For over 15 years I have lived to serve others. I have served my community in Natural Therapies as a practitioner a teacher and a mentor to enquiring minds. I have served as a Yoga teacher and educator working towards empowerment for the individual on a community level. I have served my family as a wife and mother of three young children. Most of my adult life has been spent in the service of others.
For the people who are called to serve others there is a great deal of self worth wrapped up in this process. There is instant gratification in the work that we do – we know that on a daily basis we have changed even if it is just in a small measure the lives of those we serve for the better.
I often get asked ‘how do you do it all?’ How do I run a household, run a successful small business, see clients, teach Yoga, run workshops, make Malas, and facilitate retreats??? The answer is in finding balance. Some days it all comes crashing down, some days I epically fail and you know what - it's ok to drop the ball form time to time. No one has died on my watch, my children are thriving and for all intents and purposes we are ‘succeeding’ at life or whatever that means in the modern world.
Part of the ability to find balance it also the ability to wear many hats, to walk away from toxic situations that no longer serve you, be authentic and assertive in your interactions with others and most importantly be able to remain empathetic to the needs of those around you, maintain distance and not drop into sympathy. We will talk about these in further detail but its critical to acknowledge that balance, peace and empowerment are learnt and desired skills. Not everyone was born knowing how to access these aspects of themselves but everyone can learn to cultivate a deeper understanding and a useful tool kit of these qualities to lead a life that is both rewarding, joyful and vibrant.
Beginning your life of service..
But what does it really mean… ‘To serve’? Are we talking about a modern form of self-induced slavery? Are we talking about a life so heavily sacrificed that it was a life not fully lived? Are we assuming that a life of service is something less than a full life? These are all of the questions and more that I am going to address here and for the most part some of these can be very true in their assumptions particularly for those of us who serve without awareness of self and are leading an unbalanced and un- empowered life not of service but in service.
To be clear, when I say life of Service I am actually talking about any vocation that calls you to serve others. Whilst I am calling on my experiences as a practitioner, teacher, mentor and mother this skill set is highly transferable to anyone in any vocation. A life of service requires you essentially to give your time sometimes paid or unpaid for the fulfilment of others. It is a very humble and noble calling in life and we certainly do not enter into it seeking fame and most definitely not fortune. While ever you are giving to the needs of others there is rarely enough of your own empowerment to ask to take what you need in return. We feel guilt about how much ‘time’ we can allocate to each individual, we pay rent, we drive distances and perform ‘out of the box’ tasks for those in need usually without any expectation of remuneration in return. And at first it's all fine, what you give out comes back right? When you put in the groundwork at some stage you reap the rewards? Right? Yes and no…..
We begin a life of service out of a deeper need to help others, to heal our own wounds and to actively feel rewarded and validated on a daily basis. What we don’t realise is that this life of service whilst meeting all of those needs and more can also be exhausting, soul sacrificing work that requires us to take on the role of a martyr if you aren’t conscious of your time and actions. We easily fall into giving into everybody else’s needs and wants out of shear exhaustion and because peace at any price seems easier than having to assert or articulate ourselves. The trap here is that we push aside who we are to be for everything that everybody else needs. Which at the time seems noble, valid and fulfilling. That is until you emotionally burn out, your jug runs empty and or you aren’t needed anymore. What happens then? What happens to you? Some how, some where along the way you lost yourself in your service and without the ability to be able to serve you literally have nothing left.
Whilst all of this sounds very doom and gloom its actually not and its not that hard to change the outcome of what is a truly rewarding vocation. You have all of the information you need to equip yourself so that this does not happen to you but ultimately it will come down to the choices you make on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, in the fast paced world that we live in taking a holiday once a year is definitely not enough. We work longer hours, we take our work home with us and find it difficult to switch off the integration of work and home life. It's challenging to just ‘be’ home or just ‘be’ with the kids or friends. And whilst I admire the supreme multi-tasker in us all and absolutely utilise her on a daily basis there has to be down time. Making room for you to just be you is one of the most important aspects of finding balance.
Let's start back at the very beginning. When did the need to help others arise for you? Perhaps you were the small child playing nursemaid to any sick or injured person or animal. Or maybe you were the adolescent who thought joining in on fundraising activities and helping out community groups was a great way to spend your time. Or perhaps it was later in life that you decided to extend yourself beyond yourself and ‘give’ back. Whatever your reason, whatever your journey or your story it really doesn’t matter. We have all arrived at the same point and are now left standing here thinking ‘what’s next’. You have been serving your community, your tribe for a little while now and whilst its is endlessly rewarding and enjoyable its downright exhausting so ‘what now’?
It was once said to me by a very wise friend – “Lina, your life is all about balance, you need to focus on finding and creating it because when you are out of balance it all goes very downhill for you very quickly.” Even though I am quite sensitive I don’t think that this is just true for me. I think that this statement applies to every single person on this planet but in particular – those in a life of service. If your tank is empty you cannot drive your car. You have to fill it up and once you do you can drive for 100’s kilometres and take amazing adventures. If you do not put oil in the engine eventually it will seize and then no matter how much petrol you put in the tank the car will never go again. Finding balance and ‘filling your tank’ is a multifaceted business.
A beautiful Naturopath friend of mine always says ‘ the mother wolf must first feed herself before she can feed her cubs’. I often requote her because I think that this is a truly lovely analogy. Without the ability to know how to truly nourish yourself on a physical, emotional and spiritual plane then you are not fully equipped to aid others. An act of self-love is never selfish but a necessary part of your being and your growth as an individual. For years I have been having conversations with students about creating space for themselves in their day and I always get met with the same response – I just don’t have the time. What I have to say to that is that none of us actually have the time – you can’t make time but you can certainly make space. We have so many tools at our disposal now that there is really no excuse to not be able to streamline your day to a certain degree. How many hours a day to you spend watching TV, on Facebook, surfing the internet, playing games on your phone, engaging in salacious gossip or even just transitioning from one task to the next? Every single one of us has some ‘time fat’ that can be trimmed off somewhere and if you truly think that you don’t then you are in the more need of help than the rest of us.
The next question is how do I ‘find’ the time and make the space? The first thing that I suggest to people is just for a couple of days conduct your own time in motion study. You don’t need a fancy spread sheet or to create more work for yourself. All that you need to do is keep a notepad handy or use the notepad app on your smartphone and write a list of the activities you are doing that day at what time and how long they have taken you. The purpose being that at the end of the couple of days or week you can see exactly where your time is spent in the day and you will start to get a clearer picture of where you are wasting some of it. Once you can identify these areas and times you can start put into place some smarter solutions for this time and energy.
Now that I have made space – what do I do with it?
So we have made some space, reorganised our activities and perhaps even ditched some of our old habits now we can begin the process of reallocating the time to activities that help to refill our cup. For example, obviously since I teach Yoga, Yoga is a heart activity that brings me immense pleasure and deep relaxation. So, for me to give up an hour of mind-numbing TV in the evening to go to a Yoga class is a no brainer.
I would ask that you try writing yourself a list of all of the things that you LOVE doing. Perhaps you like reading books or taking a walk on the beach, gentle exercise, taking a nap or an all inclusive sweat your but off boot camp. If creating an art piece or cooking a delicious dessert for loved ones makes your heart happy then add it to the list. Now the best part is adding these activities to the ‘space’ that you have created. It is often said that you need time for yourself every day and it should be no less than at least 15mins, so find an activity that you can do for yourself every day and we are well on track.
I like to make time first thing in the morning for myself – I get up before my children are our of bed and practice Yoga, take a walk, surf or just breathe and be knowing that if I achieve nothing else in the day I haven’t forgotten to nurture myself. It also has to become habitual to nurture yourself and if it is first thing in the morning then it is much less likely that other activities will be scheduled in conflict. It also means that you haven’t left yourself with the scraps of yourself. What I mean by this is that if you leave ‘your’ time to last thing at night every night you get the tired, cranky unmotivated version of yourself who is easily persuaded into just going to bed or veg’ing out in from of the TV. We easily fall into the trap of our old patterns, self disrespect and before you know it you have allowed the cup to get empty again. This is also where the conundrum lies, for it is when you are tired and cranky that your mental faculties are low and your vitality fading that you need to prioritise your self-love time. If you don’t do it nobody else will and at the end of the day you are the one who suffers. Nobody else has to live in your body, walk though your life or suffer though any of your difficulties. This task falls on your shoulders; it is your responsibility to prioritise your self first.
It is important that I mention here that I am not advocating that you all dump your life's responsibilities and families and run away to join a hill tribe because you feel a soul calling to do so. I am asking you to take small steps every day to nurture yourself and perhaps book that hill tribe visit but return to the life you have created for yourself revitalised and refreshed.
If money is an issue for you, your daily self love can include oodles of free activities like walking, running, swimming in the ocean, bird watching, sketching in scrapbooks, singing or dancing in the lounge room to the radio. Many local Councils support the active and healthy lifestyle and hold free weekly community class in a variety of sports and activities. Your local library will stock Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi DVD’s, books on meditation and also often hold free or low cost workshops. Perhaps you can even find someone who is willing to barter or trade with you for an activity or class that you are interested in. Reach out to your community and allow them to support you.
Even with your new found daily routine of self love we still get ourselves into ruts. Deep dark ditches of despair that we can't quite seem to extract ourselves from because yes we lead a life of service to others and from time to time listening to the complaints of the world gets wearing. Being expected to fix everything and everyone all the time is downright exhausting and no matter how much daily time you manage to schedule for yourself you just can’t get that jug to refill. It is at this time you are probably on the verge of a major burnout. One of two things will happen. You will either change what you are doing or start suffering from depression. I know that this all sounds awful but its actually a wonderful opportunity for growth and introspection and there are plenty of things that you can do about it.
Firstly, you need to reassess your vocation – is it the work, do you not feel called to it anymore? Is it your circumstances, are your colleagues creating challenges for you? What aspect specifically are you struggling with and is there a creative solution? It is important to remember that life is fluid and ever changing often when we feel stuck it is only our approach to the situation that is stuck, there is always room for movement.
Once you have identified what the issue is you can now take steps to rectify the situation. Perhaps you just need a break from the daily hum drum.
Through a life of humble service we can only hope to achieve our greatest heartfelt expansions....
In your service .. Lina x
Lina and Nathan are passionate about health and wellbeing. They are inspired by daily life and grateful for the simplicity of breath. For what else is there but life and breath. Sharing their knowledge is important to them as information gathered and not shared is wasted and they are of a firm believe that nothing in this life should be wasted.