It was something that a student said to me after class one day- deeply inquisitive and thought-provoking in its delivery- that has brought me to the page on this bright Monday afternoon. Actually now that I think of it, it wasn’t so much something that they had said to me, rather a question that they posed. Given that this student was a sophomore in university, not to mention the fact that we were communicating in English and not their native Mandarin, perhaps added to the significance, upon reflection.
As I made for the door, they asked if I thought we could serve others by pursuing our passions, or was it selfish to do so.
It felt as though I had been unexpectedly punched in the chest, but in an exhilarating way. Given I only had a couple of minutes before the start of the next class, and finding myself completely dumbfounded by the depth and sheer power of the question, I decided to sheepishly take the Socratic route by answering their probing question with another question.
“Um, what do you think?”
I wrote the question down on a post-it when I got home later that night, with the intention of exploring it in greater detail at a later stage; three months or so later, and I find myself afforded with the glorious luxury of deep solitude; it hasn’t come as often as I’d have liked in recent months, a consequence perhaps of living in one of the most dynamic metropolitan cities on the planet, but I digress.
And so, with a cup of coffee at hand to keep the senses flickering, and the beautifully melancholic melodies of Foy Vance massaging the cerebral cortex, I find myself with pen in hand yet again.
Can we serve others by pursuing our passion? A resounding yes. I think by pursuing our passion, we can certainly serve others, and most probably will at some stage. First and foremost though, before pursuing that which sets your soul alight whatever it may be, is that you look to serve yourself. Only then, can we look to serve others.
To get to that point, it takes a certain amount of self-exploration in order to find out what it is that you were put here to do; this requires incredible awareness, and a desire to delve deeper in order to figure out more. From here, we can begin upon our journey towards inner-fulfilment, and it will eventually lead us to a position where we can serve others through passionate exploits.
We may experience some form of resistance- either externally or internally- toward us embarking on such a journey. Some people may tell you, and you may even tell yourself, that it is selfish to venture down such a path, that it is a self-satisfying exploration and you should look elsewhere for fulfilment, but this is simply not the case; you need only take heed of your inner-compass when elements of doubt or uncertainty arise. Don’t give in to resistance.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
By doing what you love and by pursuing the path towards fulfilment- the path which encourages the flame within to burn bright- you serve yourself, and in doing so you will undoubtedly serve others. Not only that, but you also serve the Universe, in that when you do the work that you were born to do, you are aligning yourself with a higher energy independent of yourself (anyone who has experienced the flow-state will attest to as much).
It’s also worth noting that you may perhaps serve others in many ways, of which you might never directly become aware of. This is something which your ego will need to come to terms with, because of course the ego likes to be told that their efforts have been of benefit. But, I think at the basic level, people can extract inspiration simply from the fact that you are taking action. Passion is innately infectious. People feed off it.
Of course there will be those who will resent the path that you are on, and who may harbour feelings of jealously and anger, but even in those instances, it can serve to positively influence and motivate those individuals to want to create a better situation for themselves. And if not, well, it’s of little importance to your journey. As the old adage goes, “What other people think of you is none of your concern.” If even one person takes something positive from your efforts, and is influenced in such a way as to want to improve their own circumstances, I think that is something incredibly special.
If I could revert back to the most fundamental practice of looking inward that I mentioned at the beginning, this is the most crucial aspect and the point from which we need to start our expedition; exploring the self and finding out more about the complexities and intricacies of our being; serving ourselves first and foremost, and asking the right questions. This is the starting point.
From there, we can look to utilise our unique talents and abilities in alignment with our inner-compass, and thus embark upon a path of continuous learning and development for the betterment of ourselves and in turn, for the betterment of others. Continuous, because this process of self-exploration, it never ends.
The beauty of this complex adventure.