Firefighters Need to Read

On a recent Sunday morning, in the wee hours of a misty mountain dawn, the woman I am staying with for the summer got out of bed, donned thick pants and heavy boots, braided her hair, and went out to fly around in a helicopter, high above a fire, just in case the Forest Service needed her to rappel down into the blaze.

I slept in.

The guilt I experienced that morning is not unlike the guilt you’ve no likely felt when comparing your actions to the actions of others: one of inadequacy, of inaction, of wanting to do more with your life. When we compare our deeds to the good deeds of others, it’s very likely that we will get caught up in a trap of egoic thinking and forget what we’re really here to do.

I recently listened to a podcast where the speaker reminded his audience that we are all here to play a unique role in the dissemination of peace. If you believe in a higher power, as the podcast speaker and I do, it is wise to assume that you’ve been created to spread goodness in your own unique way, regardless of your appearance, accent, or social group. This does not mean that we stop striving for self improvement, but rather that we see every single moment of the day as an opportunity to serve a greater good, no matter where you are or who you are with.

In other words, we are all capable of spreading the goodness of God in our unique roles in life, without comparison to each other.

I’ve recently been rereading Joseph Campbell’s “Myths to Live By”. In the classic book on comparative mythology, Campbell invites us to consider the wisdom of all of the world’s spiritual traditions as we navigate the nature of existence. He reminds us that, no matter our religious persuasion, there are universal truths to consider in each interpretation of divinity.

In this passage, Campbell writes of a Buddha, or awakened one, and his attitude toward individual service:

“His value derives from his power to radiate consciousness — as the value of a lightbulb derives from its power to radiate light. What is important about a lightbulb is not the filament or the glass but the light which these bulbs are to render; and what is important about each of us is not the body and its nerves but the consciousness that shines through them. And when one lives for that, instead of for protection of the bulb, one is in Buddha consciousness.”

As many of you know, I sell products that I love on my blog. Few things can lead you to an identity crisis like engaging in online marketing. You can easily get caught up in doubt and insecurity, wondering if the real you is likeable enough, good enough, kind enough. You can criticize yourself for not doing enough to serve your fellow man, unless you remember that every action, even the selling of essential oils, can be done with an attitude of service and love.

Campbell describes it this way:

“There is a charming story told of the great 19th century Indian Saint Ramakrishna. A lady came to him in some distress because she had realized that she did not actually love and truly worship God. ‘Is there, then, nothing you love?’ he asked her; and when she replied that she loved her baby nephew, ‘There,’ said he, ‘there is your Krishna, your Beloved. In your service to him, you are serving God.’”

Instead of feeling ashamed about your role in this world, embrace it. If you believe in a higher power, then you were crafted to live the life you’re living and be the best possible influence to everyone you meet. There is more benefit to the world delivered from a happy and peaceful cook than in an angry activist consumed with ambition and egotism.

Here is Campbell’s advice:

“The obvious lesson of all of which is that the first step to the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think — and their name is legion — that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination.
So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. And that no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is.”

My firefighter friend is a great lover of my writing. She reads my articles on her phone after long and backbreaking hours of physical labor, enshrined in the goodness of her actions, and she always tells me that I’ve touched her soul. It’s during these moments that I realize that my role is to string together sentences in service to others, like my friend, to soothe their souls after their good work is done. After all, firefighters need words to read, and I’m grateful that my role is to provide them.

This post originally appeared on my blog, Genuine. Subscribe to the Genuine Journal or follow me on Medium to stay connected.