LITTLE BIG SEVAS: SERVING EVERYDAY REALITY
When we talk about seva, or selfless service, what usually comes to mind are acts of eminent social impact. But serving is far more than dedicating yourself to a social cause. Serving speaks to one of the essential aspects of human existence on Earth. It speaks of cooperation, nurturing, and caring.
Most recent archaeological finds and research evidence show that we become Homo sapiens through cooperation and care, more than attacking or fleeing.
Science recognizes the importance of seva in everyday life
Doctor Ira Byock in their book The Best Possible Care quotes anthropologist Margaret Mead when asked what the first sign of human civilization is and replies, to the surprise of her audience, that it was a broken and regenerated human bone. The explanation that followed was that "in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You can't run from danger, get to the river to drink or hunt for food. You're meat for animals prowling. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that healed is proof that someone had time to be with the one who fell, tied the wound, took them to safety and took care of them until fully recovered. Helping someone through difficulty is where civilization begins”.1
Margaret Mead is not alone when she says that care and service are what allowed us to evolve. Neurobiologist Humberto Maturana argues that at the start of Homo sapiens we were Homo sapiens-amans amans, which arises from the ancestral intimate coexistence through conversation, collaboration and co-inspiration. As the author suggests, from a biological-cultural perspective, amans is because "what guides the future of living beings in general, and of humans in particular, are intimate feelings or psychic dimensions that appear as emotions when they are observed in their operation in relational space". Thus, the first vestige of civilization would be "a small group that coexists in the pleasure of sharing company, caresses and food, in which a simple consequence of the intimacy of this living arose, the tongue and the conversation (...) in the pleasure of doing everyday things together”.2
Shelley Taylor, psychology professor and researcher, argues that when under stress, as much as attacking or fleeing, what we instinctively want is to be cared for and embraced. She begins her book Vital Ties by quoting doctor Elsie Widdowson’s study in Germany with orphaned children due to the war in the late 1940s. In this study, Widdowson sought to monitor the impact of nutrition on malnourished children in the post-war period in two separate orphanages. To the researcher's surprise, it was evidenced that more importantly than the quality and quantity of food offered to children, it was the quality of care and affection they received that determined their healthy physical development. This is because the children whose shelter was under the tutelage of a loving guardian were the ones who developed best, despite the food offered.3
These are just a few examples of studies that have inspired several others and that have been changing the perspective about human relations and their health. In other words, different renowned scientists recognize today the ultimate importance of serving and being served, that is, cooperation and devotion in coexistence, so that life is indeed fulfilled.
Experience corroborates science
Throughout our existence as Seva Corps we have been weaving dialogues around the seva theme and we have recorded some testimonials that define serving as an everyday and community experience as a factor that continues to bestow amans - love - to Homo sapiens:
"Seva is a commonplace thing, something that happens every day and of which we are not aware. There are many simple actions that can help people around us, and if we recognize them and observe the benefits they produce in others and ourselves, we would do them more often."4
"It is very important that we recognize that service has no labels. And that often what prevents us from serving is our self judgment about what is good and bad. There is no one or other service, better or worse. In the end, it's the service. This ability to recognize that we can be of service is very much a willing and open heart that begins with what we have available. It's asking yourself daily 'how can I serve today?'"5
"Seva is giving love and knowing how to receive it. And it starts at home, in small gestures. Making the bed. Respecting your home. Contributing to cleanliness. Saying thank you. Giving a hug. Knowing how to listen."6
"I believe that every day is an invitation to help each other. Serving is a gentle gesture when greeting a concerned co-worker or a suffering patient. It's getting up in the morning and helping my kids get ready for school. It is to serve with my presence, offering attentive listening, not reacting, or knowing how to remain silent. Seva is an everyday thing. Something that happens."7
"Seva is a way of performing in the world. It is for you to be open-hearted to serve what is necessary, making yourself available with what you have, because what we have can serve many."8
"Seva, in one instance, is an attitude."9
"Any community is only as strong as those that serve it. It's when people really understand that we're interconnected and that serving each other is a service to ourselves. We can't be separate."10
"Seva is of great importance for us to leave a legacy of more sensitive and cooperative human beings."11
Butterfly Effect is a mathematical theory appropriated by popular wisdom that says that the simple beating of a butterfly’s wings can influence the natural course of living dynamics. That is, the beating of a butterfly’s wings can cause a typhoon somewhere on the other side of the world.12
It's amazing to realize how in everyday life we are in action at all times. And that each action of ours triggers a series of other actions. Within the teachings of Kundalini Yoga we say that every sequence has its consequences, that every action generates reactions.
From this perspective, as mentioned by several sevadars of the Seva Corps network, a simple act of collaboration, embracing, effective presence in everyday life speaks of seva, because it says something about how we can positively and exponentially impact the reality that surrounds us and, in the end, reality as a whole.
And every conscious service is an attitude, since it means to take responsibility for the well-being of the whole into your own hands, and that includes your own well-being. It is to choose to live daily open to the flow, since we are all interconnected. It is to take into our own hands the responsibility to act despite our personal desires, aware of a global whole, aware that the effects of our actions escape from our immediate understanding.
Little big sevas
Life is a stream, where at all times we are serving and are served. That is, where we are relating and imprinting a quality to our relationships, in an existence where we are serving something in one moment and in another we are also receiving service.
When we bring ourselves to the flow from the perspective of serving, that is when we relate to each other without being on autopilot. That is, being conscious of our own life. And when that flow is interrupted, for whichever reason, that's when we derange and become ill.
There are several ways to bring ourselves into action and all of them are important, as well as various initiatives that others take to support, inspire, and motivate us. All of which are possibilities to sow a more dignified, just, prosperous, conscious life, not only for others, but also for ourselves.
Every time we are in everyday reality from the perspective of service, we are bestowing what originated our civilization and what can sustain us as a species on this Earth. Because, quoting Maturana once more, "the future of humanity is not boys, girls and young people, but we the adults with whom they live, for they, in turn, will be like adults, relating or differentiating themselves from us, as we ourselves are adults in our lives with them."13