Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning selfless service.
The idea here being to perform a service without any expectation of result or award for performing it. The idea of giving back, of volunteering, or serving with a free heart exists in many spiritual traditions and is often seen as a part of spiritual evolvement.
I recently went to participate for a couple days of service at my Vipassana meditation center in Illinois. The worldwide organization is run by “old student” volunteers who, after receiving the initial instruction, come back to serve in one form or another to support the center and the spiritual growth of others.
Being about two hours from the center, offering service is a little challenging. But I carved out time of my schedule because I had an impulse to give back. I have so appreciated the teachings I learned last year and want to be a part of making these teachings available to other.
It was simply about supporting the organization and stepping out of my life to give to others.
There was nothing awe inspiring about the mundane but necessary tasks of kitchen support work, laundry and organization I supported. And that was perfect because it wasn’t the actual tasks that was important.
And it was great. I had lovely conversations, participated in group sits (1 hour meditations) three times a day, and had evening entertainment watching uplifting videos such as Dhamma Brothers (a documentary of how the meditation instruction was taken into a maximum prison in the south in the early 2000 period).
If I lived closer, I would participate more often because it felt great!
While there, I met folks doing long-term service. A couple in their sixties who were finishing a year long period of acting as center caretakers. A man in his 20’s who was doing some online education while spending 6-12 months doing service at a couple centers. Another woman in her sixties who is the primary caretaker for her eighty-year old mother who was doing Seva at the center as part of her own refueling and respite care.
While everyone was no doubt there to serve and not expecting payment or accommodation, each one had a personal gain of some sort.
The Dalai Lama’s perspective on anxiety today is that is stems from being disconnected from purpose.
I was reflecting on service at this time of year when the giving seems mostly centered on material goods when I happened upon an article in which the Dalai Lama spoke about lack of purpose being the root of the rising anxiety in people today. Despite the high level of material success and riches in developed countries have, many people report a sense of unhappiness, dis-satisfaction and anxiousness.
The Dalai Lama said this growing angst in modern society has to do with the disconnection we have with each other that runs counter to the natural human desire to serve our fellow beings. A study even found that Americans who give back and do good for others are twice as happy in their lives. Why? It is about feeling connected with others and being of value or needed.
The ancient philosophy of India talks about each person have a Dharma or life purpose.
The idea is that each of us is here on this earth to serve through our own inner gifts and purpose. And when we take actions aligned with this soul purpose, we not only stand in our space of our own natural abundance, we are best able to serve humanity.
I have had several clients recently that were searching for this inner sense of purpose, for activities and ways to feel more connected and of value to others. A couple clients are in their post retirement years where I think there is a natural inclination to ask “what now?” But I also have clients in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s asking this question of “how can I live in a way that has deeper meaning?”
I have seen that when I don’t or my clients don’t live in a way that lines up with this higher purpose, there is more restlessness and anxiety. These feelings sometimes then drive people to try to fill those emotions with actions like emotional eating, shopping, or superficial sexual relationships. All of which miss the deeper mark and often create guilt snowballing the “feeling bad” effect.
The Dalai Lama talked about solving these issues by recognizing that we all have something vital to share.
- Each day start by setting an intention to serve through your natural gifts. How can you be of vital service?
- But secondly ask how you can receive the gifts that others have to share. Because while you’re out there sharing your best ideally, others are doing the same. Look for the compassion and gifts others are offering you each day.
Wow, what a world we would have if our focus was on giving our best through our inner purpose and receiving the beautiful gifts others were showering me with! It is this give and take of our inner purpose offerings that I think will build a stronger sense of connection, compassion and harmony that we need on a deep level in our world today.
How does Seva fit into all of this?
In addition to trying to taking actions that are harmony with your own soul purpose, giving back in general service to me adds another level of connecting, of setting aside superficial gains to go deeper and release attachment to the worldly goods that give us momentary spikes of happiness but no real contentment.
- I invite you during this holiday season to see what other ways can you give besides the presents. What gifts naturally spring out of you?
- How might your serving remind you of the interconnection of all humanity despite the post-election turmoil and differences?
- How can your actions support your natural inner purpose that allows your spirit to soar and uplift others?
P.S. If you read this and think, “I have no idea what my inner purpose is or how to support it,” consider joining the New Year Abundance Workshop. There are still spaces available. I will be guiding folks through some very cool activities to discover this exact information so that you can line up 2017 with abundant living.
©2016, Jamie Durner, Ayurvedic Practitioner and Certified Life Coach at Abundant You Coaching