A request : This is a reflection around my values. It may or may not align with your values. I request you to be aware of value differences while reviewing it. Also, do draw my attention if you find any dogma in my reflections.
An Experience In Servant Leadership
Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is to serve. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the ‘followers’ first and helps people develop. The focus of a servant leader is, “Do those served grow as persons?¹ (1) Sendjaya, Sen; Sarros, James C. (September 2002). “Servant Leadership: Its Origin, Development, and Application in Organizations”. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies)
My community service was with a NGO based out of Kutch. It is engaged in the spread of compassion through teaching a type of meditation. It is a non-sectarian method open to everyone. The entire organization runs only on volunteering and donations. All the courses are completely free of cost. My service was also completely voluntary devoid of any payment. I got support with lodging, boarding, food and materials for those days. Transport to and from the place was at my cost. There were 143 members who came to learn meditation in this cohort. It was from September 5, to September 16, 2021.
I have been associated with this organization since 2014. I have completed three meditation retreats of 10 days and numerous one to three days as a meditator. I have immensely benefited from this technique. I became more focused, calm and clearer as a result of practicing this. With these benefits came deep gratitude. Contributing towards it’s growth was the natural extension of this gratitude. Thus I had this longing to volunteer and serve in a course. Also, selfless service to others is an important aspect to me in my spiritual path. If I light the bulb for others, it also brightens my path!
I also wanted to be on the other side of the table. Learning about the systems, processes governing this organization. Volunteering for a course was the best way to get this. To add, my wife also decided to try this technique. From my experience, I knew that it would be difficult for her. Thus I decided to serve in the same course so that I can be of support to her.
Service is a manifestation of Gratitude
Observations/My inner thoughts and Judgements
“Sid, you have never done this before, how will you ‘help’ others?”
“You first need to help yourself before helping others!”
“How will you deal with senior and experienced meditators?”
“What are your duties and tasks?”
“What if I end up hurting or disturbing someone?”
I had much self-doubt and questions when I was travelling from my home to the venue at the start. There was a need for support and reassurance. Upon reaching I got a booklet of code of conduct for servers. This book and interaction with other volunteers removed most of my doubts and hesitation.
Very soon on day 1 I realized that ‘You don’t have to be an expert to serve!’ Encouraging others is the key part to serve. The following quote filled my heart
It is not how much you do that matters, it is how you do and how much love and compassion you put in it! — Mother Terresa
Realizing this, I didn’t bind myself to any task or role. Any meditator who would come in my contact was my customer. I would do everything to serve them or guide them till the end. Not leaving them hanging and devoting myself to their service was the only motto! It was an immensely fulfilling and joyful experience. I haven’t had such motivation while working for corporates or even best paying clients. The value of intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic became crystal clear to me. My service was a pure external manifestation of this gratitude and joy.
I realized, in ‘outside’ life as well when I am grateful i.e. look at positives, I find ways to serve my audience/customers. It helps me move forward. Be proactive. On the other hand, focusing on the shortcomings and complaining keeps me stuck.
This attitude to serve continued for a full 9 days. I was giving and helping without anyone’s appreciation or even guidance. Yet soon fatigue caught on. I wasn’t sensitive to my self-care and ignored the early warnings around rest, sleep and support. I became irritable on the last day. There was a trigger that made me livid and I had an outburst. I regret not asking for help and taking care of myself. I got aware of the hierarchy of needs. How my physical and emotional needs when not acknowledged triggers me and dormants higher order needs.
Observation : — The course has two teachers a male and a female. They are the highest living authority for everything related to this course. Their decision is final on all matters. I saw everyone obeying them without questioning. Many people would also bow down to them and pay respect. This is common in many Indian cultures. Young people would not do this but they obeyed their requests. Yes, teachers only made requests and no demands!
Other sub-process like Idolization, Discounting self, Transference and Validation were linked with these processes of authority.
If this is functional or dysfunctional is very subjective and difficult to judge. The only yardstick I have is that if this worship is empowering individuals to take actions which are helpful to themselves and others or is this keeping them shackled in dogma. I saw both of it happening. At times meditators go so deep inside that they are very vulnerable. Authority acts as a ray of hope and beacon that helps them. Other times people were keeping their rationality on side in following authority words.
My hypothesis is that humans have a complicated relationship with authorities. I was sure about that for myself. Now I also observed that for everyone else during my service. Faith in any authority — real or figurative — gives us so much safety, security and assurance. It may be useful at times yet it also limits our potential.
Humans are Imperfect. Yet, Humans only have potential to achieve Perfection. (I use Humans, Imperfect and Perfection as nouns here and not verbs)
Some assumptions, beliefs and definitions –
What is Perfection as I refer here? Reaching a state of complete bliss. A state filled with infinite joy and compassion. Devoid of any suffering. (Brahma/Arihant)
What is Imperfection as I refer here? Incessantly reacting out of an old habit pattern of survival is imperfection. Sometimes, I cognitively know what is good for me and yet, I am unable to act in accordance with it. I do this out of old habit patterns and ignorance.
Who is a Human as I refer here? Humans are living beings that have the ability to self-reflect. All living beings are Imperfect. But Humans through their virtue of self-reflection have the potential to come out of old habit patterns and ignorance. They can transform into Perfection of a Brahma or Arihant from Imperfections.
Observations : I saw many people not living up to the values they have voluntarily committed to in the course. There were three 20/21 years boys who were helpless and restless due to their addiction to tobacco. They were suffering from withdrawal symptoms and thus frequently breaking course norms. I found it very difficult to empathize, be compassionate towards them and serve them. Then at times, I saw the teacher saying plain white lies in front of other teachers to protect his self-image. This was very shocking for me. I was contemptuous and resentful towards him for some time. This made me very upset until I got in touch with my needs and beliefs.
When I say that humans are imperfect, it is not about seeing humans as wounded and pathologically ill. It is about acceptance. When I see others not acting in accordance with their values or integrity, this belief that Humans are Imperfect, helps me. I can tolerate them, give them the benefit of doubt, even forgive them and move on.
This imperfection is a testament for acceptance, letting go and mourning on my part. It is not a moralistic judgement to condemn and put someone down. When disappointed, I also tried to remind myself of times when I have failed to live in integrity. This mindset has been very useful to me to always mind my own business!
Rescuer vs. Helper Roles
This disappointment also connected me to a deeper role I have been holding for so long. When I see other’s ‘flaws’, it also brings out the Rescuer in me. I want to ‘Help’ everyone with whom I am disappointed. There is a pseudo compassion.
I got to experience and live the difference between a Helper and a Rescuer in this community service.
My hypothesis is that a Rescuer has many needs which are not acknowledged. Need for achievement, safety, peace, harmony etc. apart from contribution. Helper operate only from the need of contribution. When I am helping, my heart is full of gratitude. Service/contribution are natural external expressions of this gratitude.
Rescuer discounts others and takes more responsibility. Helper empowers others and draws clear boundaries. Helper knows that ‘You can bring the horse to the lake but it will have to drink it’s own water’
Getting aware of these differences, accepting others’ imperfection helped me come back to my tasks and move out of my disappointments.
I was underestimating the value of a clear Vision. I experienced its power in this service. The vision of this organization is only to teach meditation and nothing else. This gave crystal clarity and focus to everyone part of this organization. This vision percolated throughout organizational roles and tasks.
Observation : If someone would waste food, throw garbage, waste water, electricity etc. volunteers would ignore them. They would quietly take care of it. If someone has different spiritual beliefs etc. teachers will not argue or indulge in it. The only focus is to teach the practical aspect of meditation to people. Beyond that people are their own masters. The manifestation of this clarity and focus was amazing to witness. I yearn for such clarity in vision for myself!
Resentment and Gratitude don’t co-exist. When I am filled with resentment at that time I am blaming, complaining and stuck. I am unable to identify my unfulfilled needs and take action. When I am filled with gratitude — no matter how inconsequential things — I am creative, I generate solutions, take bold actions and I am compassionate. Exploring what causes resentment and how I can invite more gratitude was one of the goals from this stint. I got several insights on the same.
Nothing has been more fulfilling for me to see than other’s growth. Impact is my core need. Service mindset and servant leadership have this at the heart. It may not be mainstream and may not even go along with the commercialized way of society. Yet it is becoming a way of life for me.