This post is a continuation of My MLK Weekend Life Purpose Reflection: pt. 1
Those fears that preoccupy your mind? That’s what to work with. Lunar eclipses are caused by a shadow cast on the moon. We have all kinds of expressions about shadows, usually with less than positive connotations. Things that cast shadows are colloquially casting doubt, shame, fear anxiety, obsession… all things our survival instinct and most of society wants to sweep away. In the case of eclipses then, as a set of symbols, eclipses signify the shadows cast on our mind (lunar) or our authority and confidence (solar). In my case, this shadow is very heavily about service to others.
Part of why I spent so much time last week reflecting on this, and why I’m taking more time to write about it now, is that this didn’t make any sense to me when I was first introduced to the notion. At least part of this, I think, was me losing self-awareness about what I think service actually means.
Prior to 2009, you wouldn’t have found me talking about service much at all. As part of my role as vice-president in my college co-ed fraternity, I had to organize community service programming to stay in compliance with Greek life requirements. I always viewed this as a to-do list, checkbox kind of chore, and usually met the requirement somewhat begrudgingly, either through some kind of donation, or once I recall taking one or two frat-mates to do some kind of LGBTQIA awareness programming in a neighborhood school. This was deeply uninspired stuff. I interviewed, mostly unsuccessfully, with TFA as I was finishing up undergrad. This was 2008, and the prospect of being pushed into the corporate world was even more uninspiring than giving my time up to benefit others, even though I knew nothing about teaching or education as a practice or profession. While I failed the final TFA interview (good call), it came that time and time again, the only types of jobs I could find that seemed mentally stimulating and didn’t make me want to scream were a variety of position descriptions through AmeriCorps for various service programs.
My life has been immeasurably changed by engaging with service as a profession, and this is also why I think I’ve come to take the idea for granted. I sit down to work in the morning thinking about meetings and data and reports, and if asked what the goal is I’ll say it’s to help identify how we can best implement our services to schools and students. The word service will be in there, but really it’s a proxy for product. This is difficult because in this mechanistic, business oriented approach, we lose track of the core question. How do each of our service members deliver the best service possible, not just implement the product most effectively.
Karma yoga (another topic I’m not an expert in) is a practice of worldly action as prayer. This is deeply simplistic, and probably a little inaccurate, but cuts most quickly to the heart of how I’ve understood it. Walking the dog kindly, with intention, with love of creation in your heart and mind isn’t for the dog or for you. It all rolls right back to the Consciousness that holds everything in its awareness. If you’re especially mindful, you may even lose the sense of ‘other’ between you and who or what you’re serving. You may even start to remember that your feeling of difference is a mental comfort to help you operate in the world – a vulnerable creature with needs who remembers the fear of survival in its reptilian brain will fall into peril if you don’t stay focused on protecting yourself at all times. Like many things though, it’s not an either or situation.
We infuse this kind of thought into our values, often borrowed from non-Western cultures who identify much more readily that communities, not people survive. Traditions and cultures outlive the communities themselves. We see in natural law the patterns of aggregation, convergence, and microcosms. This is most often visualized in fractals like that above, but fractals occur throughout nature and society. Being of service is acknowledging being lost in the middle, but as your one-ness is lost in your giving to others, you momentarily get a sense of aggregation and convergence and your experience as a microcosm. The idea of polishing the mirror comes to me again here as I remember it from Ram Dass’ Paths to God, where each of these moments of real connection, however fleeting, removes a little bit more of the dirt and dust that keeps you from seeing yourself as you really are. Conversely, these moments where you reinforce individualization, separation, and oneness fog it back up again. Thinking of Ram Dass makes me think I’d better leave it to him to close this out.