In 2009 while living on a farm, I was sitting in the community house on my off day, just trying to grab a quick snack before heading off to write. However, before I could get out the door, someone else came in and we exchanged pleasantries for a couple minutes. Just as I was about to leave, he asked, “hey, I need some help moving my canoe down to the river, do you mind giving me a hand?”
Ahhhh! Even though it was only a 15 minute task, inside I absolutely did not want to help. I had a plan. Not just any plan, but a plan I was really stoked about. Even though my body was in the kitchen, my inner gravity was already at my desk with pen in hand.
Noticeably conflicted, I stuttered out, “sure, I guess I can help”. He very clearly noticed by discomfort. In the 15 minutes that followed, we lifted the canoe but there was a real disharmonious energy that both of us could feel.
Life doesn’t feel good like that. I call it “shame-based helpfulness”, when we do good things based out of what we think we should do rather than what feels true. Let me emphasize: helping others is important, but the path is about cultivating a very genuine sense of wanting to help.
In 2016 while living on a farm, I was leaving the community house on my off day, having just grabbed a quick snack and on my way to write. However, I was intercepted at the door by someone else and we exchanged pleasantries for a couple minutes. Just as I was about to leave, he asked, “hey, do you think you could grab a load of firewood and bring it to the house?”
It was roughly a fifteen minute task, but I had a plan. Not just any plan, but a plan I was really stoked about. However, my inner gravity was very much where I was—not lost in ruminations and not already at the desk. I reflected for a moment and I said with great presence, “yeah, sure, I’d be happy to grab it”. We parted with a warm smile and over the next 15 minutes, I felt the satisfaction of harmony.
Life feels good like that. I call it “sincerity-based helpfulness”. It comes easiest when we have no other plans or agenda or desires; but, let’s be honest—most the time in life we have some of those.
The distinction is that while our inner gravity might be moving some other direction, like towards an afternoon of writing, it’s still stable enough in the present that at the snap of our fingers we can very genuinely and purely shift ourselves, like towards the wood shed.
This is just a little example, but it has big implications. A friend asks you to help them financially or, perhaps, implicitly asks for emotional support by way of your time. Your boss asks you to take a bigger role on a work project. Your partner asks you to increase your commitment to the relationship. Life asks you to care for someone in need.
If your inner gravity is a “clear no”, like I was in 2009, then saying “yes” to those requests probably actually will do more harm than good. You will likely feel off-center and out-of-harmony even though you’re helping out—that’s because it’s coming from shame. The most sincere thing to do is to just say no.
However, as our inner awareness deepens over the years, we realize we actually have a fair amount of control over our inner gravity—and, if some part of us purely and genuinely wants to help, we find we can do that quite effortlessly, without any resistance and with a sense of centeredness and sincerity.
If the above examples seem too trivial, consider this experience a close friend recently shared with me:
My friend already had a busy schedule with a job, a marriage, friends, hobbies and a leadership role in a weekly group, among other things. However, a friend of hers was diagnosed with lung cancer and the outlook was bleak. In the three months from diagnosis to death, my friend spent nearly every day at the hospital—shifting her inner gravity from her own concerns to supporting her friend. The shift was not out of shame, out of feeling like she should be there; rather, it came from a very sincere place of wanting to connect and help and support.
In other words, everyone knows life is richer when we’re connected to others; but, what’s understated is just how important it is to do that with sincerity rather than shame.
In doing this, the key thing is to tune into our inner gravity; to honor it, to say no when we feel no and yes when we feel yes—and, just as importantly, to learn about it, to see how it changes, to know it so deeply on an experiential level that we realize how at the snap of our fingers, we can very sincerely shift it.