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If you’re inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, I have a suggestion for you.
And if you don’t normally make resolutions, consider making this year an exception.
Here’s my suggestion: resolve to serve.
Instead of (or in addition to) the usual self-improvement resolutions—lose weight, start meditating, take guitar lessons, read War and Peace—why not commit to dedicating some time and energy to making the world a better place?
We’ve just endured one of the most catastrophic years in modern history, and the devastation will carry into 2021 with deadly force. People are suffering. Families are destitute, hungry, and homeless. Hospitals are overflowing. Maybe you can help somehow, somewhere.
Or maybe something on a smaller, more familiar scale is more your thing. Maybe the old man down the street needs help getting groceries. Maybe some lonely person can use the uplift of a phone call or a masked, socially distanced visit. Maybe a nearby park or hiking trail needs some cleaning up. Just look around. You’re needed.
What aggravates you about the world? What pisses you off? What breaks your heart?
Sexism? Racism? Poverty? Politics? Inequality? Climate change?
Even during the pandemic, there are ways to make a dent besides venting on social media. Worthy organizations can always use volunteers. Campaigns need money. Non-profits need a variety of skills.
One of the reasons the world is such a mess—and one of the reasons a once-honorable political party has run itself off the rails—is we’ve taken the American ethos of self-sufficiency, self-improvement, and individualism to an extreme.
Let the four-year reign of the “Narcissist-In-Chief” serve as an example of what we don’t want to be: so self-absorbed that we forget that we’re all connected, and everyone needs to contribute to the common good. We can start by resolving to offer up a little extra kindness, empathy, and generosity in the year ahead.
The world cries out for awakened citizenship to counter the greed, materialism, ignorance, and tribalism that dominate the landscape.
If, like most Elephant Journal readers, you’ve done a good amount of work on yourself—if you’re a sincere spiritual seeker or have a repertoire of practices that cleanse, heal, and attune your awareness to the higher intelligence within—then you’re perfectly positioned to give a little more. And you’re already doing the first of what I call the Spiritual Two-Step.
Let’s turn inward to the ultimate Source of peace, compassion, and unity. Let’s come out better prepared to live fully, act effectively, and make a strong mark on the world. You can serve in some useful way while pursuing your personal aspirations and maintaining what the Bhagavad Gita calls “equanimity in gain and loss, victory and defeat, pleasure and pain.”
You don’t have to be a saint. You don’t have to be a strategic genius. You don’t have to dedicate your whole life to service. You just have to think once in a while, “What can I offer? How can I give back?” If you’re reading this, you have a certain measure of privilege in a world where others are struggling to breathe or to feed their kids. Be grateful and let your gratitude guide you.
Not everyone is a social activist. We all have limits on our time and energy. We all have individual karma to work out, duties to perform, and destinies to fulfill. But we can all make the occasional offering. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. It doesn’t have to be some major sacrifice. You don’t have to put yourself at risk or give up your comforts or stop pursuing success.
Doing something for someone in need or contributing to an important cause can be joyful. It can be fun. It can be energizing. It might even feel so good you’ll have to be careful not to puff yourself up and brag about how selfless you are.
The truth is, doing good does good for the doer. Humble service serves the server as much as the served. It’s a powerful spiritual practice because it breaks the chains of ego. Those who spend some time helping others are happier, healthier, and more satisfied with their lives.
We’re at an inflection point in history, and we’re all needed. Every gesture counts; nothing is too small.
As the Buddha said:
“Do not overlook tiny good actions, thinking they are of no benefit; even tiny drops of water, in the end, will fill a huge vessel.“