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On the Path: Why I Volunteer with Seva

In this series, we explore people’s experiences on the path of spirituality. Whether it’s personal development, insights or learning about how to love more deeply, it’s all about you and your journey. Our first selection comes from Dr. Harrison Graves, an MD who has been volunteering at the center for the past several months, informing and educating us all with his thoughtful writing and commentary.

Seva is often defined as “selfless service,” service with no expectation of reward. It is that—and much more. In today’s blog, I’ll share with you why I volunteer, or do seva, and suggest ways you can too. True seva is a way of life—an inner attitude of giving.

Ram Dass explains seva beautifully,  “Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us.” (Ram Dass was a co-founder of the Seva Foundation. Seva is best known for their work restoring eyesight to over 3 million blind people suffering from cataract blindness in places like Tibet, Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.)

How Seva Can Help You, the Giver

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar shares how seva also benefits the giver:

“To increase our joy we must share joy with others. Giving is essential for spiritual growth. A willingness to share what we have and to help others is called seva.

Seva connects us to others and makes them a part of us. The barriers dissolve that separate our happiness from their happiness. Lingering moods of unhappiness or depression dissipate when our focus is on helping someone else.”

Seva can become complementary medicine for those who suffer with anxiety and depression. Both ailments can vanish when we focus on selfless service.

How to Serve

There are endless ways of doing seva. All it takes is creativity and imagination. Make seva your way of life. If you are helping to mentor a son or daughter, that is family seva. If you adopt a pet from the shelter, that is pet seva. Anytime you willingly donate your time and love to help others, you are doing seva. And there are many such projects that Art of Living members have voluntarily taken up as a way to give back through seva. Whether it’s providing service to prison inmates or supporting schools for under-served students in the developing world, or projects in your own neighborhood, there are so many ways to serve.

Service, whatever form it takes, is the flow of love from one human being to another. This desire to share is our basic nature. Sincere giving—without any expectation of return—breaks the boundaries of conditional love and expands our ability to love every human being unconditionally. Perhaps the best seva is helping someone understand this eternal nature of life.

My Experience with Seva at the Art of Living Retreat Center

Soon after beginning my seva at the Art of Living Retreat Center, I realized how much I was receiving: the opportunity to be at America’s top rated and most scenic Ayurvedic Center, in a setting of  Blue Ridge Mountain beauty. Then there is the daily yoga, meditation, satsang, and kirtan. Also,  I am privileged to meet kindred yogi and yogini spirits from around the world, each of whom seems to have an amazing talent to share: writers, artists, musicians, and yoga/meditation teachers.

Seva at the Center might include helping in the kitchen, working in the organic garden, or assisting at reception. During Art of Living courses, opportunities to participate in seva activities are often part of the daily routine, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, or childcare.

Service is the expression of love. Serve in whatever possible manner you can. Ask yourself, “How can I be useful to people around me, and to the whole world?” Then your heart starts blossoming and a completely new level begins. Otherwise we’re always thinking, “What about me, what about me?” It’s nothing! Ask, “How can I be useful, how can I give to the world?

Seva is our own inner joy pouring forth into action.

Make service a way of life—and be happier.

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