A person’s reasons for pursing any type of spiritual practice are likely to be highly personal. Even if an individual is responding to personal or group expectations about practice, these motivations are still highly intimate. Though the specifics can vary a great deal, many motivations for practice come down to, “I want to experience more of this.” This is a perfectly fine motivation and it can lead to lots of really excellent practice and revelatory experiences. However, within this basic expression of motivation is the potential for – or at least the hope for – fulfillment. This leads to the conundrum of what motivation comes after the fulfillment. This is the question that I’m considering right now.
This isn’t the first time that the question of what comes next has arisen in my practice. The continual unfolding of desire and resolution has led me to be a little more selective and specific when it comes to the articulation of personal goals. Recognizing and then acknowledging the desires that motivate me (with regards to spiritual practice and other things) has helped with the cultivation of clarity and discernment. A radical and unflinching self-honesty is required for this sort of work and it has to be constantly revisited.
So when I was clearly told that I already have that thing that I’ve been wanting, I had to take a long hard bath with myself and think about what comes next. What happens after the fulfillment of desire?
I’m sure there are several well-articulated theological arguments to support my conclusion but I can’t think of them right now. I’ll cut the ramble short: Once one’s personal needs and desires have been met, the only Right and moral thing to do is to help others.
The admonition to serve others on the path is common. Though this work is placed at different points along the map of personal development depending on what framework you’re part of, the requirement of service is an integral stage of many traditions. In fact, the act of service is a fundamental aspect of many practices. Spirit work is first and foremost a service-oriented path; everything that happens to the individual along the way is to make them more suited for the jobs they do. Some Christian thinkers emphasize the centrality of service to Christianity as a living practice; some Buddhist teachers have expressed similar priorities. Within the OTO I’ve heard informed commentators remark that the highest levels of personal achievement are oriented towards assisting others in their own achievement.
Service and aid is nothing especially new on my path and has been a very important part of my work for a long time. Thankfully, with some time and maturity and no small measure of instruction from others, I have begun to sort out some of the problems that can come up when engaging in this practice.
Adjusting from desire to serve to the realities of providing service is a necessary part of this process and it’s one that I’ve been confronted by several times. (Therefore, this is not me instructing others so much as it is me reviewing my thoughts on the whole situation. We can learn together!) Perhaps most important is the realization that service is not something you offer to do or set out to perform. In many ways service is the fulfillment of needs that arise, not needs that you identify and decide to fill. That is, I have found that deciding what kind of service to provide is not always the best execution of this type of work. Instead, rising to the occasion when a need is identified is frequently much more useful.
I’m reminded of certain Buddhist thinkers who regard the recipients of service and charity with respect, for it is through the reception of service that the giver is able to exercise their practice. In my career as a spirit worker I have encountered numerous clients who left me feeling exasperated and aggravated but I can’t complain about them, not under normal circumstances. They are the means by which my path unfolds. I cannot separate the person I’m helping from the fundamental qualities of this work. They are my teachers. They allow me to practice. If I love my path (and I do, oh so much) then I must also love them. Thus does the path manifest.