Find Joy in Serving Others

HelpingHands2One of the greatest pleasures you can get out of life is being completely selfless — thinking of others before you think of yourself. It doesn’t require much effort…just a little.

On a hot summer day more than a decade ago, my husband and I attended a local art festival. Did I mention that it was a hot day? It was about 90 degrees. After an hour of walking in the heat, I needed something to quench my thirst. The iced cold beverages were flying out of the vendors’ coolers and I decided to buy one. As I stood in line, a woman in a wheelchair was ahead of me. She asked the vendor how much the water was. “One dollar,” he replied. “Oh, I don’t have a dollar with me,” said the woman. The man said he was sorry but the water cost one dollar.

That’s when I decided that I would buy this woman a bottle of water. After I made my purchase, I walked over to the woman and handed her the bottle. “Here is some water for you,” I said. She looked at me in disbelief. Surely she was mistaken. Why would a total stranger present her with a bottle of cold water? “What?” she asked. “I overhead you say that you wanted some water. Here’s some water for you,” I said again. She extended her arms up and pulled me down to her to give me a hug. She began to cry. She said, “God bless you! Thank you. I was just released from the hospital this morning and I don’t have any money with me. I’m so hot and thirsty. Thank you so much.” Giving water to that woman was the high point of my day. I have a feeling my act of kindness was the high point of her day.

Think of the people around you — at work or at home — who may be struggling, frustrated, or simply confused. Your word of encouragement, act of kindness, or generosity of time can change their outlook. What can you share with them?

Sometimes you have to trust your intuition and do what your heart, not your mind, wants to do. When you see someone in need, ask yourself how you could help. You, too, could make someone’s day. Wonderful surprises await you. Ask yourself every morning, “Who can I help today?” At the end of each day, ask yourself, “Who did I help today?” It only takes a minute or two. Soon, serving others will become so natural for you, you will do it without thinking.

©Christine Zust

How Reciprocal Are You?

Helping-HandIt’s early Saturday morning. I have just three items to purchase at Aldi. Easy in and out. Except today there is just one cashier, with two people ahead of me in line. Well, I think to myself, it’s still early. I have enough time to get my errands done.

A petite older woman, around 80, standing in front of me in line turns around, sees that I have just a few items, and says “Go ahead of me.” “Are you sure?” I ask. “Yes, you just have a few things and it will take me a while to unload my cart,” she says. “Thank you,” I reply. I set my three items down, put a divider between my items and hers and turn to her and say, “Well, then, let me help you unload your cart.” “Oh, thank you so much,” she says. “It looks like you’re going to be doing quite a bit of cooking this weekend,” I say. “Oh yes,” she replies. In less than a minute, her cart is unloaded. Teamwork at work. Generosity at work. Appreciation at work.

She begins to explain how she cooks for her son and daughter-in-law every weekend, and she takes meals to their home. They both work, and her daughter-in-law doesn’t come home until about 8:00 every workday evening. She says she loves to do this for her son and his wife because they are very busy.

This eighty-something woman, living on a fixed income, is cooking for her son’s family. I was so struck by her generosity. It’s that generation, though. Hard work. Determination. Family. All are typical values of the Silent Generation, those people who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, my parents’ generation.

My chance encounter with this woman made me think about reciprocity. She helped me by letting me go first. I helped her by unloading her cart. I started a conversation and she reciprocated. We spent just a few minutes together, and it was a pleasant, memorable experience.  You can ask yourself the same questions I asked myself: Who else can I help? What talents and skills can I use to help others in need? ‘Tis a New Year approaching…

Money Can’t Buy It

washington.eyeOf all the things that bring us the greatest joy in life, none of them are gifts that are purchased. Instead, they are gifts that come from the heart. They can be given or received. They cannot be bought.

Every year, beginning in late November, people begin purchasing items for holiday gift giving. Often within a few days after the presents have been opened, they become one of many material possessions, tucked away on a shelf, in a drawer, in a cupboard or a closet. The gifts that bring the most lasting joy are those that don’t cost a penny.

Consider the gifts that you can give to others every day:

A smile.

A kind word.

A thank you.

A helping hand.

Recognition for a job well done.

A story.

A shared memory.

A laugh.

A loving embrace.

A hug.

A positive attitude.

Not one of these costs a thing yet each delivers endless riches. What could you do to bring more value to conversations, exchanges or chance encounters this holiday season? How can you keep it going into the New Year? Every day?

Don’t just stand there…do something. If you see an older person struggling to open a door, come to the rescue. If someone drops a glove as she walks down the street, take it to her. If you see someone sitting alone at a gathering, go over and introduce yourself. Invest some time in giving to others. You just might make someone else’s day.

A Simple, Powerful Statement

philosophyDecades ago when I tried to wrap my young mind around Philosophy 101, I struggled to understand its inherent polarities, complexities and of course the never-ending string of thought-provoking questions asked by my professor. At 19, I saw the sky as the sky and that was it. I hadn’t yet explored why the sky existed, how far it extended or if a parallel universe existed. Over the years, I have continued my fascination with the field of philosophy and the brilliant minds who have explored – and continue to explore –  inquiry, knowledge and thought.

In recent years, I have enjoyed the various 21-day meditation series created and hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. They often include the Sanskrit Mantra “So Hum,”  which simply means “I am.”

Such a simple statement, yet within it lies a vast terrain for contemplation and exploration.

In my professional presentations, I often begin with an engaging kick-off activity that asks audience members to think of a word or phrase that best describes who they think they are. Then I ask them to pair up with another person in the room to describe each other with just one word or phrase, always in writing, never spoken. They do several rounds of this, with different partners, before revealing to each other how other people described them. The activity has the same result: Surprise and delight. People come away from the activity feeling validated. Often their perception of self comes close to what other people perceived. Once in a while there are some differences. The activity drives home the point that perception and reality are not always exactly the same.

People’s responses to this activity reinforce the notion that we are conditioned to believe that we must be validated by others to feel whole and complete. The human brain is designed to “name” and categorize every living being, object or experience. We create and attach labels to every thought and the brain stores that information for future retrieval (if retrieved at all).

While this activity has positive, consistent results, it reminds me that when we are truly whole and complete, there is no need to fill in the blank. We are enough as is. We simply say with immense satisfaction and fulfillment, “I am.”

Are you?

C is for Connect

Part  6 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine ChapelThe age-old question, “Why am I here?” can be answered with one simple response: To connect…with all living beings. Balance can be found by exploring the external world around you and also the internal world through your thinking and self-expression. The value of deep connection with all living beings ranks among the top pleasures in my life. Sharing a stimulating conversation with a good friend. Serving a family member in need of support. Snuggling with a loyal pet. Here are four ways that you can connect with the world:

Connect to Others. When you connect with others on a deep – not a superficial – level, it helps you to see the world from a broader perspective. Some of my longtime relationships began with a chance meeting which led to an open conversation. I am the person I am today because of the hundreds of people I have met on my life’s journey. Whether they were strangers whom I met on an airplane or people who I met at a business event, there was a magic moment in time and space that we shared in deep conversation. Who is waiting to share a similar moment with you?

Connect Others to Each Other. Some people are born matchmakers who love to introduce people to each other. They see some commonality that the two people share, like the same profession, personal interest or hobby. When you connect people to each other, it positions you as someone who cares about others’ interests, not just your own. The best part of bringing people together is to see what comes of that connection. Were other introductions made? Was a job position filled? Or did a lifelong friendship begin? To think…it all started with you thinking of how certain people needed to meet each other. Who can you connect to each other?

Connect to Nature. If you spend most of your days indoors, take the time – even if it’s just five minutes – to get outside and “get back to nature” as the saying goes. You may live in the concrete jungle, yet, it is not your natural state. Nature naturally strips away any manmade facade and presents itself in its simplest form of beauty. Whether enjoying a simple act like feeling the breeze on your skin or experiencing a moment of spectacular beauty like a double rainbow, from simple to sublime, nature anchors you in the present moment. It reminds you how awe-inspiring nature is. How can you connect with nature each day?

Connect to Yourself. “I feel so disconnected from my life” is a frequent comment made by people trying to keep up with life’s hectic pace. Is that even possible to be disconnected from your own life when you are the one who’s living it? What you feel is a lack of control over what is happening in your life. How do you change that and feel more connected? Invest the time in yourself every day, even if it’s taking just five to ten minutes, to reflect on where you are and what you need right now. When you take the time to connect to yourself, it will help to keep your life in balance. How can you find that deeper connection to yourself?

Imagine that you are interviewing yourself. What reflective questions would you ask yourself? Here are a few starters:

How am I feeling right now?

What is causing me to feel that way?

What would I have to do to feel like I am more in control of my life?

What’s taking up too much time in my life right now that keeps me out of balance?

What type of support network do I need to help me with smaller tasks that eat up too much of my time?

What minor adjustments could I make to feel more in control and balanced in my life?

Now that you are getting the hang of it, add some of your own questions and have that conversation with yourself. You may experience some mini revelations that could lead you closer to living a balanced life.


Look Up and Around…and Connect

CloudsBlueAs my friend, Marty, prepared for her first trip to Africa recently, she expressed both excitement and a little anxiety. “What advice do you have for me?” she asked. My response required no thinking because it came from the heart. “Look up,” I said. You see, the night sky in Africa looks quite different than it does in Kansas City, where Marty lives.

I recalled two stand-out memories from my travels. The first was seeing the night sky of Bali in Indonesia’s Archipelago, with vast stars and constellations that I could only see there. The second was viewing the Milky Way while visiting Arizona. Since I live so close to the Great Lakes, the Milky Way is not visible from my home in Ohio.

I told Marty that her primary role as a traveler was that of observer, to be fully present in the moment and enjoy a more engaging sensory experience.

Leading an active, productive life, you may often find yourself immersed in work, errands, appointments and meetings, squeezing as many tasks into one day as is humanly possible. Yet, when you take the time to observe from every perspective — up, down and around, you will have a completely different experience because you are open to a deeper connection.

What is right in front of you that you are not seeing? What are you observing in  your day? In your life? Are you taking the time to look up and see everything with fresh eyes?