When we think about ‘being of service,’ we typically go to the bigger, macro versions. Like saving whales, feeding the poor or working to protect rainforests. But I’ve been trying something of late that works on a much more micro level.
It’s about actively and consciously trying to be of service in everyday situations. And I don’t just mean micro, micro things like waving someone into your lane who’s trying to get over or helping someone pick up the groceries they just dropped in the parking lot.
I’m talking about things like dinner parties, family gatherings, business meetings and the like. Let’s take an example.
I play a lot of tennis. This past weekend I played doubles with some friends, one of whom got as high as world #18 in doubles and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. And this guy still takes his tennis really seriously even though he’s in his late 50s.
These matches with him can get intense, to the point of becoming uncomfortable. I used to come to these matches all fired up to play well and “kick ass.”
But I’ve changed my attitude of late. I don’t walk on to the court all psyched up to play well and win. Now all I do is come with one intention: To be of service to this particular group.
Keeping the peace on the court
How does that manifest in a doubles match? Keeping things light. Joking around. Not getting bent out of shape if I think somebody made a bad line call. Complimenting the other players when they hit good shots. Another way of describing it is I’m simply trying to bring a good ‘vibe’ to the group.
Of course, I try hard and play as well as I can. But that’s not my primary intention now.
I’ve also been doing this with dinner parties, heading out to dinner, watching my son’s lacrosse games with other parents…anything where I’m in some smallish group.
Set your intention before heading out
The game plan is always the same: Make a conscious intention before heading out to be of service. What that typically means is placing my wants/desires/preferences behind those of others.
If people are debating where to go to dinner, I say anything is fine with me. Flexibility is a big part of it, something that wasn’t in my repertoire for most of my life.
Really listen to people
And while at the dinner, instead of listening to your ego’s desire to let everybody at the table know how brilliant your views are on the war in Ukraine, you step back and listen. Not phony listening. Real listening where that other person feels heard by you.
If I was reading this, I might find this whole thing sanctimonious. “Gee, what a great guy. He sacrifices his wants for everybody else’s. What a selfless saint…Gimme a break. BARF!!!”
I’m about people feeling better not becoming saints
But hear me out. As I’ve written many times before, the thrust of my writing is aimed at helping people feel better. And happier. My intention is not to turn my readers into saints.
A lot of the advice I give will have the effect of making people better. Getting quiet inside through meditation and mindfulness has that effect on most people. But again, my main objective is to help people feel better in life.
Being of service will make you FEEL better
And that’s the case with this sanctimonious-sounding spiritual exercise of ‘being of service.’ How? I am certain that you will feel better going into those dinners, doubles matches and anything else if you come at them from a place of selfless service.
Think of going out to dinner with a group. For most people, me included, the intention we set is usually ‘What can I get out of tonight’s dinner? Well, we better go somewhere I like. If I hate the food, that’ll suck. And the people better be fun to be around or why not just stay home and order in?”
If you go into that evening with the intention of serving, you might get all of those things — good food, fun with others, etc. But at the very least, you’ll feel good because the entire evening wasn’t about satisfying your ego’s wants. I’m telling you, that feels good.
Another way of looking at this is to set the intention of presence. You’re not stuck in your mind constantly asking, “What do I want now? What do I want now? What do I want now?” You’re taking in each moment and serving it as best as you can.
So here’s my proposition: Try this once. Pick some event where you’ll be with friends, family or even business associates and go into it with the singular intention of being of service to that group.
And when your ego inevitably tries to intervene — “Wait, I don’t want to do a huge sushi share plate; I want my own, separate meal!” — just ignore it and say, “Great, let’s do that.” Listen to others and be present with them.
Just try it once. I don’t like to make guarantees, but I’m confident that those who try this will love it.
Finally, some of you might be thinking, “Why only be of service at dinners and meetings, etc.? Why not be of service all the time? In everything we do?” Well, that’s precisely what people like Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle and Mickey Singer teach.
But let’s start with small bites…