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Thoughts on Service & Spirituality

The Shinto- Buddhist philosophy on life is that all sources of good, evil, and spirituality come from within. If you read between the lines it is also true of the Judeo- Christian traditions.

… After all it is the well known Buddhist guru of the west who spoke of the way to the kingdom. ” The kingdom of heaven is within.”
The evolution of the east and west spirituality each have their own diversions. It is worth noting them as integral parts of who we are and where we’ve come in this age of east-west harmonic convergence. And we need only see inside our self for clarification. What does our heart tell us in the midst of this age of distractions? Do we affirm we live in a time of spiritual and natural reconciliation, recovery, and renewal.

Life has its choices. In my own life, in every hour of the day, I have the choice to make good decisions for myself, and to be a positive presence in other people’s lives. I have the ability to take the right intuitive spiritual path. We have the opportunity to keep the whole of our self intact and yet take a chance on giving a part of it away; sharing a part of the soul and spirit with another person (giving and risk taking).

While volunteering has been a lifetime service goal for me, in the 90s, I spent 3-5 days per week over a 6- year period volunteering at homeless shelters and soup lines. I had the good intention and idealism of good ol’ fashion American apple pie volunteerism. It was exhausting. Part of me was subconsciously competing with my siblings for my jesuitical dad’s approval (a Stockholm Syndrome-esque co-dependency). I had a sister who spent two years in Africa as a Peace Corp volunteer, a brother in the Air Force and now works for the Army, and another brother whose professional life is working to service Asian American communities at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). Tough competition. My error among many, was that I subconsciously saw it as competition. Service is never competition. If anything, it is antithetical to competition.

While I may have done some practical good servicing the needs of others through my own volunteerism (I’ve been volunteering since I can remember), my belief about doing good in the small world of which I’m a part is now more centered, more spiritually focused. After all, how really good is volunteerism of any kind without imparting the long term permanence of the spiritual food we all seek and need? At the time, despite all the volunteer service I was doing, I failed to connect with people and truly give them what they may have needed the most; what all of us need the most — spiritual food.

The physical handing out of food that I did almost robotically, had its limitations. It is the giving of food that “dies at the vine,” and unfortunately, my way of giving as I did in the 90s also died at the vine. I learned this hard spiritual lesson/experience by my own ‘re-experiencing’ the food bank in my own life as a receiver on the other side. In my own time of need, I went through food bank lines and saw the empty, blank, almost fearful stare from a number of people handing out food to people like me struggling to make ends meet. It felt dead and full of judgment. The experience of going through a soup kitchen felt dead, demeaning, humiliating. It was something I never want to do again.

It matters how I showed up (in my case how I failed to show up) so many times at various soup kitchens, drop-in centers, food banks as a young aspiring volunteer in my 20s and 30s. This is not to say I didn’t do good. It is to say that in my current healthier spiritual state today, without the drama and the big ideals and sense of ego-boosting purpose behind my charitable volunteering in my life, my volunteerism is doing just fine. I am absolutely certain I am bringing more to the table of brother/sisterhood today in my daily life walk, than I was ever capable of during my younger idealistic years of volunteerism.

So I guess the message here, to circle back to the Buddhist- Shinto message (not a “lesson”, but a “message”), is that we must be wary of where the thinking resides when “we do charitable deeds”. Do we “do our charitable deeds before others to be seen by them?” Do we do our volunteerism to self- congratulate, or to self- nurture (huge difference)? It all does have its own built-in rewards. But when we do our good, do them in secret (meaning free and independent of our ego states and self-congratulating), and the good “Lord who sees in secret, will reward us openly”. The bottom line is, can we simply give and love in our own, simple day to day lives? That has to be enough for the Lord within.

I can only only speak for and represent myself (nothing like a statement of the obvious, but it’s amazing how so many of us today try to speak for/ represent others), I must first and foremost seek the spiritual place of centered Love within, this kingdom of the Creator, and if I do so sincerely, “all things will be added” to me – the physical, emotional, the spiritual food that sustains life.

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