07/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to Serve Without Doing Anything... (in Particular)

Love, when released into the world, is like an intelligent energy that continues on and on, shaping the world in its own image. Just knowing that can transform the way you serve and make your service infinitely more powerful.

When Your Service Doesn't Count ...

The new United We Serve program reminds us that we are all called to serve, but it raises the age-old question "How can you really make a lasting difference?"

My brother spent the last 2 years in Africa with the Peace Corp. building technology infrastructure for a school that has, just last week, been condemned to be destroyed by a corrupt government.
In the late 90's a bunch of us spent years working with Ben from Ben & Jerry's on a campaign to get the government to divert "unnecessary" Pentagon spending into peace-oriented infrastructure development for education and affordable healthcare - then 9/11 happened and that was the end of that.

So many years can be spent pushing a boulder up the hill only to watch helplessly as it rolls back down again. A sense of hopelessness in active service follows that leads one to the question "What act of service can you really throw yourself into that won't just be washed away by the tides of unexpected events?"

To answer this question we must first recognize that service carries with it two distinct elements - the form of service that you perform - and the spirit of service that you give.

As mentioned above, due to the capriciousness of human affairs the form of service you perform may or may not have any real or lasting effect. But to become dis-spirited due to the inconsequentialness of your form of service is to miss the greater gift of true service.

The Irrepressible Spirit of Service

The most lasting impact of your service isn't about the actions you take - though those actions can sometimes be important. The most lasting impact of your service is the spirit you convey. While your actions may be tiny, inconsequential and short-lived, the spirit you infuse your actions with can spread, become vast and echo for centuries to come. You see, your spirit is contagious.

Thought can be focused on lower-order or higher-order goals. This is what distinguishes intellectualization from true thoughtfulness. One is aimed at physical change the other is aimed at spiritual change. If your intention is to bring more love into the world, then the result will be more love - and if more love in the world causes physical changes to happen then those changes happen gracefully. However, if your intention is just to get physical things accomplished then those physical results will be all you'll get - and often not even those happen the way you'd hoped.

We don't live in isolation. Like swine flu and contagious disease, everyone's attitude and disposition (their spirit) is also contagious and eventually reaches everyone. We live in one big planetary Petri dish where your attitudes and emotions influence those around you and then whatever they picked up from you in turn affects those around them. Studies have shown happiness is contagious in social networks.

We're all inexorably interconnected, so when one part of humanity is suffering, the affect of that suffering cascades throughout the world at, at least the speed of air-travel and if it makes the news or the internet - the speed of light.

The Service of Spreading Great Ideas

Great service is about spreading great ideas. When you exemplify great ideas you strengthen them in yourself and in others.

One powerful opportunity for service is spreading the idea of abundance. Virtually all true service contains this idea, because in order for you to give, you must have enough to give - and even when it seems that you don't have enough to give - the moment you start giving, you do.

Sharing the idea of abundance spreads the idea that there is more than enough to go around and to be shared. The funny thing about this idea is that it becomes more true the more people believe it. When we believe in abundance, we take only what we need and share and conserve the rest - like we do at Thanksgiving dinner. When we don't believe in abundance we hoard, take more than we need and don't leave enough to go around.

The Service of Being an Inspiration

Feelings of fullness - of wellbeing - are reflections of holding a world-vision filled with the spirit of abundance and hope. This inspired vision is just as contagious as the vision of financial collapse, virulent disease, nuclear threat and human-rights violation - but the inspired vision we want to spread we must believe in first, and the spirit we want to strengthen in ourselves and others we must demonstrate first.

Maybe it's time to turn off your television and turn on your inspired vision. Service is your opportunity to demonstrate your great spirit and share your inspired vision with others. It is impossible to witness a truly generous act and not be inspired by it. To inspire means to fill with spirit. There are many dis-spirited souls all around you, in need of inspiration, and today you are their greatest hope.

Making Your Service Count

It's not what you do - it's the spirit you do it with. Remember, because your spirit is contagious, simple impulsive acts of inspired generosity, done right around your home can have profound global effects. You don't have to do anything in particular - you just need to do something - anything for someone else - infusing all you do with love.

Love has a funny way of spreading. Like intelligent energy, love inspires people to do just what needs to be done at just the right moment, which in turn inspires more love in all who witness it. It's the love, not the action that's really important, because while your actions may not amount to much, it's your love that can spread throughout the world.

So whether you are just paying for a stranger's coffee spur-of-the-moment or devoting the next 3 years of your life to service in Africa, remember "it's the thought that counts."
As a great saint of service, Mother Teresa, would say, "Do small things with great love." ... Maybe she was on to something.

Again ... Love, when released into the world, is like an intelligent energy that continues on and on shaping the world in its own image. Release your love into the world.