The world has no shortage of problems: starving children, diseases and epidemics, natural catastrophes and, of course, the host of other environmental, health, and social problems we’ve created for ourselves. While dealing with these things is essential, perhaps it’s necessary for us to begin healing the world by acknowledging charity begins at home, and becoming more charitable to ourselves and the communities we live in.
An overwhelming prospect, to be sure, and one that can inspire a wide mix of feelings in people, ranging from guilt to inadequacy. At a time when many of us have seriously depleted resources due to financial woes, job losses, and health issues of our own, there are still plenty of opportunities to make a difference (however small) in our own backyards.
One Small Thing
Jonathan Ellerby, Ph.D., is the author of Working with Indigenous Elders (Aboriginal Issues Press, 2005), and Return to the Sacred: Ancient Pathways to Spiritual Awakening (Hay House, 2009), a guide to helping searchers find a personal spiritual path that works for them. In addition, he regularly leads workshops, retreats, and guided travel journeys around the world, and serves as the Spiritual Program Director for Canyon Ranch Health Resorts.
“First,” suggests Ellerby, “when you’re daunted by all that needs to be done in the world, and the tragedies and imbalances that you’d like to help address, remember that helping is helping. So whether the problem is in Africa or next door, one issue is not necessarily more significant than the other. We’ve come to see the long-distance version of help in a somewhat glorified light when in the end, help is help, and making the world a better place means everywhere.”
Part of the challenge, says Ellerby, is that too often, we become caught up in what we’re shown in the media. Tsunamis and earthquakes in other countries are somehow portrayed to us as bigger and sexier than the house fire three blocks away, or the child in your daughter’s class who needs a decent pair of shoes or a warmer coat. The more dramatic the situation, the more quickly it gets our attention. In truth, there are hungry children, neglected animals, and displaced families here in the US, and quite likely within our own communities.
“Just because it calls to us with more passion,” says Ellerby, “or a celebrity is asking for donations, doesn’t make it more important. What is going on at your local community center is important, too. When we want to make a difference in the world, the first thing we can do is look within ourselves. Be a conscious consumer and caring citizen. If you treat the check-out bagger at the store unkindly or don’t recycle the cans from your organic soups, then what was the point you were trying to make by going to the natural food store to begin with? Colossal change is rooted in the lives of individuals. There is no such thing as a massive movement it is always individuals making the decision to change what’s going on around them, one person at a time.”
When you can’t think about sending money to others in need because you’re struggling to find enough to cover your own rent, mortgage, or grocery bill, it can cause a number of personal reactions: the feeling of failing on both a personal and global level, guilt that you have a roof over your head when others don’t, and shame that you have food in your cupboards when others are forced to go without. Instead of becoming paralyzed at the crushing enormity of the world’s suffering, it’s important to go easy on yourself. Consider the words of spiritual teacher Ram Dass, in his book, Be Here Now taking whatever action is within your power, regardless of how small it may seem.
“Spiritual traditions around the world say the same thing: Charity starts at home,” says Ellerby. “It’s a mistake to think true healing can begin in any other way. It must be backed up by our consciousness, or it is not sustainable.”
For starters, says Ellerby, look within your home. Especially in times of financial uncertainty, we can still bring our families together, and make small changes that will improve our health and perhaps save a bit of money in the process. We can compost, recycle, change the way we shop, play a board game together rather than purchase expensive movie tickets. We can cook at home rather than buy prepared foods. This, he says, can even become a personal family mission.
“Create a family mission statement,” he offers. “Let your house be a microcosm of the ecosystem you are healing, the world you are serving. Build on that concept and philosophy with your children. Ask, how many different ways can we make our homes and lives a shining example? Maybe that’s your gift to the world to have a genuinely soulful, eco-sensitive home within your community. Once you’ve tended to yourself and your own home, look within your community for opportunities to serve. In any community, there are always projects desperate for people’s time and energy. There’s no shortage of need in the world around you for your soul, your energy, your heart. Perhaps you can support a homeless program for just one hour a week. Think about it: If everyone in your community did that, the outcome could be incredible.”
If you’re feeling stuck or shut down by the vastness of the world’s needs, don’t sit around waiting for your motivation for involvement to return. The energy to take action comes from action, says Ellerby. If you sit down and complain, and wait for someone else to start making changes, they probably won’t. Think about all those times when working out was absolutely the last thing in the world you wanted to do, or had the energy for then, once you’d been on the treadmill for five minutes, you found the impetus to continue. “We feel energized by doing,” explains Ellerby. “Not doing creates a negative momentum it’s the opposite of moving forward. As the saying goes, when there is peace in the self there is peace in the family; when there is peace in the family, there is peace in the community; when there is peace in the community, there is peace in the nation; when there is peace in the nation, there is peace in the world.”
Ellerby offers these additional suggestions for beginning to heal the world’s wounds from the proximity of your own backyard:
What can you give?
There are other things to offer besides money. Become a mentor to someone in your community who wants to learn more about something you’re already good at. Offer your wisdom and experience. If you have the energy and personality, become a community leader. Maybe you’re exactly the person who can commit the time and energy to pull a group together and help ensure that everyone else stays on track. This could be a group addressing a social or environmental issue, or planning the rehab of a local site or home. Leadership is something a community always needs. Choose the path of sacred service. Service is good for the soul.
What can you teach?
Education is a wonderful and a very valuable gift. If you have a particular skill, talent, or hobby you’re especially good at, teach others. Maybe just once a year, you can invite people into your home in order to teach what you know. This could be gardening, quilting, winter composting, dog training, or baking a cake. If you have a skill, share it. Your gift of education has the potential to add energy, life contentment, and enrichment to members of your community.
Resolve to be your personal best
There’s a saying by St. Francis de Sales that goes, “Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” Make the commitment, as Gandhi said, to be the change you seek. If you can be the best you can in each and every setting emotionally, physically, and spiritually, wouldn’t that change the whole world? If you change the way you treat the world, you change the way the world treats you and that’s changing the world. Perhaps you can elect to not be at the center of stress, gossip, or judgment. Maybe that’s your gift this season. If you aren’t interested in doing it for yourself, do it for the world. Being conscious and intentional makes a difference. Your wellness is the wellness of the world. And that, indeed, is a gift beyond measurement.
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