Service arises naturally out of gratitude. Those who know that they are deprived of nothing have something to give. Giving it is joyful because giving it is how they know it is theirs.
When service arises in this way, the form of the gift is not the point. It may matter to the recipient, but to the giver only the action of giving matters. It could be a smile, a meal, or ten thousand dollars. The form fits the specific perception of the need, but all needs are ultimately reducible to a call for love.
Service doesn’t get hung up on the form because its true focus is on the love that underlies the form. Service is a way of loving one another in non-dramatic and maximally helpful ways, to the best of our abilities, according to the circumstances then prevailing.
Thus, when service informs our spiritual practice, whatever that might be, it is a recognition and confirmation of abundance. It is the awareness that Life provides and that no need goes forever unmet, because life is not given unequally. We all have it in equal measure. Because service arises from this knowledge, the apparent inequity that inheres in form is not a problem.
The specific need is always a cry for love. When we are clear about this, meeting the need is simple and clear.
This can become an intellectual exercise all too readily. Vigilance matters. If people are hungry, then they need a meal. They don’t need a metaphysical lecture on the illusion of the body or the illusion of needs.
When people are fleeing war or other danger zones, they need shelter and safety. They don’t need a dialogue on how true conflict resolution emerges from the dissolution of the discrete self.
When people are lonely, they need a smile or a hug. Or maybe to be taken for a walk or listened to over tea. Sometimes they need to be left alone. Service meets any and all of these needs without judgment: a smile is given with the same joy and care as leaving one to their solitude.
Service responds to the specific need, knowing that in truth all needs are cries for love, and that only love can respond to love.
Service is not about rushing into a given circumstance with our own ideas about what is needed. What is needed is clear to anyone who does not feel deprived of love. Be attentive and patient. Love is not confused; no more are you.
If we are supplying our own solution to a perceived problem, then that is a sign that we are not serving. We are not giving but taking. We are placing ourselves in the role of problem-solver, healer, hero, et cetera. Service is a natural response arising from gratefulness and attention. It doesn’t doubt itself. It isn’t born of effort and force. It doesn’t want credit because it’s already getting everything worth getting.
We are discerning between conditional helpfulness, and unconditional love. Service is the latter. If our service is a means to emphasize and glorify ourselves, however subtly, then clarification is needed. We aren’t special. Yet no suggestion is made that feeding the hungry is less effective because it makes us feel self-righteous inside. If we give a blanket to a homeless man only when the television camera is on us, the homeless man is still warmer. He still has a blanket.
The point is not to overthink things. Needs will arise and we respond. Later other needs will arise, and we will respond again. Sometimes we will need to be served. There is nothing wrong – and a lot right and just – with this.
Service is not separate from contemplation and clarification. Each informs and buttresses the other.
Who is serving? And who is being served? When service arises from gratitude, and the knowledge that everything was given to everyone equally, those are not difficult questions to answer. They answer themselves with love.