Thursday, June 23, 2011

Out of Service

I have a problem with the word service. After looking into the word's origin, I now understand my aversion. The word "service" derives from the Latin word servus meaning slave. That's exactly how I feel toward the needs of others. I am a slave to them. Wired to answer every call for help and feeling responsible for the outcome of events I can't control.

Where does this tendency come from? I could blame it on my family, who are themselves a tribe of rescuers and fixers. I could blame it on being an artist—that I'm just so tapped into feelings that it's difficult to turn off the radar. I could blame it on being a teacher—encouraged by the profession to try to change the lives of others. But the seed was sown much earlier.

Photo by Shawn Keagy
As a child, I felt that I had to be good, to do good—as if I had to atone for something. But what could I have done that was so terrible? I didn't understand this unconscious drive until I was thirty years old, when I discovered I had been a twin. It was like a veil had been lifted, and I could finally begin to heal the wound I couldn't name. My twin died in the womb, and I was helpless to stop it. I have spent my life trying to undo that feeling of powerlessness. Because I couldn't rescue my twin, I took on the world as my responsibility.

One of my fellow healers calls this tendency “doing someone else's homework.” As a former teacher, the analogy is particularly meaningful. I remember how angry I would get when parents would do their kids' homework. But maybe parents do their children's homework for the same reason I feel the need to rescue: it's painful to stand by and watch someone struggle. But when I try to solve someone else's problems, I rob them of their journey. And I rob myself of the opportunity to work on my own lessons.

So for the time being, I am out of service. I'll be taking some time off from my knee-jerk help reflex to reroute my energy to the work I want to do. I won't be surprised if my work ends up helping others, but this time I'll be offering my gifts freely. I will no longer be a slave.

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