Over the past couple of decades I have been involved in many service activities both within my home country and around the world. What this has taught me is that my connection to divinity is most pronounced when engaging in service to others. In fact, it is in providing “Extra Communal”, (service beyond my spiritual community) that I have been most touched by the Goddess. Such service is very rewarding and also fraught with lesions and risks.
How do I engage in spiritually motivated service and not enter into the cesspool of other religiously motivated actions that have caused so much destruction around the world? Over the years I have developed an internal list of guidelines for engaging in service:
People Before Religion:
First and fore most is the idea that divinity in all its’ forms exist in all communities. True assistance springs not from ones religious beliefs but from a shared sense of humanity that reinforces unity in purpose. In each single act of kindness there is divinity. Putting those acts within the context of a single belief system is counterproductive…
Service Before Self
Over the years I have engaged in many actions. It is always tempting to offer up my skills as a means to further the goals of any particular service action. Such efforts would in most cases just bring debate to a table where we need to serve up relief, food, shelter, and education. Setting aside ones own ego in service is possibly the most important first step in providing real service that transcends our own needs.
Compassion Before Planning
Often the immediate nature of the need overwhelms the service provider and creates ill-conceived actions. Taking the time to talk to those you will be serving, understand their dreams and goals and engage their ideas is a critical component in developing effective service actions. If you cannot stir a sense of empathy in your own heart the time for effective service has yet to arrive.
Individuals Before Policies
This principle ensures that actions meet the needs of the served community and the ability of the service providers. Too often organizations manifest rules and guidelines that are well intended but limit the organizations potential to evolve into serving the needs of a community.
Sustainability Before Success
If you build a school and do not provide for long term teacher salaries the net result is raising community expectations and disappointing those who dream of their children receiving an education. If you build a water system for a community and do not fore see the influx of residents that such a system creates, raised property values, increased water use and power struggles over control of the water can invalidate the value of your actions. Plan first for the end result not the grand opening, whether it be shelter, food, trash collection or environmental action.
Culture Before Change
The history of westerners bringing “progress” to the third world is littered with examples of cultural genocide. These lesions’ can also be applied to local service projects. What are the culture norms in the community you wish to serve? Will your service support the norms or create a situation where in order to benefit from your service those served will have to forgo their cultural beliefs or customs? Important questions.
What is your experience of Service as a Spiritual Path?