The Joy of Service

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” –Rabindranath Tagore

A few days ago, Baba Hari Dass died at the age of 95. Babaji, as he was affectionately called, profoundly influenced many people’s lives. He moved to California from India in 1971. We met him in Northern California in 1975, at which time he asked us where we lived. We told him we were just traveling and didn’t know where we would settle. He said, “I’m moving to Santa Cruz.” We looked at one another, took it as a sign, and moved to Santa Cruz, pleasantly surprised that it was a coastal town.

Babaji took a vow of silence at a very young age and his silence gave him great insight into others. He started the Mt. Madonna Center, which is our country’s largest yoga center, and then he also started Mt. Madonna School where all three of our children were very blessed to attend.

Babaji encouraged people to serve others on a daily, even hourly basis. He also taught that no act of service is beneath a person. Just because a person has an advanced degree or a very important job, they can still do the smallest act of service like digging ditches, washing dishes, scrubbing floors. He also taught that service can come through attention to a child, bringing a smile to another, being kind to a stranger and of course hundreds of other ways. A fulfilled life is all about service.

Hundreds of people came to hear Babaji’s teachings, which he would write out on a tiny chalkboard hanging from his neck, and someone would speak them. He would teach in the mornings, and then in the afternoon it was not unusual to see him outside building stone walls, picking up the big dirty boulders by himself, feeling that this was just as great a service as teaching to hundreds of people.

Many people feel that just because they have a certain degree or a certain skill they should only do that as their work and service to others. A young man we know is a very talented musician and songwriter. For years he was able to support himself through his music, and then a time came when he couldn’t. He got a job as a barista at a coffee house. At times he has felt like a failure to be working as a barista rather than being a full time musician. And yet his wise inner self keeps reminding him that service of any kind is noble and good.

At the Mt. Madonna School there was a man who had a very gifted talent of teaching high level math and science. All morning he would teach middle and high school students. Then after lunch he would head to the preschool/kindergarten room and take charge of their class for the rest of the day. I know this because our three children of all different ages were all taught by him in the course of just one day. Teaching physics or helping to tie a three-year-old’s shoe. He saw it all as beautiful service.

Another young woman we know has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and is waiting to find the right work for herself. In the meantime she is an Uber driver and enjoying it very much. Each time she picks up someone, it is a chance to serve, not just through giving them a ride, but by listening and being compassionate to whatever they choose to share. Often people share very deep things with her in the course of the ride.

We became very close to Babaji and, because he was new in town, there were not that many people flocking to see him as it was some years later. We went to see him every week because we had little work and did not have children yet. Barry had studied psychiatry after medical school and my graduate degree was similar. We had the vision of wanting to help people in their relationships through workshops and individual counseling. We tried giving a few workshops but they did not go that well and we figured we had a lot more to learn. But still Barry only wanted to do this work. Our savings were running out as few people came to see us. I felt that Barry could use his medical degree and work as a doctor. He did not like that idea. We went to Babaji with this issue. Babaji listened and made this remark to Barry on his little chalkboard, “You have the personality of a doctor. You should serve in that way first.”

As you can imagine, Barry was not so happy to hear that, but we both knew that Babaji was right. Barry went right out and got a job at a Kaiser Hospital seeing four patients an hour in a very crowded outpatient clinic. Fifteen minutes was not enough time to give each patient what they needed, and yet he learned to give his gift of service in that small amount of time. He gave them hope and love in addition to medical treatment. I can see that Babaji was absolutely right about Barry. Once he served as a general medical doctor, so much else was born within him. Soon after Barry started that job, our children started coming into our lives. The humble act of being parents also brought so much readiness to fulfill the vision of the workshops and counseling.

Now we lead twelve to fourteen workshops a year, and in our busier years we were leading twenty five a year. Our vision of the workshops and counseling came to us in such clarity, but it took seven years of Barry working at Kaiser Hospital and having two of our three children before it came into being. The humbling service at the medical clinic and also being full time parents prepared us for this wonderful work that we are now doing … the fulfillment of our vision.

Allow each day to be an opportunity for service. Each act of service is so important, and not only helps those you are serving, but also can help you to bring out your full potential … and joy.

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