“We get tested along the path, and we are asked, ‘Are you in this for the ride, or are you in this to go as deeply as you can into the path of service and into the expression of who you could be?’” — James O’Dea, Former Executive Director, Seva Foundation
In January, we began a series of articles exploring the principles of transformation and how to apply them in everyday life to facilitate the awakening of consciousness. You’ll find those earlier articles listed in my author’s archive here.
Today’s offering is a continuation of this discussion and centers around the principle of service as a path to the awakening and expansion of one’s individual and our collective consciousness, and thus, transformation of the human experience.
There are many ways to approach this conversation, for indeed we are immersed in the concept of service nearly every moment of our lives. But not all service is offered with the intention to cause transformation.
Today we live in a service economy , where fully 85 percent of non-farm workers in the U.S. are employed in the service sector, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. This likely includes you and your job. You are either providing a direct service to the end user, aka customers, or indirectly through business-to-business relationships. Either way, chances are good that on a daily basis, you engage in the delivery, the support or the acquisition of services.
What determines whether the kind of service in which you engage the greatest part of your waking life is transformative or simply a means to an end? Is it possible to be doing an everyday, routine kind of job and create a transformative experience, or does one have to become a Mother Theresa in order to be a true servant?
Recall the last time you ate in a restaurant. What do you remember about the person who took your order? What was their name? Did they engage you beyond the perfunctory greeting and ask for the order? Did you engage them beyond giving your order or asking questions about the menu? Did you learn anything about yourself or them through the exchange? Were they just a worker doing their job and were you just a customer being fed? What kind of human beings were you with one another in the exchange?
This is the kind of routine interaction we experience often, whether or not we’re eating in a restaurant. It could be a straight-forward experience in which goods and services are provided in exchange for money and that’s it. Or the experience could be a “moment in time” when the veil between strangers is lifted and something more occurs; a human connection takes place beyond the business at hand.
Take Anika, for example, who works at one of my favorite place: The Sunnyside Café in Berkeley, Calif. She is a master server, but more importantly she is a master servant. Anika is infinitely patient with her customers, namely me and the group of 6–8 people I usually go to brunch with on Sundays after church. But Anika’s warmth is not limited to us. That’s how she is with everyone: present, connected, patient, understanding, helpful and human. Anika goes out of her way to make sure her customers are being served in a way that leaves them not only full and fed but nurtured from the inside out.
What Anika serves is not listed on the menu but is greater than any dish that is. Consider that every interaction with every single person you encounter has seeded within it the possibility of connection at this level.
You know people like this, I’m sure. You’ve had experiences with someone who came to your home to provide a service and in the process you encountered a human being so special you would have paid them twice their fee. This is what I’m calling “transformative service” or Seva, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “selfless service.”
Consider what James O’Dea, former executive director of the Seva Foundation, has to say about the subject:
“Service is not a form of moral obligation. It’s more about feeling the potential of the universe, the latent energy within the universe that is waiting to be released and expressed through you and your own unique qualities. There is no single paradigm of service. How do we truly release ourselves into the field of action?”
How Can You Serve Humanity?
You don’t need to go to India or to a third world country to make a difference. An aspect of seva is “compassion in action” — to bring a conscious awareness of compassion to your every action. A good question to ask yourself in the midst of what you’re doing is:
Who’s Doing the Doing?
You know when you’re being served in a way that leaves you with more than you paid for, in a good way. But how do you know if you’re offering the same thing in return?
If you want to know if your actions result in a difference being made for others, a good question to ask is, “What is my motivation for doing what I do?” Who are you being in this very moment?
With the people at work, with your family, your friends, with the grocery store checker or the person in front of you in the line at ATM, who are you being?
Are you going through the motions, AWOL from the experience, disconnected, cut off, caught up in your private world of worries and concerns? Or are you focused out? Are you focused on the person right there next to you or in front of you?
How’s it going for them? What do they need and how can you serve them right now?
Intention is Everything
Compassion in action or selfless service doesn’t require heroics. You don’t have to save someone from a burning building or snatch them out of the way of a speeding truck in order to serve.
A true servant is one who has answered an inner call to show up and be present to what is right before them, and who asks the question, “What can I contribute?”
Sometimes, the best way to serve is not always to say “yes.” It takes a great deal of discernment to know when saying “no” will serve a higher good. Sometimes what’s being asked is to serve another’s addiction to unworthiness or fear, and a true servant will have the courage to decline, rather than enable another’s smallness.
But intention is everything. It’s from our intention to make a difference that we engage in actions that forward the whole of humanity. Imagine if every single person engaged in just one act of compassion every day, multiplied by 7 billion — what would we be creating?
We’re all serving something all the time. The question is: What are you serving?
You’re either serving a belief based on the ego’s distorted conversation about what is true, or you’re in service to a greater truth about who you are and the nature of the universe and your place in it. What will it be?