“I slept, and I dreamt that life was all joy.
I woke, and saw that life was but service.
I served, and discovered that service was joy.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
I used to roll my eyes at people who “only” donated to charities and, in my limited perspective then, didn’t “actually do anything” of substantial action. Although I still think that action is the optimal impact that necessitates change, I have come to understand that many people simply don’t have the time or ability to do more than donate money. That donation of monetary resources is still coming from a good place and will (hopefully) serve a purpose of addressing physical needs, improved education or sustainable development. It might look different from someone else’s service, whether religious or moralistic, but it is service nonetheless and should be acknowledged. Service looks different to everyone and is not as easily recognizable as the stereotypical views many people have.
I have gotten used to people’s shocked faces at this point when I tell them that I just finished 27 months volunteering in Namibia (after I correct them on their pronunciation of “Nambia” – thanks a lot, 45). Especially for those coming from somewhere outside of the United States, the idea of “giving up” two years of their life seems other worldly, and the longest volunteering possibility they have in their countries might be a few months. These reactions got me thinking recently about how I regard my two years of “service” – did I think of it as giving up time in my own life in order to do something for others? Did I see it as my duty? Was I fulfilling some sort of universal white guilt for having grown up without worry of what would be for dinner that evening?
“Serve out of duty until you can serve out of love – without attachment to the results.”
The more that I have been thinking about it, the more I realized that I didn’t look at it as a selfless act where I went off to “save the world”, although I would never admonish someone who chose to serve for that reason. In my months of travel, decompression and reflection (in which I have been very uncharacteristically open and vulnerable about my struggles to you, dear reader), I look back at my time in Namibia as personal and professional growth. I went to a new country where I learned a new language, new customs, new traditions and a completely different governmental structure that taught me more patience and perseverance than I ever knew there was in the world. I learned about the infinite possibilities of living a life, of having a career, of raising a family, of taking the time that you need instead of rushing to the point of exhaustion. I learned how to write proposals, how to create an entire program with the resources I had available to me (read: absolutely none) and without any donors or sponsorships. I created lasting friendships with people whose country I did not know existed before being accepted into the Peace Corps, and whom I will stay in contact with for the rest of my life. None of this came from a place of me feeling like I was giving something of myself to others, it simply came from living a new life and experiencing it to my fullest capacity.
Though the motivation for “serving” has certainly dwindled after my 2-year contact finished, I am contemplating my desire to continue a life of service. Am I willing to commit another 27 months to a different program? That would be a complete and resounding no, for many reasons not limited to monetary constraints. But what I can do, and attempt to do every day, is commit myself to acts of kindness to those around me and a treatment of respect and equality to those I encounter. To me, that is a kind of service that there needs to be more of in the world: a simple kind of service that does not take away from someone’s energy, time or money, and ultimately makes the world (if only for one person in one specific moment) a better place. Service can be living a life that you love and feel passionate about, whatever that is. I have felt sincere happiness and motivation from meeting people who are caught in a whirlwind of bliss thanks to what they have chosen to do with their lives. I think it is beautiful and meaningful to feel a purpose in life, and I do not think that purpose has to be giving to or doing for others – doing what makes you happy, being kind to those you encounter and doing as little harm to others as well as the Earth are enough, in my perspective.
“Not because you are somehow special or more deserving, but because you have within you that unstoppable impulse to share yourself with others. Someday, you will write, teach, and do other things, too, to reach out to your spiritual family, to remind them of their mission, to give the clarion call.”
All of this to say, I am thrilled with the life that I have chosen to live and continue to work on. I feel more prepared every day to return to the U.S., however briefly, to reunite with friends and family. It has been a long time since I have felt that readiness and I am eternally grateful for these last four months that have given me the space and time to process my experiences in an individual, self-caring way. I am looking forward for what is to come next and the paths that lie ahead, however unknown. Although there is a lot that I am unsure of, there is one certainty that I have – my life will be of service, and that will morph and change as I age and change. This thought brings me serenity, happiness and peace. What more is there to ask for?
“One day you will serve others not out of self-interest or guilt or social conscience, but because there’s nothing else you’d rather do.”
All quotations, aside from the beginning Tagore quote, from Dan Millman’s
Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior