Do you hold back from volunteering because you believe your help will not be enough, just a drop in the bucket? I like the example of Mother Teresa, who committed one small voluntary act of kindness, then another and then another. Ordinary acts of service accumulate into an inspiring, indelible and loving declaration about the power of helping one another.
The word volunteer originally came from an ancient Latin word, voluntarius, meaning “voluntary.” To volunteer, then, is to exercise our free choice on behalf of others.
The act of volunteering influences how we design our lives and makes our choices more conscious and meaningful. Volunteering also signifies generosity, a cherished form of spiritual development and expression in all traditions. To volunteer is to offer up the fruit of our enlightened intention. It elevates us and others by both deepening connection and reducing suffering.
We can wait for others to make the world a saner and compassionate place, or we can volunteer to use the upcoming time we have to move in a beneficial direction. The compassionate action you take does not have to once and for all create world peace, end all injustice or otherwise dramatically alter the world.
It only has to be one action that can serve such ideals. Many people hold back from helping because they wrongly believe that their actions would be inadequate to make the huge changes that are needed. They mistakenly judge what they can do as a failure.
Keep a journal about your journey of volunteering. Look for opportunities to volunteer throughout the day, and keep track of these. Volunteering opens your heart, so listen to your heart to guide you to those areas where you feel a connection – such as working with children, the sick, the dying, the grieving, the under-privileged, the elderly, the disabled, the animal kingdom, and so forth. Share your dreams of volunteering with others, and you may gain new insights and extra encouragement.
It goes without saying that harming others does not a friendly community make. When we volunteer we can begin to refrain from doing harm while cultivating love and good relations.
Here are four ways to plant seeds of friendship which I have observed volunteers do best:
- Notice your negative impulses. This means accepting and recognizing that you can’t force yourself to be kind and loving all of the time. Even Mother Teresa’s path was filled with doubt. If you notice a harmful emotion or thought, take a minute to breathe and investigate what caused it. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.
- Spend a minute saying a prayer for a difficult person or situation in your life. When we pray for others, we feel compassion for the circumstances that make them who they are. This may help you gain more understanding and empathy.
- Plant seeds of friendship by helping and cherishing others, even in little ways. It is the small actions that let others know they are loved and valued, and small actions only take a minute. Take to heart the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote in a letter, “It is the history of our kindnesses that alone makes this world tolerable. If it were not for that, for the effect of kind words, kind looks, kind letters ... I should be inclined to think our life a practical jest in the worst possible spirit.”
- Strive to let go of your expectations about the way people should act. Instead of getting frustrated, accept that all individuals are imperfect and subject to ignorance, confusion and delusion. Then give as much as you feel capable of giving from your heart, without demanding anything in return.
Give freely to others. You never know from what direction friendship may come, so place one-minute seeds of love and kindness wherever you happen to be.