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At Your Service

by Paul Naras

A teacher once told me that there was one Zen rule of conduct he tried to live by - that it was simpler to act one's way into 'virtuous' contemplation than it was to contemplate one's way into virtuous action.

There are quite a few motivational speakers in the public eye today. We see them on television and on tour in the larger metropolitan centers bringing their message with an almost evangelistic fervor. Their evening and weekend workshops cost hundreds of dollars because people have read the books, seen the commercials and are willing to pay the price to see their 'stars' in person. Such seminars are instrumental in providing us with prepotent shots of inspirational adrenaline. The 'rush' can last for days or weeks.

One type of survey which has never been taken (and which should be taken) is a follow-up canvassing of the patronage. Six months after the workshop how many of those customers have implemented the wisdom, the suggestions, the techniques that were communicated to them? I would venture that a mere handful are conscientiously practicing the principles. It doesn't take any work to sit there like a porous sponge and absorb words. It does take concentrated and indomitable effort to progress from the "aha - I get it" stage to an active phase.

Most people realize that it takes years (with hours of daily practice) to become a competent musician yet some of these same individuals think that you can somehow achieve enlightenment in three easy lessons. What is a fact is that understanding and inspiration do not expeditiously convert into new conducts and habits. Have you ever tried combing your hair or shaving with your wrong hand? It feels peculiar and cumbersome. Any new regimen or discipline that you have decided to instill into your life will approximate that self-same sensation. Your body/mind will initially rebel. You have to persevere and even the 'two steps forward and one step back' formula will eventually get you to your destination.

All the advice and all the techniques (meditation, visualization, affirmation) on this web site are useless! That is, until you resolve to adopt and set them in motion. Information that is merely theoretical is like water poured into a sieve.

Returning to our example of the musician, imagine such a person devoting much of his life to developing this talent but playing only for himself; never gifting anyone with his musical interpretations and proficiency. The New Age aspirant has a similar lesson to master with regards to the issue of service. What is the point of becoming a passive beneficiary of esoteric lore if there is no admonition to employ this erudition in a pragmatic way? Is worldly wisdom accumulated simply to know that we know - and to surrender the odd kernel of discernment here and there at cocktail parties?

No one is innately important, influential or extraordinary but the application of one's personal insights and skills in service to others can indeed secure notability and authority. Ego sometimes deceives certain New Agers who imagine for themselves some grandiose divine mission that will alter the course of humanity. Yes, we can change the world, but the vast majority of us will accomplish this by simply setting an example and being of service to the people we encounter during the course of a typical day.

We make a grave error if we think that an interest in metaphysics and self-realization is a clarion call shepherding us toward a life of total contemplation. The New Age is not about monasteries. Rigorous self-discipline and study is essential but the crucial lessons we have to learn by heart occur not in a library or hermitage but in the arena of social intercourse and everyday living. One cannot develop any sort of depth by isolating oneself from others. Yes, solitude can be lucid and purposive. Retreats and other temporary forms of voluntary exile can be necessary and even indispensable. But, the New Age man and woman cannot and must not labor in insularity and reclusion. A flame cannot exist in a vacuum!

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