- Nipun Mehta
At the height of the dot-com boom in 1999, a few tech-savvy friends and I walked into a homeless shelter to give without any strings attached. Our motivation? We just wanted to serve and quickly discovered that such a practice of selfless giving is something that we all have access to, no matter who we are or what we do.
Our trip to the homeless shelter blossomed into an organization called ServiceSpace where we have gift websites to thousands of small nonprofits. ServiceSpace has now evolved into a remarkable incubator for dozens of projects, including an online good news portal, "Smile Cards" that spread kindness, and a gift-economy restaurant in Berkeley and rickshaw in India—all touching millions of people.
While the external impact of these projects is tremendous, what is most striking is the fact that ServiceSpace doesn't fundraise, has no staff, and remains 100 percent volunteer-run. Everyone involved is driven simply by the volition to grow in service. In a world dominated by financial incentives that appeal to a consumption mindset, ServiceSpace is a counterculture invitation to engage in small acts of generosity, continually shifting towards a mindset of inspired contribution. It's a beautiful fact that in practicing kindness, we can't help but deepen our understanding of how inner and outer change are fundamentally intertwined. Here are five reasons to serve that we've discovered through our own journey.
1. Serve to discover abundance: the radical shift from "me" to "we."
When you serve you start to uncover the full range of resources at your disposal—your time, presence, attention—and recognize that the ability to give stems from a state of mind and heart, a place much deeper than the material. Inspired by the possibilities this opens up in every moment, you begin to discover humble opportunities to serve—everywhere. This process begins a shift from a me-orientation to a we-orientation.
2. Serve to express gratitude.
When you acknowledge the fullness of your life, you can manifest a heart of service in any situation. In that sense, service doesn't start when we have something to give—it blossoms naturally when we have nothing left to take. And that is a powerful place to be.
We begin to play our part—first, by becoming conscious of the offerings we receive, then by feeling gratitude for them, and finally by continuing to pay forward our gifts with a heart of joy.
3. Serve to transform yourself.
Any time we practice the smallest act of service—even if it's only holding a door for somebody with a full heart that says, "May I be of use to this person"—that kind of giving changes the deeply embedded habit of self-centeredness. In that brief moment, we experience other-centeredness. That other-centeredness relaxes the patterns of the ego, a collection of unexamined, self-oriented tendencies that subtly influence our choices. This is why no true act of service, however small, can ever really be wasted.
4. Serve to honor our profound interconnection.
Over time, all of those small acts, those small moments, lead to a different state of being—a state in which service becomes increasingly effortless. And as this awareness grows, you inevitably start to perceive beyond individualistic patterns: Each small act of service is an unending ripple that synergizes with countless others.
5. Serve to align with a natural unfolding.
When we increasingly choose to remain in that space of service, we start to see new things. The needs of the current situation become clearer, we become instruments of a greater order and consequently our actions become more effortless. When a group of people performs this kind of service as a practice, it creates an ecosystem that holds a space, allowing value to emerge organically. All of this indirect value, the ripple effect, has space and time to add up, synergize with other ripples, and multiply into something completely unexpected. In a humble fashion these ripples continue to seed unpredictable manifestations. Such an ecosystem can have its plans and strategies, but places more emphasis on emergent co-creation. So a lot of the ripples will remain unseen for years; some perhaps will be the basis for a seventh-generation philanthropy. It doesn't matter, because they are unconditional gifts.
What each of us can do, on a personal level, is make such small offerings of service that ultimately create the field for deeper change. The revolution starts with you and me.
Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace (www.servicespace.org), an incubator of gift economy projects that strength social capital in communities and inspire people to be the change they wish to see.
This article was published in the Souvenir of Yoga Sangam, the International Conference 2012 organized by Yoga Bharati