life to others, even without intending it. Most of us dress nicely, put on a smile, and are selective with whom we share the most difficult things in our lives. So it’s easy to see the lives of others as easier and better than our own, especially since we are – sometimes painfully – aware of the disappointments and challenges in our own life. As Steven Furtick said, the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.
Also, since there is identification as a self, including as one or more deficient selves, this self is naturally in the center of our awareness. We overlook or “forget” that others experience many or all of the same things as we do. My life is not necessarily more difficult than that of most others, even if it can seem that way at times.
What is the remedy?
One is to share these things with others, which allows them to share with us. We get to see that our experience is not unique.
Another is to find gratitude for it all, perhaps through an all-inclusive gratitude practice.
We can inquire into identifications and beliefs. And perhaps do ho’oponopono, or tonglen, or loving kindness practice.
We can also pray or ask for these experiences to help us find compassion, humility, gratitude, and a life of service.
And we can live a life of service. Knowing that others experience this too, we can dedicate our life to serve life. This can look like a very ordinary life. And yet it can make a big difference, for ourselves and others.
Any practice has elements of inquiry, devotion, integrity and service.
It can be an expression of love for reality (God, Buddha Mind). It can be an expression of curiosity: what happens if…? It can be an expression of integrity, a sincere intention to live more aligned with reality. And it can be an expression of service, of realigning this human life so it better can be of service to the larger whole.
So there is fertile ground for exploration here. Any of those four is a practice in itself, and it includes elements of each of the other ones. What is the devotion component of inquiry? What is the integrity component of service? What is the service component of devotion? What do I find in my own experience?
As with anything else here, this is basic and almost childishly simple… which most important things are. And it is what I need to explore it seems.
Some pointers for relating to the path that I find useful…