Years ago, I did a brief stint in film school. One of the projects was a short documentary. My subject was a personal one, I was on a search for wisdom from my elders. I was interested in getting to the core of what really matters in life from the perspective of those who had been living this life for longer than me.
I interviewed three women, each at a different decade of life from 50 to 70 years old. While each women had her own unique insight, there was one quote that has stuck with me. The woman in her 60’s at the end of her interview said what she has learned to be the most important lesson for life: “Love, love, love and to be of service.” And that quote has stayed with me ever since.
I don’t know about you, but I love our world. And I also feel very worried about it. There are times when I just want to bury my head in the sand hearing about all the different ways global warming is rapidly affecting the earth. Or when I listen or read stories about injustice, genocide, murder, bullying, and so forth; I feel my tender heart about to burst and crumble under the weight of it all.
As a result, I spend a lot of time wondering how to reconcile all of it. How do I make sense of the balance between beauty and heartache? How do I hold the knowledge in my heart of such a wide variety of suffering in the world? How do I overcome feeling helpless to make any sort of impact?
I come back to that simple sentence: Love, love, love and be of service.
I have been known to be fond of dramatics from time to time. And when the weight of the world rests heavily on my shoulders, drastic time calls for drastic measures. Many a time I have thrown my hands in the air and said, “That’s it! We are moving to Nepal and working at an orphanage!”, or “We are giving away everything and living off the land!”, or my favorite, “Screw the world and everyone in it, let’s get drunk!”
While those might actually not be bad ideas for some people (except maybe that last one), for me at this time in my life, not the right decisions. So what to do?
Love, love, love, and be of service
We have choices. Everyday we make endless decisions, large and small, conscious and unconscious. In my life, I have made a conscious decision to choose love and find ways to be of service as much as I can. It is not practical for me to do something large and grand like flying off to some far flung part of the world to help others and really, is that even always the right answer when there is so much that needs work here in our own communities. (Watch this funny video that so aptly illustrates the desire to ‘do good’ in foreign places along with our western privileged assumptions of helping… which is a whole other discussion! But the video is funny and great.)
So for me I start my day with the intention to look for ways to be of service. This sometimes looks like buying flowers at the grocery store and handing them to a stranger when I walk out, letting someone go ahead of me in line, finding compassion for the person who cut me off, make eye contact and smile at the person behind the counter, the possibilities are endless. It really is interesting to look around me with the intention to be of service in any given moment, any situation and see my perspective of the world around me shift. This has become even more meaningful as I spend much of my days with my son, I am motivated to model this love and service so that I am raising a little love warrior.
While most of the time it doesn’t seem to amount to much- am I really stopping global warming? Am I really helping the suffering in the world? I know that I am at least adding to the good in the world. And while part of me feels trite even just writing that, I don’t mean it in a simplistic or abstract new-agey way. If we can be mindful in our everyday decisions in life to choose love, you are at least choosing love. That is a lot better than the other option.
The emotions of love and hate hold a lot of weight. They each carry their own echos out into the world, strong enough for others to respond to, whether we are aware of it or not. Some of the most potent reminders of this are the stories about survivors horrific situations such as abuse, genocide, the Holocaust; whom no one would blame if they stayed angry and bitter, yet who have chosen forgiveness. For me, these are examples that cut straight to my heart. Even out of the harshest circumstances we have the capacity to choose love. And when we choose to forgive, which is another way of choosing love, the effect of that choice ripples out into the world in such profound ways.
How in your everyday can you choose love? What ways large or small can you be of service? I would love to hear your stories…