I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.
-Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize-winning Bengali poet
This quote acts as an internal compass for me. We’re coming out of a year full of unforeseen hardships and heartbreak, and facing a severe drought with our fifth consecutive early fire season. How are we supposed to take care of ourselves during such difficult times? How do we find the joy that Rabindranath Tagore talks about?
This answer goes beyond my own experiences. Studies of the world’s Blue Zones – areas with the highest populations of people living past one hundred years – shows that a sense of meaning, passion, and purpose in one’s life is as important as nutrition and exercise. The Japanese language best captures this crucial element in the term Ikigai: living out your passions and values each day, sharing them with others, and living a purposeful and meaningful life.
You may wonder how service can be joy when getting through one day can be so hard. To that I say that service starts with yourself. I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t share from an empty cup, so I regularly make sure that my own cup is full. My most nourishing experiences are pretty simple: journaling, nature walks or gardening, time with my people and my animals, healthy and delicious food, a regular meditation practice, and equally nourishing music. These things help me come alive, and as I look outward to my community and its needs I am not just ready to help, but excited to be part of a better tomorrow.
So when the world feels overwhelming beyond sanity – let’s be honest, it’s more often than not these days – I encourage you to serve yourself and others. Something powerful happens in the act of service. Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk’s interview from the On Being podcast goes into greater detail about how we can move energy and heal trauma in ourselves through service, especially during a disaster. I have experienced it myself.
Rabindranath Tagore’s quote reminds me of IHAN’s role in my own Ikigai for the past four years. The 2017 Tubbs Fire paralyzed my body those first few days, but I had to do something despite feeling so small against the devastation. Helping at the evacuation shelters and firefighter base camps not only allowed me to be a part of the community, but it ignited a sense of self-purpose and self-healing that shines to this day. In our free integrative health clinics I meet incredible humans both serving and needing to be served. I see their humanity, and I witness healing and transformation in real time. I am a part of something that is bigger than just me.
I invite you to join IHAN’s transformative mission. We need integrative health practitioners, administrative teams, and crisis support volunteers to help us build resilience for traumatized communities. Our staff, practitioner volunteer network, and thousands of clients would be honored to have you.
Learn more about our volunteer opportunities here.
Jenny Harrow-Keeler, MA
Co-founder and Executive Director