Seva is a discipline. In fact, I was taught from my great teachers that it is a practice on the path of yoga. “In the seven steps to happiness outlined by Yogi Bhajan, the sixth step, Power to Sacrifice, equates to Seva and leads directly to happiness” (sevaandservice.com).
Practicing to give selflessly is not an easy endeavor. Precisely, the art of surviving in this world requires the ego. We must maintain a certain sense of selfishness in order to provide for our needs. The ego is not a “bad thing” as we often hear. After all, it was given to us for a reason. That reason is to understand when we truly need it and when we do not, such as the times it overpowers our innate goodness. We need the ego to exist in the world so that we can work a steady job, pay our bills, participate in a relationship, and to take care of ourselves and our families.
Seva is a practice that helps us to see the relationship with our ego in a deeper way. As we give ourselves to others in service, the ego must sit on the sidelines. For example, notice a time that you helped another. It doesn’t matter what it was really. Just observe how you were during that time. Did you listen more? Where you more apt to set your concerns, worries, issues on the side so you could be there for that person or community? How did it make you feel to be of service to that person?
Seva “is an attitude as much as it is an action.” Seva, defined as selfless service, is when you approach the world around you from the perspective of “what can I provide to uplift these people, this place’” (sevaandservice.com).
This does not mean that you are better than another and therefore you must help another. But rather, it is an action and a perspective of approaching the world around you, the community around you or even beyond you, with the idea of union. By viewing the world from a place that “your world could be my world,“ we see each another as “One“. Thus, to help another is to help yourself.
So, where do you get started? That can sometimes be easy and believe it or not, sometimes it can be really complicated, especially now that we have so many different amazing organizations helping others around the world. The first thing to always remember is to find something the speaks to you; that resonates and feels right in your soul.
For nearly eight years I have been in the volunteer field beginning with soup kitchens and domestic violence shelters, and in the past few years working with women and endometriosis. Each of these causes spoke to me in a special way, either from personal experience or from local interactions with the community.
Finding a cause that interest you is one thing. Connecting with an organization that already exist for that cause is another. Typically, now a days there is one out there that you will probably align with goals and passions. So, you just have to look for it. Or, perhaps it will just arrive in your lap when you least expect it. Like mine did!
On a family vacation I happened to share a cab with Brooke Paparo, founder of Bridges Between, a non-profit organization working to bridge women and education in Nepal. Having a rich interest working with women in my previous volunteer services, this happenstance rang loudly. Nearing the end of our family trip, Brooke approached me and asked if I would like to volunteer my time in Nepal with Bridges Between. Naturally, I said, yes.
Upon meeting the Board of Directors of Bridges Between (BB) this past June, I was deeply affected, finding their passion to harmonize beautifully with my own interest in teaching and connecting with others.
BB “imagines a world where all women are literate and able to share knowledge within their families, their communities, and throughout the world” (bridgesbetween.org). With the construction of one school under their belt and their objective of opening ten schools over the course of ten years, BB is well on its way of paving a pathway of clearer and connective communication in Nepal.
“Families and women in the remote towns of Nepal, such as Cchulemu and Yewa have very little to no access for travel, let alone education, or internet. Some women haven’t seen their relatives in years and being able to visibly see them online through pictures of weddings, new babies, etc. would be another means for them to connect to one another. Internet access throughout the remote villages would not only enable better communication between neighboring villages and family members around, but it would also aid in health care concerns and wellness.
“Since the opening, Bridges Between has received formal correspondence from multiple nearby villages requesting schools,” says Brooke Paparo. Incorporating these requests to the model, “BB schools will focus on literacy, community, empowerment, creating a platform of knowledge, and providing tools for sharing of information.”
It is easy for us to get caught up in the American routine and forget the immense amount of technology that enables us to connect with one another, locally and globally. The women and families in the remote villages of Nepal, do not have this means for communication and they are asking for it. All humans want to connect and communicate; it is a sharing of the mind, the heart and the soul. “The women Brooke met during her (first) visit to Nepal wanted to communicate and share ideas, but were missing the means of connection through literacy and technology. The phenomenon of educating women has been well documented globally. It is known to result in a filtering down of education through generations, ultimately providing literacy for generations of women to come” (bridgesbetween.org). As time went on, Brooke learned the women’s desires to learn basic literacy skills, as well as to travel to other parts of their own country, places they have never been before.”
Bridges Between’s mission is to “connect women of the world and provide an opportunity for the exchange of knowledge and ideas” (bridgesbetween.org). I am utterly grateful for this chance to practice Seva with such an inspiring organization and group of people. In selflessly giving to others, we practice the art of “stepping outside of our rhythym; our pattern” and with that we arrive to new gateways of truth in the world. “Creating bridges between Nepal and the USA, the community and sustainable lifestyle of Nepal, together with literacy and the modern technology of America, naturally and powerfully enhances both worlds” (bridgesbetween.org).
The Mission On This Trip
The next volunteer trip is scheduled for late October. My partner, James Bengala, and I depart on October 23, leaving to spend 21 days of our time listening, learning and being of service. On this trip, we will visit Kathmandu, to see the historic city life of Nepal for a few days. Taking a flight to Phaplu, from there we will hike to the Chiwang Monastery for a very special two day spiritual festival whereupon the Lama shares an empowerment message to all. Originally, from Nepal, Karma Sherpa, founder of Sherpa Mountain Travel in Boulder, Colorado, is the BB Treasurer. He shared with us that “the term ‘empowerment’ is the literal translation to the Tibetan word, ‘wong’. In Sanskrit it is called ‘abhisheka’ which can also be translated as intention.” As this festival will be very foreign and new to both James and I, being a yogini, I can only imagine how powerful this will be.
After the festival, we arrive in the remote village of Cchulemu, where the first school is built and well under its way. “The school curriculum is developed by educational professionals with experience in third world countries, ensuring the educational program is relevant and state-of-the-art,” shares Paparo. A reliable internet provides the opportunity for educational support as well as tele-medicine. In addition to the schools, on this trip we have incorporated a very special service, the “James Project”.
This project will undertake the construction of building a Cold Food Storage at the nearby Monastery. I say “nearby” but what that really translates as is an hour trek from Cchulemu. The school hours are in the evenings, and hence many days will resemble a double shift, working during the day on the “James Project” and trekking in the mid-afternoon to the school to teach and educate, only to trek back for dinner and sleep. Naturally, safety is always a concern, but we will be taken in with much care by the Sherpa people, as we will have “Porters” or guides whom will hike with us from destination to destination.
Another very unique and exciting piece of this trip is the on-site preparations for the next two schools in Yewa and Deku. Brooke will also travel alone, gathering two beautiful women from another remote village and taking them to Annapurna, enabling them to leave their home town for the first time in their lives, showing them another part of their own country.
The Seva Connection
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” -Helen Keller
I would say that Miss Keller really summed up the Seva Connection with that one! Volunteer work is leading with the heart. We slowly shed the layers of the ego, similar to the practice of yoga. In this way of living in their world, understanding from a new perspective and truly, meaningfully taking it in, we absorb. The heart does not shine with ego. Ego may act out so the heart will be protected. But in all honesty of the path, the heart is bright when we are open, we are free and willing to be ok right where we are.
We can accomplish so many things as a unit in the world, remembering that we are One, without division. We speak of this often in yoga and we aim to take the practice of this within our own sense of Self on the mat into the world.
We can begin by doing so in small everyday steps. Start with family, or co-workers. When in conversation, be in the present moment. Notice when you are distracted by the people walking by or the conversation happening behind you. Later, observe when an emotion arrives and approach it with a place of love, rather than with judgement. Soon enough, the yoga practice on the mat shines into your life as your “living yoga – your livingME“.
Donating your time to a cause you believe in amplifies this practice. While working with others, creating and coordinating ways to build and construct a better place, we develop a deeper sense of giving, of unconditional love. Think of the time you gave the best birthday gift to a dear friend. How did it make you feel inside? Yep, that is what we are talking about people, except on a much much larger scale!
To support Kristina’s volunteer work with Bridges Between or to learn more about participating, please visit http://www.bridgesbetween.org/.
Kristina Kuzmich, born and raised in the Midwest, first found Colorado through Naropa University in 2004, and instantly called it “home.” Kristina is a 200 E-RYT and a Licensed Massage Therapist residing in the Vail Valley, and is the founder and owner of Mindful Evolution Yoga. She is the Yoga Director for the Aria Yoga Program at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, the only certified SmartFLOW © Yoga Teacher in Colorado and is proud to be a yoga ambassador for lululemon athletica and Manduka. A lover of dark chocolate and mate tea, an avid hiker, snowboarder, writer and community worker, she insists on traveling the globe in her diligent pursuit of perpetual growth. She is a junkie to the card game, Rummy, and while not shy to share her obsession for fairy tales, particularly devouring up The Brother’s Grimm, Kristina has an exploratory skill in creating meals in the kitchen. She isn’t afraid to dabble into her favorite styles of wine (all things French), share her opinions when asked, and will continually practice seeking the truth and finding clarity, though the wine may cloud that at times.
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