” Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”Muhammed Ali
Cheers! A Dieu! Zum Wohl! A votre sante! L’chaim!
Cheers! To God! To your wellbeing! To your health! To life!
When we “raise a glass,” we do so to celebrate friendship, love, endurance, community, and the whole catastrophe. Mostly, we do it to show support and connection. Priest and pastor Henri Nouwen explains it so well:
“When each of us can hold firm our own cup, with its many sorrows and joys, claiming it as our unique life, then too, can we lift it up for others to see and encourage them to lift up their lives as well.”
“Lifting our cup means sharing our life so we can celebrate it. This is the cup Jesus asks us to drink of.”
“When we dare to lift our cup and let our friends know what is in it, they will be encouraged to lift their cups and share with us their own anxiously hidden secrets. The greatest healing often takes place when we no longer feel isolated by our shame and guilt….”
We are told we should be helpful and serve. We do it because we know it is right and good to volunteer, and because we, our schools, and our law enforcement (yep) require it. Or we just know we “should.” But why? Teachers and spiritual masters promise fulfillment, perspective, and connection.
Serving others gets us outside of ourselves, away from our own recycled thoughts, in the same way that meditation does. It brings deeper connection to others and within our own hearts. Studies show the compassionate mechanisms and hormones in our brains grow with meditation. The more we meditate, the more heart-centered we become. Clinical trials show the same. One feeds the other. Read here about a study at Northeastern University correlating meditation and acts of compassion.
Author David Brooks writes of social character and what he calls “the two mountains” in our lives. The first mountain is success and material security. If and when we reach that peak, we often look out and say “is this it?” We want more. It is then that we begin the quest for a life of meaning and purpose, which Brooks says is ultimately found in commitment: to philosophy, faith, family, community (the list goes on). Thus follows joy, which Brooks describes as a “byproduct experienced by people who are aiming for something else. But it comes.”
Life is not necessarily a linear journey, and we can “climb” both mountains at the same time. Most of us must, so we find ways to share that generosity of spirit and to “go the extra mile” in our day jobs or amidst our householder experiences. Proverbs 11:25 says,
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
Below are two perspective-shifting stories: One by Henri Nouwen, who devoted much of his life to serving and living in community alongside those in need. The second, a video by Wayne Dyer about a woman who, once functioning on autopilot, woke up and found compassion and connection during her day job.
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From Can You Drink The Cup by Henri Nouwen:
Gordie Henry, who has Down’s syndrome, is one of the core members of the Daybreak community. Once he said to me, “What is good about our life is that you make so many friends. What is hard about our life is that so many friends leave.
With this simple observation Gordie touched the place where joy and sorrow are embracing each other. As a longtime member of Daybreak, Goride has had many assistants come to live with him. They came from various countries, sometimes for a summer, sometimes for a year, sometimes for many years. They all loved Gordie very much, and Gordie came to love them. Strong attachments and deep bonds of friendship developed.
But sooner or later, the assistants had to leave. Some got married, some returned to school, some lost their work permits, some looked for a new direction in life, and some discovered that community life wasn’t for them. Gordie, however, stayed, and felt the intense pain of the many separations.
One day Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, came to visit Daybreak. He gathered the whole community around him and said, “What question would you most like to ask me?” Thelus, one of the core members who had lived at Daybreak as long as Gordie, raised her hand and said,
“Why are people leaving all the time?” Jean understood this question was not just Thelus’ question but also Gordie’s question and the question of all long-term Daybreak members.
He gently moved closer to her and said: “You know, Thelus, that is the most important question you can ask. Because you and many others want to make Daybreak your home, where you can feel well loved and well protected. What, then, does it mean when so often someone you love, and who loves you, leaves your home, sometimes for good? Why then do you have to suffer the pain of so many departures? It may feel as if people do not really love you! Because if they love you, why would they leave you?
As he was speaking everyone looked at him very attentively. They knew this man truly understood their pain and sincerely cared for them. They wanted to hear what he had to say.
With great gentleness and compassion, Jean looked at everyone who was listening and said: “You know, your joy and your pain give you a mission. Those who came to live with you, from whom you received much and to whom you gave much, aren’t just leaving you. You are sending them back to their schools, their homes and their families, to bring some of the love they have lived with you. It’s hard. It’s painful to let them go. But when you realize that this is a mission, you will be able to send your friends to continue their journeys without losing the joy they brought you.
These simple words entered deep into our hearts because they made us look differently at what had seemed such harsh tearing apart. The cup of joy and sorrow had become the cup of salvation.”
Today’s practice: Try serving others today. See if, in giving, you do in fact receive.