Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I could do to change the world. I mean, what else could possibly be worth thinking about? The crazier the world gets, the more I feel ashamed of my personal concerns and also cling to them as particularly meaningful. Because the world is so incomprehensible, I take refuge in what I think I can control. Sometimes I become so full of despair!! I don’t need to list all the reasons to be sad and scared, we all know what they are.
When I encounter the sadness of this world, it seems like I take one of two responses, neither of which is very appealing. One, I collapse into depression and anxiety. This doesn’t seem particularly helpful. Two, I try to shut it all out and go about my business like, “well, what can I do about all this, I’m just one person and plus I’ve got problems of my own.” Similarly unhelpful, right?
So then what? How can I respond without becoming ridiculously hopeless or hopelessly self-centered?
It begins when we open our hearts. The first step is to soften and allow circumstance to touch us in a way that provokes a genuine, deeply felt response. But why would anyone want to do this? When your heart is open, after all, you could be hurt. People could manipulate you. They could fool you, trick you, take advantage of you. Plus, you can’t shut anything out, pick and choose about what will touch you. You will see the terror of this world, there is no question.
So why risk it?
Because an open heart also means this:
You can be touched and therefore you can be loved.
You are receptive to others and therefore can love.
The world can affect you and you see how much you care, so much that you are moved—quite naturally—to help.
For everyone, everyone, it is the act of helping that creates a meaningful, and therefore utterly joyful, life. Everything else is fleeting, only being of service creates meaning. That’s how it works. I have no idea why.
But before we get all martyr-y, let’s look at what “helping” actually is. It sounds like it is committing to a life of sacrifice and drudgery—but it isn’t. It’s the opposite. Committing to a life of service is committing to a life of joy.
Service looks different for everyone. We each have our unique mission of helpfulness. There is something that only you can do for this world. Do you know what it is?
It can look like showing up in Afghanistan to teach yoga to soldiers or heading to Louisiana to build new housing for flood victims.
But it can also look like being the one person in your family or workplace that everyone can turn to for advice, solace, or support.
It can look like caring for all the animals in this world—or even just one; it can be working to green the planet, or simply your own backyard.
It can look like becoming a parent, a priest, a teacher, social worker, therapist, life coach, body worker, or any other kind of being who connects directly with individuals to make their lives happier or educate them in something.
It can look like devotion to anything you take on as an art form—be it painting, writing, gardening, knitting, cooking, playing music, cutting hair, or any other work that depends on opening to inspiration and being guided by it. Your art form can be leading an organization, heading a department, practicing law or waitressing or accounting. It’s all in the way you open to it.
It can look like practicing the art of any science to the depth of your capacity, whether it’s medicine, astronomy, software development, engineering, architecture, and so on and so on.
And so on.
The amazing thing is this: What you do that turns out to be most helpful for others is also your unique gift. It is. What you do to help is synonymous with discovering your gift and thus it is your path. And, as we know, whether it’s been a good or a bad day, when you’re on your path, you are joyful. Engaged. Authentic. Open.
So be yourself. Be who you really, truly, deeply are and that will turn out to be the best possible thing for this world. Try to start right now.
It all starts (and ends) with being open. Being open is a powerful, advanced, and very subtle skill. It is not for the weak of heart. More on that later.
For now, ask yourself: What opens my heart? Pay attention throughout your day to what touches you and what shuts you down. What does it feel like or how do your thoughts change when your heart is open? When it slams shut? Don’t try to change anything at first…just notice. You will figure it out. And in the meantime, contemplate these:
The 7 Signs of Openheartedness*
- You see the sadness. You cry a lot and it’s kind of OK.
- You see the humor. You laugh a lot. You know how and when to make others laugh without pissing them off, even when the matter at hand is quite serious.
- The sorrow of other people touches you. So does their joy.
- Inspiration knows how to find you and you are not a stranger to enthusiasm.
- You are polite to everyone yet are not a doormat.
- You feel what you feel without shame (“I suck”) or aggression (“I deserve to feel this”).
- You reek of genuine genuineness. (As opposed to the staged variety.)
*The number 7 is arbitrary…feel free to add to this list.
Opening your heart changes the world.