From chapter “Stewarding Resources: Viriya Pāramī” by Ajahn Sucitto:
Offering service in a selfless way gives rise to confidence in oneself, because one’s intention and energy just come down to the love of the good, not the pursuit of prestige or success. It is related to the intimate aspiration of one’s own heart. Once we know this, we don’t lose it; we have it as a refuge….
Our concern is: do we act, speak and think in ways that we can look back on with confidence and clear conscience? Do we act with generosity or not? Do we care for other people? We can energize these qualities by putting attention into them, bringing them to mind in recollection and dwelling on them. Again: what we attend to, we energize; what is energized, governs our world.
This is a tricky area. I remember observing a conversation long ago between two people, one of whom thought service ought to be spontaneously motivated and the other who thought that if you practice service, it becomes spontaneous. It’s almost a chicken and egg question – which comes first, the desire to be of service or the service itself? As with the chicken and egg question, the answer is “it doesn’t matter”. What’s important is the action.
If an honest assessment of our own inclinations reveals that “the love of the good” is weak in us, what are we to do? What if we are inclined to do good but feel overwhelmed by obligations and other activities? This is a rich area for inquiry. We can start by reflecting on what it is we do with our time, whom we choose to associate with, and how we manage our energy. It may be that buried within our activities and relationships, there is wholesome intention that has gone unrecognized. By focusing on these inclinations, we can help them flourish, we can establish confidence in our own goodness.
This is an intimate reflection and needs to be done regularly if it is to be fruitful. Some people incorporate a short period of boundless kindness (mettā) into their daily meditation practice. But it’s also important to keep some mindfulness going throughout the day, observing our actions and intentions as they pass by. As one friend admonished , “Listen to yourself!” It may seem paradoxical, but we can be on auto-pilot so much of the time that we really do stop listening to ourselves.
We can be inspired by the goodness in others and let it resonate with and wake up our own. We can identify our own ordinary wholesome actions; we can appreciate and encourage them. Without some awareness, these actions and intentions may wither from lack of attention. We can have a conversation with a trusted friend about each others’ best qualities. Sometimes we undervalue our own goodness. Let’s try putting it front and center for a while and see what happens.