This time of year is filled with delicious meals surrounded by family and friends, decorations and lights, and gift giving. Many of us get wrapped up in the cycle of wanting, giving, and expectations of happiness. I have felt this cycle take over in the years past and at the end of the holiday season, I am left with feelings of disappointment and exhaustion. Which makes me question, ‘Is this what holidays are really all about?’
I was reminded of this cycle over the Thanksgiving holiday. I watched the football game which included innumerable amounts of advertisements reminding me of the gifts I needed to buy for others, all the ‘stuff’ I wanted for myself and the pressure of how the ‘Sale ends in 17 hours!’. Although I wanted to give into these ads, grab my wallet and heading to the store I then remembered what the holidays are really about. They are centered around gratitude and selfless service. ‘Where do these fit into the usual holiday cycle?’ I pondered.
That evening, I spoke to a friend who had taken the morning of Thanksgiving Day to serve food at a local homeless shelter. This served as an answer to my question. Giving is a part of the cycle; giving without expectations of receiving. Because of her selfless service, I was reminded of a purpose greater than soothing the expectations of myself and others. The answer was simple, help others, be of service.
Helping others can take on many forms. Ram Dass, the author of Be Here Now explains ‘Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us’.
A coworker helped me understand this lesson at a deeper level recently. To complete my 200 hour yoga certification I needed to do an Asana Check-off that included demonstrating the knowledge of 39 foundational yoga poses. To do this, photographs needed to be taken of myself in each pose. As a member of the digital/ selfie generation, I did not have the equipment to take quality photographs, but a coworker did and he offered his Saturday afternoon to help me complete my training. There was no payment necessary. I was shocked. I needed the help, he had the resources and he was assisting me without asking for anything in return. As Ram Dass puts it, ‘Helping is not some special skill’. My coworker already had the skill of taking photographs, but aided me by donating his time and equipment. He heeded the call to service and went with it.
My initial thought was,‘What can I do to repay this person?’ His action sparked an idea. ‘I don’t want to pay him back,’ I thought, ‘Instead of leaving it as a transaction between two people, I want to pay it forward’. Finally, I understood what my coworker had known prior to my realization. To selflessly serve means to help someone out of compassion, not personal benefit.
‘What can I do to help others?’, I asked myself. I thought of my friend who helped feed the homeless on Thanksgiving Day and of my amazing sister who helped break the cycle of abuse and addiction by fostering a child. In the small town where I live, a homeless shelter does not exist. Fostering a child is something I don’t think I, nor my husband, is ready for. I realized that what I do as selfless service may look different than the way others selflessly serve. For me, selfless service meant teaching free yoga classes to those in my community. I had found my answer!
You may be asking yourself, ‘What can I do to selflessly serve in my community?’. There are many ways in which to answer this question.
- What do you like to do, which others like to do? Give this freely or create a way for others to join in and offer it at a discounted rate.
- What is already being done in your community which you feel you could assist with? Bake sales, fundraisers, food banks, or shelters.
- If you have the financial means to donate, find charities which benefit causes which would positively affect those in your community.
Even something as simple as allowing pedestrians to cross the street, being patient and friendly in line at the grocery store, or picking up trash as you walk down the street are ways to selflessly serve your community.
The beautiful fact is we all can serve in different ways, finding your unique way to serve is part of the fun. I hope you enjoy this holiday season by giving into giving, and selflessly serving those in your community, because that is truly what the holidays are all about.
Currently, writer Caitlin Renz, has taught four ‘Karma’ yoga classes at a local yoga studio, which is taught on a volunteer basis and asks its patrons for donations which it gives to a rotating local charity. She is also planning a bi-monthly free yoga class open to those who work with children, which will begin in January.