It was a hot day on a mountain plateau in Montana. The First International Sundance was beginning, and I was paying attention, not just to the task at hand but to my physical body. Was I hydrated? What was my energy level? Balancing my rest, activity, nutrition, and hydration for me to support the community in the pop-up kitchen was the most important task I had to be of service during the days-long ceremony involving over a hundred people. Being alert to my needs and limitations kept me standing for hours and in service for days even while dry camping in the heat. It changed me. I became alert to flowing with the pulse of life and Spirit. I was at once giving and receiving. Life and Spirit joined in harmonious flow through me in the moment for each moment. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
A few years before, I had learned the importance of ‘radical self-reliance’, a term used at Burning Man. Camping without infrastructure taught me the slim thread of life that depends so much on what we take for granted. The most desolate place in Nevada becomes a city of tens of thousands for a week, yet the people of the city are not co-dependent they are radically independent. Each of us mindful of how much water, food and supplies will last for a week without electricity or running water makes for an awakening not just to mortality but to the delicate substance of what life is made. Responsibility is a common buzzword there. Most outsiders see Burning Man as a modern-day hippie love-in. But the profound lessons of self-care and personal responsibility were the perfect training ground for the coming intense ceremonies of my spiritual training.
In spiritual initiations and ceremonies you can learn the hard way that everyone there is relying on you to take care of yourself so you may fulfill your role and be of service. When someone is not caring for themselves it affects the whole group. If one loses consciousness or needs care, it affects us all. We cannot be mindless of our water intake or overextend our activity by staying up late. We must be mindful of our every action to be of service to the whole, to hold the powerful energy shifts in ceremony and to facilitate the changes needed for healing.
I teach how to work with Spirit in a variety of ways and when I ask a new student why they want to learn most say they want to be of service. They come to me determined and dedicated to awaken to this power and driven to share their gifts with others, but they have to wait for that, because the first lessons always are how to work with Spirit to help themselves.
Through many years of these experiences I have learned a deep respect for life, and respect for what can compromise or even take away life. Being of service means not just being present to help others but being profoundly mindful of your personal actions and how they will or will not support the whole group.
We do not learn this in our culture. We learn the opposite in the American way of life. We learn that our personal rights are the sacred and what we do is our business and our business alone. We do not see the delicate strands of life that depend on cooperation in communities, nor do we see how important personal responsibility is to the whole. We think this comes from the pioneering spirit that took settlers out into the wilderness to claim a stake of the American Dream for themselves. But that is a myth. They moved as groups and settled in groups that relied on each other to survive. They supported each other and were responsible to one another for their survival. They were self-reliant but if they came to be in need they were cared for by the community, because the loss of one is a loss for all.
Being of service means having respect for all others, for self, for what gives us life and for what takes away life. When we have respect for all we are in the rhythm of a life of service. The ebb and flow of giving and receiving that makes for an extraordinary way of being. Being aware of how you relate to the world and, in reflection, the world relates to you is a powerful way to live.
We can live in these times being mindful of such things, or we can feel threatened that the new rules will take away our personal choices and independence. But through these years, decades now, of spiritual training, I can see that the delicate strands of life have always depended on our support and connection to one another. True independence is a myth. It never was that way.
In these times, our survival depends on an abiding respect for all of life, being mindful of our needs and cooperating to support the needs of others. This is the experience of being of service, it is the greatest calling one can have and I recommend it with all my heart.