love. serve. realize.

Collective action serves the whole in three spiritual communities

ian sullivan cant

Excerpt from original article:

Selfless service is an age-old practice in spiritual traditions around the world — the idea being that we need to get out of the small universe of our own thoughts and motivations to come to an eventual understanding that we are one. Service comes in many forms — sometimes deeply practical, sometimes having nothing at all to do with the outcome of the task being performed. But always, there is a deeper result of the work, a heartfelt sense of having contributed not to our own gain but to something more eternal. It is taking action toward interconnectedness, and at the same time experiencing the union we already have.

Whether it’s called karma yoga or bodhisattva activity or God’s work, selfless service is needed to dissolve what Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh described as “the cancer of individuality.” If we surrender to the humility and willingness of service, the heart broadens and expands and becomes more generous in its priorities, embracing the struggles and imperfections inside us and all around. The gift of non-attachment emerges as we taste the sweetness of sharing effort.

It may be hard to believe that all this can come of the simple act of making an offering. Growing up, I didn’t know how much I could receive from giving, so I didn’t listen for opportunities to offer my love and attention. When I began volunteering at the age of nineteen, I experienced an unexpected heart opening — it was a way of expressing how much I care about the world and how deeply I want to honour the people around me. My heart was free in these moments of pure giving. An unshakeable contentment would rise in me like some kind of dormant sap, and I felt more assured about the nature of things.

Despite this experience, it took me years more to realize that a self-serving approach wouldn’t help me to find any greater contentment. In fact, my healing really started when I set aside four months of my life to serve a spiritual community that I care deeply about. I sacrificed my sense of self-importance and worked toward the good of the community. I was not gaining from my work for them, other than experiencing gladness at having the opportunity to give to something beyond myself. It was a relief and a revelation. My heart gained peace and confidence about my true purpose.

Inspired by the experience of being part of an intentional community that’s focused on work as a spiritual tool, I sought out three different communities across Canada who are also living this reality. While their spiritual traditions are different, their message is the same: If we want to experience union, we have to get out of our own way by offering what we already have.

Featured communities in full length article: yasodhara ashram, l’arche canada and gampo abbey.

Luna Allison is a spoken word poet and journalist living in Ottawa. She’s happy to have had the chance to interview such wise and wonderful people about one of her favourite topics: service.

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