Seva = Service.
Many times over the course of the semester, we arrange for, explore the practice of, and process our experiences giving service. Many of the religions into which we dig have strong traditions of donation and service - this semester we've dug deeply into Jainism as we've explored Jaipur. Selfless volunteer service, or seva, is a act practiced by Jains in many different ways. The most important piece is not just to give the seva as an obligation but to truly feel from your heart that there is nothing else to do but give what you have - your skills, your gratitude, and your love.
About a week ago, I had a chance to do just that. I am still feeling the tingly warmth radiating out of my chest as I sit here, remembering, in order to blog about this experience.
As you all know, we were living in Chomu - a small town 40 km outside of Jaipur - for three days. On the evening of the second day, as the students were safely with their homestay families laughing, dancing, and singing with their brothers-and-sisters for the night, Harrison and I traveled with Shivani, our local coordinator, to visit some Jain nuns. We found them walking along the busy road, cars blowing their horns and blazing past these women, clad all in white, heads covered with blue/grey material covering their mouths as to not inhale any unaware insects as they walked. What a contrast to the motorbike-stares as many folks ripped by us!
More striking than the sight of these nuns walking along the road was the entourage that followed them. Women and men who had devoted either that part of the day or a week of their life to walk along with with nuns. They were cooking and cleaning and readying every small detail to arrange for the safety, sleeping, and eating for the nuns caught and held my attention. One woman, in particular, Lali, drew me in with her smile immediately.
We arrived at the place where the nuns would stay for the night and preparations began immediately for dinner. Harrison and I stood around, for a minute or two, watching, observing, and being quite dwarfed by the quick activity around us: the nuns needed to eat before the sun set in about 30 minutes. We were standing in a movie scene - The two of us still, in focus, while everyone else played back in fast forward around us.
My eyes focused on Lali - in her red sari - her strong body moving with grace among the others, quietly, but firmly guiding, showing the others what needed to be done to accomplish their tasks. Not quite knowing what else to do but feeling uncomfortable watching things happen around me while I stood still, I approached her. She looked at me, smiled deeply, and put an apple in my right hand and a knife in my left. I squatted down and began to peel. I was focused on taking the seed parts out of the apple, as Lali showed me, because Jain nuns can't eat any piece of food that could potentially contain another life. I looked to my left where Lali had placed a huge bowl of fruit for me to peel and de-seed: pomegranate (yikes for de-seeding!), papaya, apples, oranges, and grapes. Next to the bowl, a cup of steaming chai sat also waiting for my attention. I set to work.
This small bit of seva that I was able to give - merely cutting some fruit for the nuns, and for the people who were attending to them to share together - filled me up with a deep sense of satisfaction. I felt a bit weighless with joy, actually. It's these moments that I am so grateful for, but are also a bit dangerous as they are addicting. To feel so happy and so light is a rare thing.
So as we continue to move along this semester and engage with other traditions in which seva is a huge piece (Sikhism at this Golden Temple where I finish up this post), I remember this feeling, Lali's smile, and the happiness that came from my small actions that evening before the sun set. May you all feel the heart warmth as you identify pieces of service that you give every day to your loved ones, your children, your parents, your partners. May the giving be enough to fill your hearts with gratitude for the opportunity to give.