Servitude IS Self-Care
Recently having a conversation with my Dad, he was lamenting the loss of his own life and time being bound by duty to the care of his old, frail but still grotesquely mean and ferocious Father. I questioned why he was doing what he was doing if this is how it made him feel and cautioned him against having a hidden agenda of hope, that in his Dad's dying days, he might suddenly proclaim love and apology to the son he had so mistreated. I could see my Father was tormented by the emotional injuries within that festered with anger and resentment, in contrast with his own integrity to do what was right - in this case caring for his Dad regardless of any thanks or affection in return.
I reflected a lot on this place my Dad found himself but more I reflected on the torment. As yoga people we are so blessed that we have the teachings of the Yoga Sutra to guide us out of all problems. In yoga, duty and joy, are one in the same thing. This is the goal. It is very clearly written that walking toward this goal is the key to complete liberation from suffering. It is seeded in this idea that I do for me, by doing for you. Self-care exists in servitude. All of these things, are one in the same thing!! There's something about this that stirs so much excitement within me. The notion of giving, of thoughtfulness was not always an easy one for me - perhaps it was growing up in the middle of two very strong sisters and all feeling like we were pups in a litter competing for something. There was always this sense of small panic within me that I would miss out on something, that there wouldn't be enough cake or hugs, that my sister's would get more potatoes than me. I don't really know, but I could recognise a tension in this 'me' and 'mine' mentality. I didn't however know a way out, until yoga.
During my years of study, this idea started to come up again and again that somehow we are all connected. At first I used to think about it, like an invisible thread. Now, I am aware of this connection in a more saturated way - that you are me and I am you, the only difference is the steps that we've each walked and the impressions those steps have left. I don't know your steps, so I cannot judge any conclusions that you've come to about certain things, it is only my job to clear the impressions of my own steps, so that I can see me, and see you, clearly; that you are source and so am I. If I create a disturbance for you, it creates also disturbance for me. If I create safe space for you, it creates safe space for me. If I let you have the last piece of delicious, gooey chocolate cake and witness your immense joy, your joy obliterates my fomo and becomes also my joy.
Of course it is much easier to write these things on paper than it is to live them but it is a most amazing practice to have. In it exists at first this obligation: I am deciding for me that my duties will become the same things that bring me joy! This does not involve changing the duties to be only the things that I like to do but changing the attitude toward the necessary duties that already are. It involves altering the definition of self-care in an absolute way to mean servitude to others. So at first there is some effort to change to this way of thinking - as we fold the clothes - 'I love this! This makes everything so organised for everyone, it keeps the space uncluttered, it is such a wonderfully necessary task!' So this mantra enables us to be light for the duration of the duty, so we can not waste our life on a heavy heart over the things we must do and at it's end we can truly celebrate! The next step is finding ways to extend this out from our own duties or family duties and to the kindnesses for others, which may even mean taking on someone else's duties, even a strangers. In fact there is an interesting equation that exists - the less familiar the person that we extend kindness to, the more potent the effect. In these actions, we may never fully know the deep resounding impact on the other. If such actions come from a genuine place of love and celebration for the action itself, having no attachment or expectation to the fruit of that action ie expecting anything in return, this will be nourishing and fuelling beyond any action directly taken for self. This is the whole basis of sraddha - total love and complete commitment, which comes with the virya - vitality of the entire Universe.
Some of the most practical places to practice this concept are when we recognise our own desires for something and hand it over to the other. If we are in a rush to get somewhere, let someone merge in front of us, if we see just one croissant left and there are two people in front of us, find peace in the possibility that either one of them could order it and if they do, celebrate for them. Create opportunities to practice non-attachment but go so further beyond and practice immense joy for another. For my Dad, these teachings were thrust upon him by his own integrity which bound him to the duty to care for someone who had no kindness for him in return. In such moments we can choose to find our life and our happiness in those actions or we can waste our life lamenting for things to be different. Where you once might have seen a loss for yourself, you experience the bliss for another, if they are grumpy or grateful becomes irrelevant, for all of the joy is in the duty itself, then it is no duty at all.