by Sri McNeill
When I first heard Swamiji teach about seva, I equated it with volunteering. I enjoy helping people, so I asked for a seva. Apparently she didn’t have the same ideas that I had about service. I thought I was supposed to use my skills and enjoy helping. Swamiji gave me computer jobs and various other tasks in my least favorite category. As a result, I frequently brushed up against — sometimes running headfirst into — my ego. It was uncomfortable, even painful. Eventually she sprinkled in some enjoyable sevas. And she repeatedly took them away. After a while and several sevas, I understood that selflessness is a part of serving. It took even longer to subscribe to it.
Currently, I offer weekly seva by cleaning the Ashram Meditation Hall and doing other household tasks. I am grateful to be able to help in this way. Yet I must admit my ego resistance was intact when she first offered these sevas. Yes, I was resistant to Guru seva. My reaction was a reflection of my identity. I had served in other positions that I felt were full of purpose. They included Seva Coordinator and Master Yoga Board member. I remember thinking that any seva I did was “MY seva.” I had an internal conflict to say the least. Caring for the Meditation Hall murtis (sacred statues) felt like the biggest privilege. And the household chores felt like a painful demotion all at the same time. My ego said, “I’ve run a company, managed people, led group movements, and you want me to do what?” Still, a voice said, “It’s important to me to serve and I’ll do my best.”
Eventually my inner conflict erupted into a steady, burning, internal yajña (sacred fire). As I worked, I found myself chanting more. I recognized a sweet space while folding laundry and cleaning pujas. I realized that some of the seva tasks were the same chores that I didn’t enjoy doing at home. So I began to chant while cleaning at home. I learned to do laundry at home from the same sweet space as at the Ashram, that space of less “small-s” self and more “capital-S” Self.
Seva has become the best way for me to sit in the fire. It gives me a way to practice non-attachment and to develop skill in action. I’ve learned to do things well without demanding perfection from myself. I’ve learned to exercise compassion and patience towards myself and others. Working around Swamiji, I’ve learned to be quiet as a mouse without feeling as small as one. I’ve become aware of being in darshan in every moment in her Presence and in the Presence of the Babas and of the murtis. The fire of seva is burning away my feelings of imperfection and my need to push for perfection. It’s burning away self-judgment and feelings of separation from Consciousness. Seva has been a maha-yajña for letting go of many small selves. I’ve developed more freedom from need and greed than I ever thought possible.
Recently I attended a seva meeting where Swamiji considered discontinuing my household sevas. I felt a familiar tiny tug of resistance in my heart. Then it vanished. My mind resolutely said, “OK.” There was neither ego crying nor internal shouts of “no.” There was only bliss and surrender without attachment or expectation. The fire of selfless service — there’s nothing like it!