What Are You Carrying? Part 2: Seva, With a Side of Perspective

After returning home from my eye-opening, spiritual experience in Costa Rica this past February, I found myself wanting more. I wanted to have more experiences that cracked open my heart, that made me forget about the details of life, that made me feel pure connection and joy. I found myself searching for the “next place” to go. The next retreat, the next escape (although at this point I didn’t see it as an escape, but as a way of finding how to live life to its fullest).

I met a girl who spent a couple of months living in an ashram. She told me about her experience, meditating and doing yoga every morning at 4:30am; then doing her “seva” practice. When you’re living in an ashram, they feed you, provide you housing, meditation & yoga instruction (for a very small fee), and you practice “seva” or selfless service. You help to take care of the ashram -- cooking, cleaning, whatever needs done. This girl told me about how her job was vacuuming and mopping a particular area, every day. And just like with any meditation practice, she was resistant to it at first. She asked herself, “Why do I have to vacuum today, when I just did it yesterday? The floor can’t be that dirty...we remove our shoes.” But it was her seva. It didn’t really matter what it was, it was her duty. It wasn’t about whether or not she wanted to do it or if it needed done. It was selfless duty (a lesson to let go of the fickle desires of the self/ego). And so after many days of resistance, she slowly began to accept it, and then to be truly present with the job. She even began to enjoy it. She was still “doing” the same physical movement, the same “chore,” but her perspective changed, and so her whole experience of it changed.

I thought, “Wow, that’s an enlightening shift, right there.” And for about two days I thought, “I want to go to an ashram. I want that simplicity. I want to learn to practice seva.”  Then, as if I were struck by lightning, it occurred to me, that life is only as complicated as we make it. Let me say that again. Life is only as complicated as we make it. And our experience of life is all about our perspective and our expectations. What she experienced at the ashram was a radical shift in perspective.

It occurred to me that my seva (selfless) practice was at home, caring for my family. Cleaning and caring for my own home, for my own children. Why couldn’t I experience that perspective shift here, instead of at an ashram? The floors need vacuumed here! I could, if I just changed my perspective.  My “lightning” moment was telling me that I was right where I needed to be. I just needed to open my eyes and be present for the possibilities for seva all around me. If, instead of resenting the act of cleaning (thinking about how everyone messes everything up and I’m often the only one who cleans it up), I could take this opportunity to do seva. It needs to be cleaned. I CAN do it. I am thankful that I have a strong, healthy body that enables me to do this work that needs to be done. With this change in perspective, I am not only doing my seva duty, but I am unburdening myself of the stress and resentment I might otherwise carry if I was clinging to my old perspective.

The other part of this perspective shift is finding ways to un-complicate life. My experience in Costa Rica was so simple; this girl’s description of life in the ashram was so simple...I longed for simplicity. When I returned home, I felt like we had too much stuff and we did too much, everything was too much for my senses after living so simply and enjoying it. My perspective at first turned to resent all that we had -- I wanted to be rid of it. After my husband insisted that it wasn’t practical for us to sell our house or to give everything away, I realized that what needed to change wasn’t the situation, but my attachment to an “idea” of how my life should be, instead of accepting and being grateful for what I have -- what was right in front of me. I made my life un-complicated in an instant, with a simple perspective shift. (Although I did have behavior changes that accompanied my perspective shift here -- like giving away many things we didn’t need anymore and being mindful to not accumulate things we don’t need. A daily gratitude practice has been key too.)

To un-complicate your life, I suggest just taking a look at your complications. Open your eyes to a new perspective, try to see things in a different way. It often starts with simply appreciating all that you have in life. We ALL have much to be thankful for. Be grateful for your body and what it can do. Be grateful for the love and friendship in your life. Give thanks for the job that helps you provide food to nourish your body, for the home that provides you shelter. You can approach everything “complicated” in your life like this, simply by radically shifting your perspective to one of learning -- ask what you can learn from each situation in your life. Sometimes perhaps you need to make a real change in behavior, but often, life is trying to teach us to let go of our iron-clad perspective, to let go of our stubborn ego, to drop that heavy load we’re carrying and to shift to thoughts of seva - of selflessness. Just for a moment, let go of your desires, your ideas of what you “want” things to be and simply see how things are and accept them, even appreciate them. See all the ways you support the loved ones in your life; think of all the ways you practice seva. Maybe you can do even more seva somewhere in your life.

Letting go of your old perspectives and practicing seva will help you wake up from the illusion that things are not going "your way." You will suddenly understand that you create your own reality. You can decide to be present, to learn in each moment, to live in joy or in misery each day, no matter what your circumstances. Today, I choose joy. I hope you do too!