While the Teaching is a spiritual Teaching and connects with our inner awareness; in order for learning to be effective, it must take an action form in the world. From a spiritual perspective, what good is fancy philosophy and beautiful words, if they do not inspire us to change our behavior. The goal of the Teaching is to make better, more complete travelers, who participate in this world and help to make it better through service to others.
The following short pieces, taken from Servant of God: a book I co-wrote with another spiritual traveler help illustrate the relationship between doing something for others (service), happiness, and spiritual learning. These encounters were with Sam (pseudonym), the spiritual teacher/master.
A Perfect Cup of Coffee
Upon entering Sam’s office, it was always his custom to offer us coffee or tea. On this particular day, after Zach, Eddy and I sat down, Sam looked directly at Eddy and ordered – “make me a cup of coffee. I want the perfect cup of coffee”. Sam rarely spoke in this manner, and hardly ever ordered anything. Nervously, Eddy got up and made his way to the table and while pouring the water inquired as to how Sam liked his coffee. After Sam replied, Eddy prepared the coffee and offered it to Sam; Sam sipped it and said it needed more milk and sugar. So, Eddy went back and added some additional milk with sugar. This time, when Sam sipped the coffee, he stated – “Aah a perfect cup of coffee!”
During the entire time that Eddy was preparing the coffee, we could see that he was nervous, and relieved when Sam finally accepted the coffee as a perfect cup.
This event was not followed with any explanation by Sam. After we left the office that day, we all were excited about the meaning of this event. We couldn’t figure it out and it is only time which has given me some indication of the meaning.
Complaining About Life
Another incident which helps illustrates the point that Sam was trying to make with Eddy, occurred one day when Steve was visiting. Steve was complaining how badly life was treating him (this is something we all did from time to time) and Sam told him to make breakfast for his family on weekends. Sam told Steve to get up bright and early and make the foods which everyone in his family liked.
On a surface level – how does this exchange add up? We have someone who is complaining about their life and the prescription is to do something for someone else. Sam believed that the body thrived on activity and needed to be used in a constructive manner for physical and mental health. This was Steve’s prescription – stop worrying so much about yourself and contribute to the greater good (i.e., make breakfast).
Both Steve’s and Eddy’s story are related in that an action was prescribed for a psychological condition. (Psychological states must be stabilized before work can begin on spiritual ones). In both situations, Sam felt that the student was spending too much time thinking about himself. (This too was one of the things Eddy talked about). So, the prescription was to do something for someone else. Also, in doing something for someone else feelings of mastery occur, and activity is a healthy antidote to depression. Sam used to say – “the mind is so constructed that it can only keep one thing in it at a time”.
So, if you’re busy making the perfect cup of coffee, you can’t be worrying about yourself. … One thing at a time.
From time to time, I would fixate on something or another. One of my favorite fixations was the usefulness of the poetry I was writing. I felt that in order for it to be effective, it had to be published. In this way I could share it with the greatest number of people. Whenever I felt this urge I would type up copies, duplicate them, and send them to various publishing houses. Over the years, I did this many times – all with no success.
I would worry about it for weeks. When I would bring this matter to Sam’s attention, in a very gentle manner, he would tell me –
“Put the writing down for two months. Forget about it. The mind is so constructed that it can only think of one thing at a time. If in two months you are still interested, then pursue the matter.”
Invariably, time and distance would do their part. By consciously making the effort to direct my attention to another matter, the problem was relieved. It was not solved, but I realized there were more important things in my life, and it was a waste of energy to obsess over this matter.
As the years passed, this practical piece of guidance has been very helpful. Sometimes problems are best resolved by taking distance from them and working on something else. Also, for the most part, it is true that the mind can only think of one thing at a time. So, if you are worrying about something and have done everything you can to resolve the matter, turn your attention to something helpful to do for someone else, or, something enjoyable for yourself.
Traveler: Holy One, tell me of service.
Master: As the stars in the heavens
Give light to the darkness;
As the sun gives warmth
To the land;
As the rain quiets
The flowers thirst,
So, it is with all the Creation.
Be like the river
That waters the countryside
And gives to all the travelers.
Some will come to drink the water
And others will come to leave their waste.
Some will come to make their home
And others to learn the Secrets.
Like the river,
Let each take what he needs
And flow onward.
Traveler: What is the nature of the Service
That I must perform?
Master: Each traveler is created
With many talents
And the answer lies within.
Ask God and God will guide you
To your destiny.
If you remember God’s Name,
God will fill you with strength
And your questions
Will have answers.