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Karma Yoga: Six Steps on the Path to Seva
As I began learning about selfless service, I was surprised to discover that the effectiveness of any kind gesture or helping program depends heavily on the personal qualities you bring to it. At first, I hoped to find quick solutions to problems, whether temporary disruptions or chronic social ills caused them. I wanted to figure out which kinds of programs work and which don’t period. But that’s not the way true service unfolds.
Gradually I saw that there’s an art to helping others. To reach the best solutions—the ones with lasting results—I must abandon my own thoughts about what’s needed and go into the act of service willing to embrace whatever ideas present themselves.
Often these come in unexpected, even startling, forms. But when they address what people most need, their results can be beautiful. And when helping efforts are carried out with utmost selflessness, they reach a level of very high spiritual practice signified by the Sanskrit word Seva.
An important first step toward reaching Seva, I've found, is simply staying open to others’ suggestions (instead of giving in to my always-present thought: I know what to do!). This takes a great deal of practice. Here are a few things that have helped me succeed, at times. It’s always a struggle.
The Path to Seva
1. Quiet my Mind
When I began learning about service, I read about the need for this over and over. I wasn’t even sure what it meant. Simply put, it’s shutting off the torrent of thoughts that plagues me almost every moment.
There are many ways to make the mind fall silent, perhaps the most common being meditation. Personally, I have difficulty with traditional forms of seated meditation. I simply fall asleep.
But I’ve found several other ways that I love, including moving meditations such as yoga practice. I began to succeed at meditation when I stopped worrying about whether I was doing it right and started concentrating on what works for me.
2. Step Out of Time
I try to just quit worrying about where I need to be in an hour, or three. When I’m in a hurry, especially then, I try to act kindly, smiling at people, or letting other drivers cut in front of me.
Quite to my amazement, I’ve found that slowing myself down, noticing the people around me, and behaving as if I have all the time in the world helps me accomplish more. Go figure. It’s certainly a kinder, healthier way to live.
3. Open Myself to Others
At times I find myself closing down when confronted with a person who needs something I can give, or who just pushes me out of my comfort zone. If I catch myself doing this, I try to breathe out hard and push down the invisible wall I’ve erected between the other person and me. This simple exercise is remarkably effective.
4. Work Shoulder to Shoulder with Those in Need
The most lasting solutions come when I treat the people who need help as equal partners. They’re really very smart—and when we work together, we come away appreciating each other.
5. Give Only What’s Needed
I try to empower people to solve their own problems, and then quietly step away.
6. Cultivate Humility
What’s involved in these efforts, when they’re done carefully and well, is much bigger than me.
These are among the steps I try to take in my service to others. Practicing them soothes my grief and helps light come back into my life. I can’t tell you exactly how this happens. It's really a bit miraculous. And it’s led me to a single conclusion: above all, selfless service is a spiritual practice.
Study with YogaUOnline and Tias Little: The Spine as a Sacred Channel - Creating a Body of Light, Vitality, and Energy.
Another article from writer, Jan DeBlieu - Adapting to Feeling Unseen: How I'm Navigating a World That Overlooks Aging.
Reprinted with permission from Jan DeBlieu.
Jan DeBlieu is the author of four books about landscape and how the places where we live and work help shape who we are. Since the death of her son in 2009, she has focused on serving people in need or trouble. She has published articles in many national magazines and has won a national literary medal. Visit her at jandeblieu.com.