We were talking with Robin this afternoon about what we are doing here and what this all means and how we can be in service and I asked her to sum up her thoughts in a guest post.
“When I began doing outreach in South Africa, I discovered that there was no model for this work within Unity. Unlike most church denominations, Unity has never done missionary work. That is because we do not embrace the idea that people are in need of being saved in any way. So as I began I would say that we are reinventing missionary in a new vein. I set out to explore what it would look like to do international outreach from a consciousness that we all embody a spark of the Divine within us. What would it look like to serve from this perspective?
Never did I realize how little I knew, really, about being of service. Even after ten years of exploring outreach work in South Africa, I cannot easily sum up how I see what we are doing here. It is far more complicated than I ever imagined, as are the many cultures of South Africa. I came to this work through a career in alternative healing and brought a perspective about honoring the wholeness in all people. I then began to explore taking that same perspective to an international level of healing humanity.
One of my favorite teachers is Rachel Naomi Remen, MD who has some very powerful teaching about service. She lived her life with Chrons disease and so lived all of her adult life as a physician, observing from both sides of the hospital bed. Her teaching is geared toward teaching physicians but the same concepts are very helpful in any arena of service. She describes the difference between helping fixing and serving. When Rachel was experiencing being in the hospital as a patient she had experiences of feeling that her doctors were trying to fix her as if she was broken. Haven’t we as Americans often taken on the problems of the world with that attitude? When approaching issues of poverty, massive pandemics and the inequities of resources, so often we get a knee jerk reaction to do something, anything, to fix the problems. I remember when I first came to South Africa and saw the levels of extreme poverty, I felt a strong urge to give things to people. I still experience that at times. If I could just give away enough food or money, it might be better. Or perhaps, it would make me feel better. That urge of seeing a problem and doing something to quick fix it, can cause others to feel inadequate or broken, as if they are not o.k. the way they are. Writing this it seems arrogant but in reality, I think most of us feel the urge to fix at times.
Next Rachel describes the attitude of helping and rescuing people. When I am in an attitude of helping people it can convey that I am at a higher level, stronger or more able and so can help a person who is less able. That can create a real inequity in any relationship and can create a victim mentality. That is a common scenario in international outreach work. How often we see that in developing nations all over the world. The story is that people become accustomed to sitting and waiting for the next handout from their own government or the next international NGO to show up. I remember the story told by the “Ubuntu Girl” Sonja Kruse, who walked all over South Africa observing the people and how they received her. She met an old man who talked with her about a wheelbarrow. He said people just want to sit in the wheelbarrow and wait for the government to come and push it. Instead he said you must get out of the wheelbarrow and push it yourself. I think this wise man was seeing the same detrimental effects that can come from a helping relationship.
Rachel advocates instead that we learn to be of service to others in a relationship of trust, respect and equality. The wholeness in me recognizes and honors the wholeness in you. I believe it was Mother Theresa who says we serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy. Coming to that level of understanding requires that we continually wake up out of the trances of rescuing, helping, fixing and saving that are pretty pervasive in our American culture. It is about continually remembering what I am here to do and not reverting to old stories that have modeled different ways of being. It requires observing my intentions in all that I do and re-evaluating whether what I am doing is respectful and empowering of others.
Fortunately, we have some wonderful teachers here who are honest enough to help us learn when we are coming across in ways that are not supportive. It is constantly evident to us that we are learning and receiving more than we could ever give to others. We are being changed deeply. The people we hope to serve know that they are serving us as well. Susan Trout, in Born to Serve, talks about the evolution we can experience through the levels of service. The ultimate is to be a self-less open channel so that Spirit can serve through me. I have moments when I glimpse that and I can see that is where I want to be. There are endless opportunities in doing this service that can push and pull me off balance. I appreciate so much the amazing people who are all around me when I step foot on this amazing continent. They continually pull me higher and assist me to be the person I want to be in this world. That above all is why I come here. I could not imagine greater opportunities to learn to serve the beauty that I see in people all around me. My heart breaks open and overflows with the ever-present reminders that we are all one and share a very small and precious planet.”