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Only Service Heals

--by Rachel Naomi Remen (Apr 07, 2014)


If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise. Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe. A fixer has the illusion of being causal. A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown. Fixing and helping are very personal; they are very particular, concrete and specific. We fix and help many different things in our lifetimes, but when we serve we are always serving the same thing. Everyone who has ever served through the history of time serves the same thing. We are servers of the wholeness and mystery in life.
 
The bottom line, of course, is that we can fix without serving. And we can help without serving. And we can serve without fixing or helping. I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul. They may look similar if you're watching from the outside, but the inner experience is different. The outcome is often different, too.
 
Our service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will sustain us.
 
Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. Fundamentally, helping, fixing and service are ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. From the perspective of service, we are all connected: All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.
 
Lastly, fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways. Only service heals.

-- Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen on Service, adapted from a talk published in the Noetic Sciences Review


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29 Previous Reflections:

 
On May 20, 2016 shelly wrote:

 fascinating distinctions of the terms: fix/help/serve. will show this to my son, a family therapist, who perhaps needs to shift his thinking so as  to combat  work fatigue.  and the fact that it is written by none other than Rachel Naomi Remen, a favorite of his, is perfect.



On Apr 22, 2014 Kathleen wrote:

 As a Shiatsu Massage Therapist,  are  mantra is to be of service not to fix.  I have to be remind many times that I cannot fix the person I am with, but to be of service to that person, were ever they are in their life.
 



1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
On Apr 10, 2014 B2 wrote:

Was reflecting on the nuances of the word "service" and how it has evolved for me. If you were to ask me in my early teens, service meant to "serve for ones country" in the armed forces. Qualities like sacrifice, respect, camaraderie, and discipline were displayed in the media and I wanted to embody them. Now, service means to surrender to the present moment. A quote to illustrate, "the greatest gift you can give someone is your presence."



1 reply: Me | Post Your Reply
On Apr 9, 2014 Raahi wrote:

 For the past few months, I am working on connecting with "my self". I have been looking for ways to do it best, realizing that an important part of it is gratitude and forgiveness. I thought that I am progressing well on this path, till I encountered a challenge yesterday. I was struggling with my old feelings of retaliation and reacting to negative thoughts thrown at me. Wondering how to deal with it. I did not want to go back to my old ways and react and retaliate, but the words kept playing in my head, I kept feeling torn and drained. In the past I have tried in vain to help and fix the relationship and the circumstances. It was beginning to dawn on me this morning that in order to move on and not be pulled back, I need to forgive. But it is easier said than done. I remembered an advice of The Dalai Lama, that if we understand the background and situation of the person involved we can empathize with them. Once I did that, I was able to forgive and immediately felt very l  See full.

 For the past few months, I am working on connecting with "my self". I have been looking for ways to do it best, realizing that an important part of it is gratitude and forgiveness. I thought that I am progressing well on this path, till I encountered a challenge yesterday. I was struggling with my old feelings of retaliation and reacting to negative thoughts thrown at me. Wondering how to deal with it. I did not want to go back to my old ways and react and retaliate, but the words kept playing in my head, I kept feeling torn and drained. In the past I have tried in vain to help and fix the relationship and the circumstances. It was beginning to dawn on me this morning that in order to move on and not be pulled back, I need to forgive. But it is easier said than done. I remembered an advice of The Dalai Lama, that if we understand the background and situation of the person involved we can empathize with them. Once I did that, I was able to forgive and immediately felt very light in my heart. This article helped me understand that when we deal with many subjective situations in life, helping and fixing usually bring only a temporary relief, if at all. But when we go about life with an attitude of service, the healing begins from within and in untold ways spreads out like ripples.....

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On Apr 9, 2014 Crimsie wrote:

 I reflect upon these words...... I feel service can be entwined with helping and fixing, how could it be any different.  It depends upon the individual, and the indiviual circumstance.  True, as someone who has had a chronic illness
for 19 years, there are not many who are of service, but, most just do their best.  



On Apr 8, 2014 david doane wrote:

 The first thing I typically think of when I see something about service is Tagore's saying "I slept and dreamed that life is joy; I awoke and saw that life is service; I took action and behold that service is joy."  I also thought of Ken Untner saying to the people gathered at his installation as bishop, "Hi, my name is Ken and I'll be your waiter for the next few years."  He saw himself as a servant, not a prince or ruler.  As I see it, to heal is to become more whole, and no one can do that for me, though we sometimes like to think it's done for us or to us, and some people like to think of themselves as having the power to heal or cure others.  Someone can be present, inspiring and facilitating (which I think are a great service) -- it's for me to turn on, be open and allow for healing to happen.  I think fixing implies an attitude of superiority, and it can easily be disrespectful in spite of good intentions.  I see the best of service as a way  See full.

 The first thing I typically think of when I see something about service is Tagore's saying "I slept and dreamed that life is joy; I awoke and saw that life is service; I took action and behold that service is joy."  I also thought of Ken Untner saying to the people gathered at his installation as bishop, "Hi, my name is Ken and I'll be your waiter for the next few years."  He saw himself as a servant, not a prince or ruler.  As I see it, to heal is to become more whole, and no one can do that for me, though we sometimes like to think it's done for us or to us, and some people like to think of themselves as having the power to heal or cure others.  Someone can be present, inspiring and facilitating (which I think are a great service) -- it's for me to turn on, be open and allow for healing to happen.  I think fixing implies an attitude of superiority, and it can easily be disrespectful in spite of good intentions.  I see the best of service as a way of being helpful that is devoid of superiority or inferiority.  We can resist the temptation to fix by being clearer that fixing and being of service are different ways of being. 

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1 reply: A | Post Your Reply
On Apr 7, 2014 Sanjay Mudnaney wrote:

 I remember one day I saw an injured stray puppy on the street , he was small , frail and badly injured . I could not walk away . I picked up that little life and took it to a vet . He needed treatment for his wounds. I got him treated over the next few days . Then I put his picture up on FB and someone adopted him . He is now a healthy pup . It just happened spontaneously . I was not trying to fix anything , just connecting with an feeling the pain of that puppy , feeling his loneliness in this big world. I was serving not the puppy and healing his wounds but I was serving myself , and I was healing myself  , my wounds. I was so very connected to that small life , almost feeling it within me .



2 replies: Gurvir, Me | Post Your Reply
On Apr 7, 2014 pluto178 wrote:

 Sometimes we need support, we get crutches, after a time the crutches can go, we are strong again. If we are offered constant support it actually makes us weak. The stake added to a tree in the first few years of its life offers support but if you don't remove it soon enough the tree will not become flexible and able to bend with the winds. Plants and children grow strong with the help of the nursery but you are teaching them to grow strong when they stand alone. Good intentions in helping and fixing can have a great effect on your ego but make little difference to the person who needs healing. Help people to help themselves and you working in service x



2 replies: Amy, Cecilia | Post Your Reply
On Apr 7, 2014 Me wrote:

 Within the school I work, I serve children by providing support, resources and questions to assist them to think/problem solve/act/create for themselves.  I am not "to give"/"to fix" for the children . . . I am "to give" with the aim to have the child help him/herself.  "Spoon feeding" leads to further dependence . . . "Providing a Menu" leads to thought/independence/options/growth.  



On Apr 5, 2014 Conrad P Pritscher wrote:

 Before I read the article I read some possible questions to answer. My 1st impression was that words have so many meanings that it makes very little difference. After reading the article I know believe with Reman that service/compassion to and with anyone and anything is what happy peaceful living is about. In my younger years I thought that if I would be of service I would get a reward later in heaven. I now find that when I am of service, the reward is immediate. I notice myself being a part of the whole when I am compassionate to anyone or anything. Thanks for the opportunity to respond. Warm and kind regards to everyone



On Apr 4, 2014 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 As I was reading this writing, words of St Francis flashed in my mind: Make me an instrument of thy peace. Serving others is going beyond myself, surrendering my ego. The big I does many admirable and helpful things, fixing and helping. In this ego bound limited consciousness, the other always exists-the other separate from me. When I serve  the other from my heart, the ego dissolves. The drop becomes the ocean.Peace blossoms and joy radiates. My mother's heart was always open to offer unconditional love and serve others joyfully. We felt deeply connected in her presence. I have had many heart touching memories as I was growing up. The stream of her loving presence  continued until she passed away. I feel that stream in my heart even as I am nearing 90.  In the Mindful parenting class that I am teaching, I posed a question to the parents attending the class: who comes to your mind who treated you special when you were a child? My answer to the question a  See full.

 As I was reading this writing, words of St Francis flashed in my mind: Make me an instrument of thy peace. Serving others is going beyond myself, surrendering my ego. The big I does many admirable and helpful things, fixing and helping. In this ego bound limited consciousness, the other always exists-the other separate from me. When I serve  the other from my heart, the ego dissolves. The drop becomes the ocean.Peace blossoms and joy radiates.

My mother's heart was always open to offer unconditional love and serve others joyfully. We felt deeply connected in her presence. I have had many heart touching memories as I was growing up. The stream of her loving presence  continued until she passed away. I feel that stream in my heart even as I am nearing 90. 

In the Mindful parenting class that I am teaching, I posed a question to the parents attending the class: who comes to your mind who treated you special when you were a child? My answer to the question arose effortlessly. My mom. Tears of gratitude flowed from my eyes. Her loving presence in my heart created deep connectedness with us  and among us. Such connectedness happens when I serve children in my daughter's Montessori school.This happens when I water the plants; when I hold myself compassionately when I feel deeply sad missing my wife.

At times, fixing is necessary; helping is necessary. Serving oneself and serving others creates a profound healing in oneself and in others. I think we need to tap this inner resource more than we do, individually and collectively.

Namaste.

Jagdish P Dave

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2 replies: Kristin, Mary | Post Your Reply
On Apr 4, 2014 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 As someone who serves through Story, I resonated with this post and the definitions. Thank you for offering some clarity. I have definitely both felt and seen the difference on both sides. Much of my work is in service to others; from sharing stories of compassion, kindness and understanding to build bridges between to also interviewing & gathering stories from others in the interest of breaking down stereotypes and highlighting the incredible potential that exists Everywhere. I myself have slipped into "helper" mode which depletes me and also does Not best serve the person on the receiving side; it creates an imbalance, a sort of hierarchy leaving both sides depleted. Whereas Service feels balanced and good to both. (I hope that makes sense) When we serve we are coming from something more pure, when we "help" or fix there is a certain sense of Power attached to it which is not as healthy. Thank you for pointing this out, I needed this today! HUG! 



On Apr 3, 2014 Abhishek Thakore wrote:

This passage is SO relevant to all of us engaged in the work of service! It has been a theme I have been grappling with - and hence the passage really resonates. For me, there are very clear clues to tell me what space am I serving from. For example, if there is an expectation of getting something back (however subtle, and how much ever in the future it arises), it tells me that my space was more transactional, though disguised as service Or, if I am grounded in some type of superiority (of intellect, experience or exposure) and then I act from that, it is actually a performance, a statement of my greatness disguised as service When I used the word 'disguised' here it doesn't necessarily mean only others - it may be disguised from myself in that I may be happily deluding myself about my serving. To me for service to be true, I need to surrender into the insignificance of the local 'me' - in that who am I to know what is the best way to 'solve' this? who am I to be able to influence or  See full.

This passage is SO relevant to all of us engaged in the work of service! It has been a theme I have been grappling with - and hence the passage really resonates.

For me, there are very clear clues to tell me what space am I serving from.

For example, if there is an expectation of getting something back (however subtle, and how much ever in the future it arises), it tells me that my space was more transactional, though disguised as service

Or, if I am grounded in some type of superiority (of intellect, experience or exposure) and then I act from that, it is actually a performance, a statement of my greatness disguised as service

When I used the word 'disguised' here it doesn't necessarily mean only others - it may be disguised from myself in that I may be happily deluding myself about my serving.

To me for service to be true, I need to surrender into the insignificance of the local 'me' - in that who am I to know what is the best way to 'solve' this? who am I to be able to influence or even nudge the course of a larger unfolding? and who am I before a vastly more intelligent Universe? 

(and again to not say these things intellectually, which I catch myself doing, but to truly internalize them)

I am so rarely truly serving because there is so much thinking, so much mind and so much 'me' that needs to get out of the way - and I am mindful of this, but don't try to 'fix' it, else I will be recreating the pattern all over again, within :)

So its a lovely slippery tricky slope, which makes the journey so worthwhile!

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