Last month I discovered an obscure holiday called Random Acts of Kindness Week that starts around February 14th. Now this seems appropriate since St. Valentine’s Day is supposedly based on the martyred saints who around 200 AD performed marriages for soldiers ordered by the Roman Emperor to remain single. Their acts weren’t necessarily random but they were based on kindness and service.
Today service, or Seva, as we say in Sanskrit, is essential for one’s transformation, personal growth, and tapping into their creativity. At every step of the way in your journey you need to be sharing in some shape or form, whether it’s to somebody in need of comfort or financial help. I think it’s important to see that we are all in this together, it’s not about acquiring more stuff or taking care of what you have, but it’s about actively, in a social, political, spiritual way, contributing to the whole thing.
Most spiritual leaders including the Buddha teach that all beings including the animals, plants and even the mother (Gaia) earth are all inter-related and co-dependent upon each other. When we take time to give, to contribute, to listen, to love, to heal, to teach, to be compassionate in daily action for all life we are expressing mindful love through Seva. As we take time each and every day to become more mindful of our thoughts, words, actions and deeds we begin to take a breath using what I call mindstrength. This allows us to slow down, wait, listen and not react by staying in the present in order to improve the quality of our loving relationships. Through mindfulness we have a most unique power and ability to begin to reshape and restructure the quality of our actions.
When we act in mindful love we bring the best out of those we interact with. In Zen we say beings are like tomato plants, those that get the most mindful attention yield the larger fruit. Action and reaction also known as the Law of Karma begins and ends with how we mindfully care and love after our own gardens first and then learning that through Seva we can bring forth the best in all the beings we co-exist with.
In my book Wise Mind Open Mind I share a personal story of when I was on a retreat in India. While there I searched for a famous Indian female saint who is the devotee of the great sage and guru Neem Karoli Baba. After an exhausting month of travel, I finally found her in the city of Lucknow and tried many times to meet her. Eventually I was granted a personal audience in which we just sat in meditation. During this time all my questions and spiritual hunger for seeking wisdom and enlightenment fell way into this blissful silence. After an hour of meditating, her devotees entered the room with several boxes of varied tasty, sweet and spicy foods. Her instructions were to go to a nearby leper colony and feed each leper with my hands placing the food into their mouths. Fear, disgust, anger, angst broke through propelling me into the greatest spiritual lesson and teaching of my life. The deep realization was discovering that it wasn’t about me but instead a greater view of all creation. Love is feeding and serving other beings with compassion, kindness and a deep and abiding sense of giving and from this space arises a profound sense of love, respect and admiration for oneself. This mother saint taught that through love and Seva is true realization.
Now you don’t have to feed the lepers, join the Peace Corps or work with the destitute to express mindful love although those who do this are to be greatly admired. It can be as simple as sitting with a friend who is going through a difficult time, cleaning out your closet and giving what you haven’t worn in a year to the homeless, volunteering at a local hospital or hospice, or visiting the elderly in a retirement home. If you don’t have time for this then make a donation to a charity or organization that speaks to you. The amount isn’t as important as the feelings of love and kindness behind it. When the right energy is sent with the gift the Universe can multiply it tenfold. Remember to be a mindful gardener when it’s time to love and to give.
I also see an increased interest in the concept of Seva in my Leadership Workshops, where I focus on teaching businessmen and women to be more mindful. They learn that through these principals not only can they make more money and have successful companies, but over time awaken their consciousness so they can use the business game in a similar way that Bill and Melinda Gates did when he gave over $23 billion of his earnings to his foundation. Through this example they start to see that the game is not just about the acquisition of money, but what they can contribute to creatively changing the world. In our own way we can all participate in a global transformation through one small gesture or helping hand.
In the spirit of hope and goodness I encourage you to embrace the message of Seva and use it as a springboard to act upon generous thoughts that arise spontaneously from your heart throughout the year so that every conversation you have—the guy at the car wash, the person at the dry cleaners—are all opportunities to be a bodhisattva (enlightened or wisdom-being). Just notice what happens as kindness ripples out!
Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change and upon which this article is based. He is the Executive Director of the OpenMind Training® Institute, practices mindfulness-based mind-body psychotherapy and leadership coaching in Santa Monica, CA for individuals and corporate clients. He has been teaching personal and clinical training groups for professionals in Integral Psychotherapy, Ericksonian mind-body healing therapies, mindfulness meditation, and positive psychology nationally and internationally since 1970. (www.openmindtraining.com)