A student asked me the other day the difference between, ‘is this serving me’ and ‘sense of entitlement.’ I thought this was such an interesting question and one that deserved a public forum.
What does ‘is this serving me’ actually mean? For me, when I ask myself this question I am asking ‘is this good for me’ ‘does this make me a better person?’ ‘does this help me on my personal path of excellence, growth, (or whatever that looks like for you).’ I feel it is important as well to talk about service itself. When we are on a spiritual path, we accept that we are part of a greater whole. On the yogic path it is believed that when we affect one person, one animal, one being, we in turn are all affected. As human beings we are not separate of the cosmos that surrounds us and depending on the philosophical stance you take, we are in fact part of a big cosmic dance where play and delight are the main intentions.
Those of us who are suffering, on any level, would not necessarily agree that we are playing or delighting in anything. I think if that is how one feels, it calls into question is what you are doing serving you if you are suffering? There is a buddhist proverb that states, “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” It is difficult when we are deeply suffering to hear this and feel as though we can make a difference but there is truth to the concept that we dream our world into being. We always have choices to work with what we have. We may not have the same choices as others…but we do have choices with ourselves.
Without going too far off topic, I feel it necessary to bring up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Put very simply there are certain things that need to be fulfilled before we move to next needs. For example, we do not necessarily contemplate who am I, where are we from, what is the universe, if we are too focussed on making it to the next meal or where we are going to sleep tonight. I do not want to make it sound like either that those suffering with homelessness, starvation etc have ‘choices’ because I think that is too simple an assumption for a complicated human condition; I am simply here speaking on a philosophical level.
With that being said, many of us feel trapped by our condition when we are in fact not trapped by the condition itself but the state of our mind. We can’t get off the merry-go-round because we refuse to make change because change is so deeply uncomfortable. Yoga has been a profound way for me to get comfortable with discomfort. That’s not to say we do asana to the level of pain, but that we can move to the edge, make friends with it and breathe deeply there. In this way we can build trust with ourselves that we can hold ourselves in a deep experience, that when the going gets tough we can be courageous and feel the discomfort and then make a choice about how we can move into the discomfort rather than ignoring it, medicating it or choosing to move toward it again, again, again.
I think this is from AA but one of my favorite quotes is “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The other statement, ‘sense of entitlement,’ is intimately interwoven with ‘is this serving me.’ It challenges the whole idea of what we deserve. This too is a deeply philosophical question. For me, on a fundamental level, no one deserves more than what they need. How do we define need? Do you want to accumulate wealth to hoard, distribute or to self-serve? Do you deserve a house on the hill with a maid because you work 80 hours a week, 40 hours a week, 10 hours a week? Do you deserve that new bracelet, new car, food on the table?
I think we can all agree everyone is entitled to basic needs: food, shelter, love. (Some may even argue this point because of addicts, criminals, and other people who some consider less deserving, but that’s getting really complicated.) If we generally agree on this basic premise when does it start to be ok to accumulate resources based on the amount of work you do when others are unable to meet their basic needs?
If we go back to the idea that we are all connected, if it’s not serving someone else, is it serving you?