As a spiritual teacher, I am sometimes asked about my views regarding doing “good” in the world. Someone recently said that if I truly cared about the tragedies occurring in the world, then I would do something practical to help the oppressed and needy people. This person suggested I had been spending my time navel-gazing. My response is that, as individuals, we are each called to make a difference in the world in our own unique way. Every one of us has particular gifts and strengths that we can choose to use to help relieve the suffering of others. We each have our unique purpose to fulfill. There is no “one size fits all” answer when it comes to contributing to the greater good of humanity.
A model I find useful is to recognize the four levels of how we operate in the world, as discussed in chapter four of my book Conscious Being. At level one, we may feel overwhelmed with the seeming injustice in the world and experience a deep sense of anger, sadness, or powerlessness. We see the people we are trying to help as victims and we are filled with the need to make it “right.” At level two we are primarily concerned with taking care of our own needs. Maybe we desire fame, fortune, and success to boost our sense of self. The needs of others are not at the forefront of our awareness. We rarely participate in social action, other than perhaps making financial contributions to worthy causes. At the third level, our focus shifts again to helping others, and we are compelled to do “good” in the world. However, we don’t see those we serve as victims, we see them as fellow humans in need of support. Our intention is to be of service and offer a helping hand. We might offer assistance as a mentor or create educational courses that empower people to help themselves.
This is a noble way to serve, yet there is another level—the fourth level—which is not about what we are doing, but about who and what we are being. It is about what we are contributing at the level of consciousness. In no way am I saying that once we reach this level, we no longer serve in the ways previously mentioned. It just means that our primary way of serving is by assisting people to raise awareness and consciousness, predominantly by tending to our own spiritual being-ness. At this level, the highest contribution we can make is to allow the world to be as it is, and have compassion for the state it is in. There is no desire to “fix” it, because we know no one is broken. We deeply understand our oneness with it and allow ourselves to be moved into action—or not—from this place of connectedness. We trust that our inner knowing will guide us to our rightful place in the world, whatever that might be. Perhaps we will be guided to work in very practical ways to create positive changes for humankind, at the level of consciousness.
Your inner knowing might tell you to join the Peace Corps, or create a nonprofit to help the homeless. Or maybe it will guide you to stay in your job and support your family. Perhaps it will instruct you to travel to India and spend time in an ashram, or pack up your things and travel around the world. Only you can truly know what is yours to do. Spending time in the stillness helps to clarify what your outer calling is. You can trust your inner knowing enough to act on it. Are you still living in a world of “good and bad” while believing that you know how others “should” be living their lives? This is a form of superiority based on judgment, still functioning from a dualistic mentality, or the lower levels.
When we truly know who we are—and our actions come from that place of oneness with all that is—we cannot help but act from love. From here, it’s automatic that what we do is useful for the whole because we are being love. There’s no need to “do good” because the terms “good” and “bad” have lost their meaning. Everything we do emanates love into the world and enhances the feeling of connectedness. If everybody knew themselves at this level, there would be no starvation, no cruelty, no wars, no poverty, and no inequality. It is our divided state of consciousness that creates these issues in the first place. Imagine a world where all human beings knew themselves to be pure love—and acted accordingly—what would happen to the world’s problems? We are often asked to monitor our carbon footprint. I am asking each of us to also reflect on and adjust our “spiritual footprint.” Unlike our carbon footprint, we are wanting to increase our spiritual footprint. How we behave has a ripple effect that can and will change the world.
Rumi beautifully stated it in this way: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.”