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By Julie Dieterle

I’ve been considering my motivation for doing things for others, for finding fulfillment in my career, for even choosing my words when we see someone struggling. Clearly now that I am in my 70’s, I look at things differently, hopefully wiser, than I did in my 20’s.

Although this synopsis of Rachel’s talk is from 30 years ago it stimulated my thinking. It is only one way of looking at concepts of fixing, helping and serving, but I find it thought provoking. I hope someone out there reading this does too.

As a physical therapist, massage therapist, and having a masters in the counseling field, I admit to starting out being told and feeling that I, as a graduate in the field, could in fact help and fix people’s problems.

Having successes and failures in the clinic, which I thought I was responsible for, brought me to question my training, my abilities, my purpose, my role and my responsibilities for my work. Of course this spilled over into my personal life to consider the same questions.

My spiritual life and study always brings me to look more globally, to consider everyone and everything making up a situation. I believe people and situations come into my life for a reason. I believe healing can only come through the person themselves. I have come to see myself as a resource, a better listener, and more of an observer and witness to my clients. In my mind I ask myself—am I serving?

Excerpts from a talk “Open Heart, Open Mind” given at IONS annual conference in 1995, by Rachel Naomi Remen. Her biography includes Assistant Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

Perhaps the real question is not how can I help? But how can I serve?

Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength.

When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness.

Service is a relationship between equals.

Helping incurs debt. When you help someone they owe you one.  But serving, like healing, is mutual. There is no debt. I am served as the person I am serving. When I help, I have a sense of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude.

When I fix a person, I perceive them as broken.

When I serve I see and trust in wholeness.

Fixing is a form of judgement.

We serve life, not because it is broken, but because it is holy.

If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise. Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender, and awe.

. . . fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service, the work of the soul.

Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred.

When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose.


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