As someone who has always struggled to find innate happiness, existential purpose, and a sense of belonging, the discovery of service to others as a path to each of these has been both eye-opening and life changing.
As a young kid, I always felt like an outsider. I was bullied daily by older kids at the bus stop when no one else was around. At school, I was out of step with the other kids, always a step behind on what was new or cool. Among my peers, I was more of an oddity, an awkward onlooker, than a participant. It always seemed that others instinctively knew how to interact with one another and I was missing the programming necessary to do so. This led to feelings of confusion and depressed, which later turned to anger, self-hatred, and self-destructive behavior.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that throughout middle school and high school, I had a very good group of friends. We were the outsiders, The Goonies, and, as different as we all were, we were the same in this regard and were inseparable. Unfortunately, by the time I met these friends, much of the damage had already been done. I have no doubt that their presence in my life got me through what would have otherwise been hopeless times. I am here and I am who I am largely because of the small community of amazing weirdos I fell into in my adolescence.
In my late teens, early twenties, I reached my lowest, my absolute bottom, a place from which I could not imagine going forward or back. It was at that moment that I was introduced to the idea of service to others, along with regular, honest self-appraisal, and a consistent spiritual practice, as a way to step outside of myself, my troubles and misery, to see the world and my place in it in a new way. We are here for each other, for the value we add to the lives of those around us, and for the smiles we put on their faces, for what we can give, not what we can take. If empathy is a superpower, service is its highest purpose.
“As in life, so too it is in budo. As in budo, so too it is in life.”
-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu