The hardest thing to do is nothing. You cannot truly be of service to another person until you master the art of doing nothing. It’s easy to jump in and “provide” what you think is needed, but the world groans under the weight of good intentions – people and institutions doing what’s “best” for the poor unfortunates around them. More often than not, our good deeds miss the mark, and we wind up doing more harm than good. Our blunderings make us spiritually deaf and blind. Our failed attempts to “fix” the world make us cynical. We become jaded and, eventually, hateful.
Too often, we think we perceive a vacuum in other people, and we rush to fill it with what we think they need. This is the very opposite of nurturing. The need is there, but if we assume we know what it is, we only set the stage for disaster. One need only look at the many examples of missionary zeal throughout history to see the wreckage left in the wake of those who sought to save others. The problem lies not in the other person but in ourselves. The vacuum is in us. Saint Francis said, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood, as to understand.” Nothing needs to be added, only revealed. The best service we can offer in a storm is a safe harbor.
The truest thing that can be said about human nature is that no one receives anything unless they ask for it. Why? Because unless they ask, they are not ready to accept. Unless there’s a vacuum, nothing substantial can move to fill it. Surely, there are laws of physics at play here, but this is more easily felt than understood. The key lies in knowing that everyone already knows what they need; the answers they seek are already there inside of them. What they need is our permission to let them out. By this, I mean that instead of trying to give them something, the best thing we can do is to back off – give them room to express the hidden thing. Depressurize them, so that what is scratching at the inside of the egg can break free. But backing off does not mean leaving – you have to be there. Be there and yet do nothing. This is why doing nothing is an art.
This is where the vow of service most closely mirrors the vow of humility. Again, all of the vows seem to be subsets of the one vow. The quality of humility is preeminent in all of the world’s enduring faiths. Muslim, for instance, means “one who submits.” Mindfulness means to “just be with what is present.” Namaste means “I salute the God within you.” They all point to allowing people to be what they are. Once the energy starts moving in that direction, from the center of their being outward, all of the imbalances can begin to heal. This happens from the inside out. Nothing we can add will be of any help.
All of this can sound suspiciously like being a doormat. Being a doormat never did anyone any good. No one wants to be an enabler. But, this is where clarity comes in – the vow of purity. We will look at that next.
Related article: The Vow of Service—Deliberate Love
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