Walk Out Your Door in Service

I serve in a pretty obvious way; I volunteer, and I’m a yoga teacher and counselor. For many years, I naively and very egotistically thought I was doing more of the “change influencing” than my husband. He is a corporate insurance broker. But lately, I’ve been reading about inspirational leadership. We are at a time in our culture where the leadership model is changing; gone are the days of rewards for Nietzsche-esque climbs to the top. Today, leaders are increasingly asked to foster work-life balance, positive corporate culture and personal growth in their teams. In many ways, managers in large corporations – when they are managing in a wholehearted way – are doing more to serve their communities than any volunteer. (1)

Yesterday, my husband came home from work pretty exhausted. When we talked about his challenges, I realized he was upset because he wanted to show more appreciation to his team. Sure, I was sad because he was sad, but on a deeper level I was joyful and proud. I realized just what an impact he can potentially have on this world by doing his job and caring for the people who work with him.

My husband has about fifteen people who work directly with him or for whom he acts as supervisor. Each of these people has a family she or he goes home to each night. Each of the people in that family then go to their workplaces, where they are on a team. If my husband’s associates go home feeling under appreciated and angry because they work for a jerk who doesn’t care about them (which unfortunately many, many people do), then the extent of that problem reaches far beyond the workplace. The families suffer. The workplaces of the family members suffer. The community as a whole will hurt because one member is unhappy.

If he can succeed in creating an environment where people feel seen, heard and appreciated, where they feel they are an essential part of a vision they have bought into, where they are challenged to do their best work (which is the primary means for building self-esteem), and where they are given freedom to enjoy their lives away from work, then just think of how far that good will spread.

In my profession, a lot of people react negatively toward corporate bosses. We have a tendency to think of what ‘those people’ are doing as greed-motivated with little to contribute to the community at large. But, even the most one-percent of the one-percent can have a ripple effect of positivity to our society.

My brother-in-law is an infectious disease doctor and an authentic Christian. My sister once told me, “When he walks out the door each morning, he is on mission.” I thought of that as something for him, given his profession and belief system, but something I could never say for my insurance-brokering husband. Man was I wrong.

Each of us can walk out the door each morning on mission. Even if you think your job is the furthest thing from a helping profession, you can make a positive impact through your work every single day. Each of us can grab our briefcase – or yoga mat and singing bowl – and walk out the door with the intention to bring meaning, respect and compassion to our workplaces. Especially if we have the dubious job of managing people, we can be the type of manager who will build a team grounded in mutual respect.

Wherever you’re going today, walk out your door in service. Think of all the lives you will influence!

(1) Brene Brown uses the word “wholehearted” to talk about authentic, passionate and compassionate living. I like that use, so I embrace it in my own speech.

Right down there in the thick of things

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Pramahansa Yoganandya recounts his journey from pupil to teacher. He often comes back to his desire to escape to the Himalayas to meditate in solitude. Each time he asked his teacher for permission, he was denied the request. Eventually, Yoganandya realizes solitude is not for him in this lifetime.

Sometimes I picture myself living in an ashram in India. I walk the banks of the Ganges and spend my whole life in dedication to prayer, service and oneness. It is a lovely image, but I have to remind myself it is not for me in this lifetime. In this life I am meant to be a wife, to earn a living, to care for a home, and to live in the madness of a major metropolitan area. It’s also a lovely image and one I’m incredibly grateful for.

As Yogananda’s teacher Mahavatar Babaji says, “What one does not trouble to find within will not be discovered by transporting the body hither and yon.”

The path to true understanding is not in a remote mountain cave; it is in the small clearing of the human heart. We are born into these human bodies in order to experience all of life – its suffering and its joy. Only by experiencing all of it can we truly find the softness in our heart we call loving kindness.

As Pema Chodron describes it:

Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. In the process of discovering bodhichitta [the awakened heart], the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom we discover water, the healing water of bodhichitta. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.

Climbing down to the healing waters.
Climbing down to the healing waters.

It is not easy. I have walked down and down for years, and I have not done it by choice, and I am many years or many lifetimes away from the end. But rarely do we choose to walk down the mountain, at least at first. Our first foray into the journey downward is typically cast on us; but those of us who are willing will learn from this, and we will choose to stay on the path, and we will find understanding, compassion and peace. It comes in little waves, but it is there. Just keep going.

Today on the mat we will work on welcoming the climb downward into stillness. Join me at Namaste Highland Park.