Serve Your Gifts

Utpaladeva and Devotion
October 24, 2017

The real question is not “What can I be?” but “What can I give?” How can I serve others with my gifts? A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi.

If you consider the ordinary self—the ordinary person that you believe you are most of the time—you have to come to the conclusion if you just contemplate your ordinary self, and go into how it feels being that ordinary self, you have to contemplate that that ordinary self isn't a thing.

It's not an object. It's full of activity and constant change and flux, whatever that is. It's an experience, ephemeral, and it's not something you can put your finger on or point to or condense or congeal or finalize.

It's always in activity of becoming and unbecoming. And this isn't a highfalutin philosophical idea. All you have to do to verify this is to go inside and feel how it feels being that. And you'll realize that it's full of life, abuzz with life and unstable, and has no center or ground.

So we shouldn't ever worry or try to feel or act as if the central question of our lives is, what should I be? Because you're never going to be anything.

You're only going to do things. So if you say to— I want to be an engineer, I want to be a writer, I want to be something. Well, when we say those things to other people or ourselves—or I am this and I am that—we aren't ever just talking about some simple, literal way in which I have a job as an engineer. We actually have coalesced some kind of faux identity around these nouns.

But we aren't nouns, we're verbs. So you aren't ever going to be anything. You're just going to do things. So it'd be more appropriate to say I'm engineering, or I'm writing, or I'm cooking, or I'm mothering than to say I am any of those things.

Now the question is, then, about the kind of egoic panic that we attach to whatever it is we say we are.

Or even if we change the paradigm a little bit and say that we're doers and actors, not be-ers, we still have this panic about somehow being something that we can feel good about. That's acceptable to us, that's acceptable to other people, you know, that we get admiration for, kudos.

That's a completely impoverished way of relating to the things that we do. The real question is, what can I give?

Not what can I be, or what can I do? Or how should I be, or who should I be? All of those questions are completely wrapped up in the egoic small self and our sense of limitation, separation, and self-defensiveness and aggressiveness.

The real question is, what should I give? What do I have to give? How can I give it? Every wisdom tradition that I've studied or practiced in or encountered says that the hallmark of a life well lived is having the opportunity to give generously, to be generous. There's nothing else that is really fulfilling.

So the hallmark of a life well lived isn't to become something. It's not to reach some pinnacle of achievement. It's not to be renowned or famed for anything, or thought well of, or thought of in any particular way.

It's to be able to give whatever it is you came here with and whatever you developed while you were here—to be able to give that.

In relationship to giving—giving is offering, making offerings. And those of you that have been around a while, or even if you just consider it a little bit, everything here is offering itself.

We are here, and the whole world is offered to us as a place for us to experience and live and have all of these relationships and communications. This is all being offered to us. Nature is offering and receiving. Every conversation we have is offering and receiving. Everything works in this call and response, offering and receiving way.

So when we think about what we have come to give, what we have to give, what we have developed that we can give, we are actually talking about how can we participate in this ritual, this puja of life?

Forget about what can I be! That's a ridiculous question. Everybody comes here with different capacities, and we also develop new ones along the way as we live our lives. Americans get into trouble with this word dharma. Dharma means duty in an ordinary sense.

You'll hear people using the word dharma in India in a very ordinary way just to mean, like, duty. You often encounter just service people saying stuff like that, like if you're in a restaurant—it is my duty, madam, to refill your water cup. You know, something like that—it gets very highfalutin. [laughs]

But dharma relates to duty, but in the sense of service. What service are you providing? In this country, we think of dharma in a different way very often—in a very self-centered, competitive way. What is that one thing that I can do, that I can be, that will make me great? What is the thing I'm great at? See here we're very concerned with greatness.

And then if you don't have some incredible passion or some incredible thing you're great at, then you feel all bad about yourself.

This isn't the idea of dharma at all. And certainly it has nothing to do with spiritual awakening. This idea that you're going to find the thing, your perfect gift.

Everybody has something to give. In fact, each of us has many things to give, not just one special thing that announces our greatness to the world.

In every moment you have something to give. You know, you have your kindness to give, your open-heartedness to give. You have your attention to give. You have solace to give, you have wisdom to give. In every moment you have something to give.

But then we also have capacities, you know, for instance, me with writing. I have a capacity to write. It didn't come— I didn't come in fully formed as a writer. I had a love of language, and I liked to write, and I worked at it every day.

And then eventually it became something I could do with great facility. And then the question is, am I just going to be a writer, or am I going to make that offering? Use that in some way that's generous, that just gives the gift away?

So when you are relating to your gifts as what you are going to give, then you have to become a servant of those gifts.

This is the point of what I'm saying. You are not the master of the gift. You are not the bestower of the gift. [laughs] You're the servant of the gift—you're the servant of the people that you're giving to, or the situation you're giving to. You're the servant of the gift because no one comes with a gift that's ready to give.

We all have to do various kinds of work to take our gifts and make them the best possible gifts we can make them—so we can give the best possible thing to others. If I had never worked on my writing, my writing wouldn't be very helpful to anyone. I worked on it every day for my whole life, pretty much.

We have to apprentice ourselves to our gifts, we have to be the servants of our gifts. And then we— like servants, we can serve others with our gifts. This is the attitude we should have. This is the dharmic attitude.

It also takes the onus on— off of us for being great. This prescription like we're supposed to be great—I'm going to work on my gift so that I'm great at this. You just sucked all the service out of your gift if you have that attitude.

The idea is you come here and you just— you serve your gifts and you give them all away. You just give everything all away. Lord Shiva is giving everything away at every moment, constantly overflowing with this reality. This manifest life is his gift to us—to himself, really.

But it's this constant overflowing—constant creation—happening all the time. We should strive to be like that—that we have gifts, we make them as good as we can in order to give them away. So we have to be the servant of the gift and the servant of others that we're giving to.

How does the servant relate to others? Well, if you're— let's say you're a servant, a literal servant of somebody, right? You have a craft—you're going to serve somebody dinner. You want to do it in the best possible way. You want to learn how to serve that person with the right attitude and the right form, and good timing, right? Maybe a dash of elegance.

So all your life, what you're doing is— you're not becoming something. You're not going to be anything, even if you have decided that I am this, and I am that, and that's what's so great. In a second that all could go, right?

And if you have the attitude towards your gifts, towards your capacities, that you're going to make them into an identity—of something I am and I am this—then all of the things you give are going to be poisoned by that.

You have something that's 100% nourishing, right? That's your capacities that you're giving away with a spirit of generosity and joy—and all the work you've done on them—and you're just happy to give it all away, and you just continually do that.

But then if you're feeling I am this and I am that, and I am great, and I'm a master of this and a master of that, it's like there's 100% nourishment, but now there's only 50% nourishment and the other 50% goes back to you and it's poison.

So change your whole paradigm—don't be anything. Just give stuff. Figure out what your gifts are, and understand that you're giving gifts in every moment—if you're being openhearted and kind, you are.

But then you have specific things that you can do—you love it, and then you do that for others.

When you don't do things in a generous way—when you aren't giving your gifts—when you aren't being the giver and the servant of your gifts, other people feel it, no doubt about it. Even if they cannot articulate it, or don't even— even if I say this and someone is thinking, that's ridiculous!

If you make a plate of cookies, and as you're making those cookies, you're thinking, oh everyone's going to love these cookies. These are my best cookies. This is such a great recipe—I am such a great cook!

And then you put those cookies out, and you're thinking, look how beautifully they're arranged! And in your mind you're imagining how everyone's going to praise your cookies. And you're going through fantasy conversations in your mind about how everyone's going to love your cookies. I see some smiles of recognition here! [laughter] Substitute whatever for the cookies.

Then you're going to go to other people and go, [mimics sincerity] I made these for you. [laughter] And then you're fantasizing how the person is going to say, oh you're so generous and loving!

Do you think that person doesn't feel that they've just been served poison? They may not know it, like, to articulate it—but they will feel it. And when your senses are more open, and your heart is more open, you will also be able to sense what is really happening.

Is this really a gift? Is this really generosity? Or is this partly just ego stuff? You'll be able to feel all the fine little nuances, but understand that even if no one's feeling it—but this is what's happening—everyone is feeling it.

It's like people who eat— or we all do this because we all eat in restaurants, but we eat food that has a lot of poison in it. Even if we eat organic at home, nobody can avoid eating food with pesticide in it unless you, like, never go out.

Even if you're eating it, and you're not noticing any difference between this food and what you make— organic food you make at home, your body knows that it's poison, right? Or that part of it is poison.

It's the same thing when you're not being the servant of your gifts and you're not really serving other people. They know—and you know. And the whole situation is poisoned.

So don't be anything. Don't be great, don't be a master, don't be admired, don't be recognized, don't fantasize about everyone applauding you and thinking you're fabulous.

Be the servant of your gifts, and be the servant of the people you're giving to. Approach all of your best qualities and best skills as something you can give away. And that that's what you're actually doing here.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.