Often during this time of year, we are motivated to share our time, energy, wealth, and heart, to support those who are less fortunate. Giving Tuesday begins the charitable season when many of us bestow gifts to organizations for the purpose of supporting service and giving back. For example, the ringing of the Salvation Army Red Kettle Bell reminds us to think of others, so we may stop and offer some spare change. It is our true nature as human beings to be of service which leads me to ask the question: “How can we support the journey of inner transformation through self-inspired service?”
Seva is an ancient term comes from the root, sev, meaning to serve without the existence of one’s own identity, without desire, with no thoughts of receiving anything in return.
Seva comes from Karma Yoga, yoga of action and Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion. Seva provides an opportunity to journey into inner transformation in the simplest way by putting knowledge into action. As we ask ourselves how we can be of service, we find that the practice of seva feeds our nature as human beings and awakens us to connect to Self and others. Seva allows us to ground and tether as change takes place in our lives and the world.
Since my youth, I have always embraced volunteering and giving my time for others – people, animals, our global environment. Over the past few years, I have watched the suffering taking place in the world and often weep that I feel useless and don’t make a difference. I began to volunteer at the homeless shelter to organize the pantry and would cook meals to feed the 80 residents. Yet, I still felt I was not making a difference. I would see homeless beings at a main intersection on the way to work but didn’t have cash with me, or any food to offer. A range of emotions would flood through my body but if I didn’t have anything to offer, I did nothing but continue to drive on my way. This happened many time. I was frustrated with myself for not being able to look past my need to provide a material offering – at that exact time. After long reflection, I recognized I had become a part of the problem that causes the suffering by walking or driving away unable to face the individual because I had nothing to give. I went back to reflect on Yoga Sutra 1.33 in which Sage Patanjali states,
In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.
This sutra reminded me that although I had compassion for those who are suffering, I felt guilt for what I had in abundance. I knew what I had to do – I have to step outside of myself in order to meet another human being where THEY are, at that moment. For the past few years, I have begun to find the courage to speak the truth, and to see the person in front of me. I now look into the eyes of the being, seeing they are not defined by homelessness, but by their soul as a human being. I introduce myself, shake their hands, and ask for their names in return. It is no longer just about having money or food to offer them, but much more. I have discovered something greater to offer- the human dignity to be seen, heard, valued, and loved.
Last year, I met Robert, a veteran sitting outside The White House on a blustery day in March. As snow turned to freezing rain, I saw him huddled in his wheelchair with a cup outstretched for any amount of change. He spoke to me of his service in Iraq and his visit to the local men’s shelter. He declined the offer to come into a restaurant to share a meal with me. I’m certain he worried about whether his dirty, worn out clothes and appearance would be unwelcoming to the patrons. Now, I look for him each time I return to return a friendly smile. I try to carry extra sandwiches, fruits, or water bottles in my car. Some days, I don’t have extra food but I now realize that there is something of far greater value I can offer the many beautiful beings like Robert, Donny, Ken and others on street corners, stores, and libraries. I can meet them fully present with my heart, eyes, and arms wide open in gratitude for being interconnected and the blessing of the interaction. Compassion can take the form of words, thoughts, and actions.
Seva also takes on the meaning- to dwell or stay near; to remain; to frequent a place; to cultivate, study, practice.
In my personal journey, I chose to dwell and stay near feelings of discomfort. I am comfortable with what was uncomfortable. The path to inner transformation is to begin the journey to self-inspired service. Seva can be small and subtle, from the interactions we have with others or with how we live life consciously on this planet with all its life forms. Seva inspires us to live in harmony with nature and all forms of creation. Each day, I make the choice to allow yoga to inspire me to the best version of myself. Through the practice of Yoga and Seva, I am rooted and connected to others, animals, nature, and life.
I invite you to take a comfortable seat. Let your hands connect in front of your heart space like you have made a bowl with your hands. This bowl represents the vessel of life that we all share. It is abundant and overflowing with all that we need to sustain in peace at this moment and always. Let your eyes soften into that space with the palms. Breathing in, receive abundance from this vessel all that you need. Breathing out, offer back to the vessel so it flows over the brim in abundance.
All this is full.
All that is full.
From fullness, fullness comes.
Taken from fullness, fullness still remains.
How can you service the community with physical body present? How can you direct your mental faculty to the well-being of the community we live in? How can you fully participate in the lives of the members of our community – share in their joy and suffering, sharing what we have for the common good?
Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Join me and let us gather our Beloved Yoga Sangha and support one another through self-inspired service. I am working with our friend of the Sanctuary, Phil Lilienthal, to organize our first Beloved Seva with Global Camps South Africa’s mission to equip South Africa’s vulnerable youth with the tools to lead healthy, empowered lives and make positive impacts on their communities. I have also planned some local seva opportunities in the New Year. Contact me at Vasanthi@belovedyoga.com to join our Seva Sangha and walk the path together as one.