Skillful Service is Born of a Quiet Heart
Wise intention and skillful service need to be nourished by periods of quiet and prayer. Every great tradition includes some from of the Sabbath. In the West we inherited the blessing of the Christian and Jewish Sabbath. Muslims have Friday as their holy day, and likewise Hindus and Buddhists renew their vows of simplicity on full moon, new moon, and quarter moon days. When I was young, Massachusetts had Sabbath “Blue Laws” requiring all forms of business to stop on Sundays. But now, one generation later, we have twenty-four-hour supermarkets and twenty-four-hour banking, seven days a week; our consumer society has claimed the right to operate without constraint. This is a recipe for burnout.
A spirit of service to one another and to ourselves grows out of different soil- out of moments of remembering, moments of prayer and blessing. If we pay attention to the cycle of our breath and the beating of our heart, there is a tiny and necessary pause between each. To beat for our whole life, the heart must restore itself in the stillness before each new beat. Spiritual maturity also requires such periods of Sabbath, where we step out of commercial time into that which is timeless.
We need to become the sanctuary we seek. This can begin with a Sabbath day or a daily period of meditation and prayer. Sometimes it may require creating regular periods of silence where we work. It can mean reassessing our lifestyle, moving toward voluntary simplicity, spending time in nature, attending periodic retreats. It may mean turning off CNN and turning on Mozart. In time of difficulty or conflict, it may mean taking a breath, settling the heart, listening silently to our deepest intention. In these moments we remember our heart’s task on earth. A Christian contemplative teacher recalls:
I had lived many years in a small protected community. Then it came to me that it was time to go back to society to serve. I began an integration, going back and forth. I worked at an AIDS hospice and crisis center. Once a month I would return to my community, my heart longing for silence.I would stand in line when the gift of food was presented, and feel how each thing there, even the most ordinary, was held in a holy way. This is actually how it is all the time; this is the mystery of grace. I knew it wasn’t just the prayer or meditation that was important. It was the silence, stopping and taking a breath, opening the heart, seeing that the whole planet, and everything on it, is holy. I want to bring the beauty with me to everyone I touch. So I return to silence regularly. I know if I can stop and remember this, life will fulfill its promise to me.
From moments of stillness, the most skillful way to love and serve becomes clear. By stopping to listen we connect with one another, and true community is born.
This excerpt is taken from the book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path“