By Bindu Shortt
When I was growing up, we always had a mother cat and some kittens in the house, plenty to share among seven children. I loved to take a cat into bed with me and pet it. I remember exactly the moment when I was scratching a cat under the chin and thought, “Who is giving here and who is receiving?” I had thought I was giving by scratching the cat. But I realized that the cat was giving me something also.
Now I won’t go so far as to call petting a cat seva. It’s more a story about the disappearing of the lines between giving and receiving. Seva does this, while it is also a deeper process. The Sanskrit word translates into “selfless service” or “actions taken without thought of reward or payment.” True seva contributes to your spiritual awakening, through your contributing to the Guru. True seva makes the lines between giving and receiving disappear.
My first Svaroopa® seva was at my Foundations training. We each pulled tasks out of a hat. I pulled the job of cleaning out the refrigerator. At first I grumbled. I had seen the stuff left from the prior students, and it wasn’t a pretty sight or smell. But as I put my awareness solely on cleaning the fridge, I was able to land in the moment and be fully present with the task. As I yielded to the simplicity of the doing in the moment, I could feel myself relax and — dare I say it — enjoy the process of doing, as service.
When I decide to do seva I am not thinking about how it will advance me spiritually. In fact, that seems antithetical to what seva really is. I’m not so sure I’m “thinking” at all. I’m not weighing the gains against the effort. Choosing to do seva is simply a matter of “what is.” It is a natural process. The sun shines because that’s what it does. The wind blows, the water flows. Similarly, gardeners garden, editors edit, computer people do computer stuff (can you tell computers are NOT my seva?). Yogis give.
Some years ago I heard Swamiji say, “When you are Self Realized, all you do is give.” At the time I thought that sounded exhausting. I was thinking of it as a one-way street. I was very familiar with that old martyrdom identity of “I just give and give and give.” I depleted myself trying to construct an identity of being a “giving” person.
But now I understand Swamiji’s words differently, through my own experience of seva. There is a joy in doing, in giving, unfettered by a personal agenda. Seva as a practice is part of this mystical Svaroopa® Science.
I can’t explain how seva works. I only know that by offering seva my capacity expands. It’s like my pot that holds Grace and Truth and Self becomes bigger. I become free-er. Free-er to do more, to give more. The flowing of giving from this free place affects me as it flows out through me, as me. If seva is “selfless service,” then there is no small ‘s’ self-involved. And the “service” is given to Self.
Certainly in our Svaroopa® community it is easy to see that the actions of many are needed to sustain and move our community forward in its evolution. To be one of those included in this process is a privilege. As I immerse myself in my seva — whether it is gardening at the Ashram, emceeing a Swami Sunday, or offering Ayurvedic guidance to staff — I am immersed more deeply in the flow of the Grace of this lineage. So much has been given to me, such amazing abundance of Grace and gifts, that my seva is my sincere expression of my gratitude and giving back. Ironically, seva is another way of expressing my Divinity out into the world.