I remember the first time I experienced a real sense of meaning in my life.
I was a fourteen-year old kid, and my school-yard friend, Bobby Carpio, had told me about this cool group he had just joined. It was called the Civil Air Patrol, and it was like the Boy Scouts, but not at all like the Boy Scouts, he was quick to add, on account of the fact it was part of the U.S. Air Force.
He had me at Air Force.
For as long as I can remember, I had been goo-goo-ga-ga for anything that flew through the air. And, for me, the pinnacle of flight was the collection of amazing machines belonging to the U.S. Air Force.
So when I learned about the Civil Air Patrol, I ran straight home and told my dad about it. As an old pilot, and Army Air Corps guy from World War II, he was excited as I was. The next week, we packed up and made the thirty-minute drive to the weekly meeting down at Castle Air Force Base just south of our home in Turlock, California.
At that very first meeting, I was hooked—but strangely, not so much by anything to do with aviation, as by something else.
You see, over the years as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol’s youth program, I was exposed to a series of experiences that challenged me to be a leader, to contribute to something larger than myself, and to live in the service of others.
As a result, for the first time in my young life, I had been asked to step outside of my own self-centered desires and to sacrifice for a greater purpose. It was this that left me feeling like what I did really mattered—and it felt amazing.
My years in the Civil Air Patrol set me on a course of service to others; a course that has endured to this day. First it was service through the military, then it was service through the management of a major non-profit organization helping to make our environment better, and ultimately it has become service through the teaching of yoga, meditation, and mind-body technologies to help people live happier and healthier lives.
Now, to be clear, when I speak of service, I in no way intend to limit it to the notion of service to country or social cause or any one thing in particular. Rather service can be to anything or anyone beyond ourselves: it could be family, it could be community; it could be to something large, or to something small. The truth is that there is room—and a need—for service of all kinds in our world.
Back in 1989, Mother Teresa visited Phoenix. During her stay, she was interviewed by then radio host Pat McMahon who asked her what he could do for her. “Anything at all,” he begged, “I’d just like to help you in some way.” She looked at him and said, “Tomorrow morning get up at 4:00 A.M. and go out onto the streets of Phoenix. Find someone who lives there and believes that he’s alone, and convince him that he’s not.”
While it’s sometimes easy to forget in our hectic and harried lives, it’s in the simplest acts of service that we feed not only the world around us, but ourselves as well.
I hope you’ll join me this month in finding ways to reap the benefits of service, for your sake—and the sake of us all.