By Ellan (Shanti) Catacchio
Interviewed by Marlene (Matrika) Gast
I confused seva with volunteering. I know now, however, that seva is yoga because it puts me in my stuff. That inner experience triggers spiritual growth. In volunteering, I just focused on getting the job done. In offering seva, I look at the effects of the process on me. I used to say I work better under pressure. Then I realized I only worked under pressure. Seva has helped me change that.
My first seva involved updating contact information. The three-part process included calling, emailing and finally sending snail mail. I learned a bit about how to navigate an online communications system. All the while, I had to push myself through resistance and a deeply engrained habit of procrastination. I kept telling myself it was seva. You just do it. Humbly. In my case, grumbly.
Liberation came in the form of my next seva: transcribing Swamiji’s recorded talks. Heaven. I actually asked Swamiji if it was still seva if I enjoyed it. Thus, I was treated to one of her wholehearted laughs. I was confusing seva with tapas. I loved that this new seva took information from my ears to my fingers and then to my eyes to review what I had transcribed. It required a lot of going back and listening again and again. How sweet that was. But nothing lasts. We transcribers were far ahead of the editors. So, then, I was asked to do editing.
I confessed up front that editing was not my best skill set. Yet I stuck it out for a time. I got books for help but was not effectively contributing to the final product. Still, this seva was full of the Grace of revelation. It threw me into some very old stuff from school days. I recognized that gap couldn’t be closed and other sevites had that skill. I was able to release the editing seva without my small-s self being devastated.
My current sevas include labeling and organizing our photos in an online app. I also send letters to non-cash donors, providing documentation for tax purposes, and I send notes to honorees who have been named in cash donations. Through seva I’ve learned to recognize old identities and bad habits I need to shed. I’ve learned humility in doing what I am told when I don’t want to. I’ve learned to trust in a process I don’t fully understand. I have cultivated willingness to learn new things and the capacity to step out of my comfort zone. Doing seva is doing more yoga; doing more yoga reveals our true Divinity. In the meantime, it gets stuff done. How great is that!