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To Serve Or To Save? Why Higher Ground is More Helpful Than a Soapbox

Better than a soapbox: Life your life as the example.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink” - Proverb
Recently I was at a marketplace in the old sugar plantation town of Hilo, on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii, about an hour from where I now live. It’s a once-bustling sugar cane industry town that now finds itself facing severe economic challenges. Hilo has had its share of hard times, and I’m pretty sure it never fully recovered from the great tsunami of 1960, a setback that took 61 lives and left the town almost completely destroyed.
I was passing through town on my way to the other side of the island, and decided to stop off at the Hilo Farmers Market for a green papaya salad, a local favorite. Every Wednesday and Saturday the market fills the street with shoppers, and a murmur of its former glory as a bustling economic center echoes through the streets for just a few hours.
As I hopped out of my car anticipating the rush of people, artists’ goods, inexpensive orchids, and wonderful food, my defenses were engaged by a man just 100 yards away, yelling at the top of his lungs. At first I could not make out what he was saying. Then I heard “Repent, for the end is near” as he screamed to anyone who would listen.
I guess I was his accidental audience for the moment, and I heard his message loud and clear. He went on to quote scripture, reading it word for word and pointing to the Bible he clutched in his hand as the absolute word of truth.
This preacher reminded me of the awkward tourist who, when traveling to a foreign country, starts talking louder and louder when they realize the person they are talking to can’t understand their language. It’s just plain awkward. And ineffective.
He did get me to thinking. though: In this day and age, what does it mean to be saved? Who sets the standard of what being saved means? It certainly means one thing to a Christian and another to a Muslim, and yet another to a Buddhist.
Long ago, as both a teacher and a human being, I let go of the notion to trying to save the world—or save people individually for that matter. I just had to. I had had an epiphany: This idea of trying to save someone didn’t make sense to me, and most of the people preaching this particular pitch seem to have such a narrow view of the world. Perhaps it is because my notion of saving people has changed.
In yoga, we are reminded constantly that we are all inherently complete—it’s just that some of us have forgotten our true strengths of love and compassion. Years ago, my epiphany was nourished when I heard a story about the well-known Italian artist, Michelangelo. It is said that he would find a slab of rough marble and not see what he needed to do to create something like “David,” but rather, he saw the perfection that God had already created within this large slab of unpolished material. His job? To remove all the stuff that didn’t belong on the slab to reveal the glory that was already inherent in it.
Wow, talk about a paradigm shift.
In yoga, we are reminded again and again that we, like the slab of marble, already have this wonderful completeness within us. We just need to do the work to remove all that does not belong there (malice, low self-esteem, jealousy—the list goes on). What a lovely and simple concept, and how radically this has changed how I view myself and the world.
Hellfire and damnation has never worked for me. It seems contrived and the work of someone who feels powerless. Inspiration, however, does work for me. It feels truthful and relative. All the great saints and sages inspired people to change, and they are exalted because of their ability to inspire and uplift. Those who used force and manipulation are in the history books as zealots and despots.
Let’s bring this back to a less theoretical and more practical application. A woman recently attended one of my retreats. She had developed such a sense of inspiration that she really wished she could get her daughter to have the very same experience. I could see the frustration in her face. She loved her daughter very much, but just knew she could not force the issue.
I encouraged this mom to take the aliveness she was experience home with her (see my previous post, "A Quick Technique to Stay Inspired"). When people are tapped into their true nature, it flows like a river. It beams from their hearts and through their eyes. You can see it, and you can feel it. True radiance comes from living in your truth, and truth is irresistible.
My thought? Take care of your own garden before you start weeding another person’s. Your living truthfully will do more than a thousand sermons. And when the time presents itself to you (and it will), just serve people in need. Encourage those you love to live life fully and honestly. See the best in them even if they are in a rough spot, and offer any guidance you can. Love them. Talk to them. Let them know you are there. Life your life as the example.
But for heaven’s sake, don’t try to save them.

Will Donnelly

Will Donnelly is a nationally recognized, certified yoga teacher and writer, and is the author of “Practical Yoga’s Wisdom for Everyday People: Essays & Inspiration for Life" (2017), a compilation of his most popular online essays now available at Will has been a pioneer in the field of yoga, developing Practical Yoga, and co-creating a yoga–reality series for fitTV (Discovery Communications, 2004). As a writer and teacher, Will encourages all students to trust their impulses and find their true voice. Will currently lives in Hawaii, where he leads weekly yoga and writing classes at Kalani retreat center. He also leads several popular Practical Yoga adventure and healing retreats throughout the year. Information on retreats, his book, DVDs and other inspiration to be found at

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Practical Yoga's Wisdom for Everyday People: Essays & Inspiration for Life 
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Holiday Yoga Retreat (7th Year!) December 21 - 27, 2017

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