*This is part of a two-part series on transcendent living: examining how we can focus on the half we can control in any situation (our responses) and how we can get outside of ourselves to find ourselves again, more content and joyful, through helping and loving others.
“However perplexed you may at any hour become about some question of truth, one refuge and resource is always at hand: you can do something for someone besides yourself. When your own burden is heaviest, you can always lighten a little some other burden. At the times when you cannot see God, there is still open to you this sacred possibility, to show God; for it is the love and kindness of human hearts through which the divine reality comes home to men, whether they name it or not. Let this thought, then, stay with you: there may be times when you cannot find help, but there is no time when you cannot give help.” ~George S. Merriam
When I was a much younger person, I was dramatic and melancholy. I felt things very passionately, and my lows were very low. I recall many occasions when my poor mother, at a loss for how to comfort me, would suggest that I think about doing something for someone else. She’d say that it would help me get my mind off of myself. I remember finding the wisdom in this admonition to be suspect. How would helping someone else change my problem? I could do something else for someone else all day long, but I’d still come back to the thing that was making me unhappy at the end of the day. Her advice felt like a smokescreen, and to be honest, in my self-absorption, I sometimes didn’t think I had the energy to offer anything to anyone else. I couldn’t pull myself up out of the doldrums long enough to selflessly help someone else and to feel the power of such self forgetfulness.
I wish my mother was still alive for me to tell her that I finally learned what she was trying to teach me. It was a lesson I did not absorb at a deep, soul level until after her passing in December of 2014. Happily, with maturity, the storminess of my younger disposition has been replaced with more stability, but when I do find myself feeling overcome with negative emotion, I have learned to reach out to someone in friendship or to offer help to a person who I perceive could use it. Even better, I have found that making intentional helpfulness a part of my everyday life is marvelous insurance against gloominess and emotional tumult. When I am weighted by the heavy shroud of “I,” I am disconnected from others, and we were never meant to be disconnected. Others need me, and I need them, and so when I feel my mood sinking, and my thoughts turn inward in an isolating way rather than a healthy, rejuvenating way, reaching out to others in helpfulness is remarkable medicine.
How beautiful is George Merriam’s statement that, at the moments when we cannot see God, “there is still open to [us] this sacred possibility, to show God.” How true it is that “it is the love and kindness of human hearts through which the divine reality comes home to men, whether they name it or not.” Many times, in recent years, when I have felt a dip in my spirits, I have determined to combat it by picking up the phone and expressing an interest in another’s life. I have purposed to “be love” to the person on the other end of the phone or to the person whose house I’ve visited in order to lend some service. Still sometimes when depression threatens, I do not feel inclined to expand beyond myself; I want to conserve energy and stay internally focused. Yet, I have observed that not once, when I overridden this reticence and reached out to another in my own distress, have I regretted that action or failed to have been cheered by it.
Who could you reach out to this week to either help or to just offer the rare gift of listening? How can you endeavor to build helpfulness into your daily practice?