By Dr. Puja Shah for Yoga Medicine.
Growing up as a first generation immigrant in a spiritual home, I saw my mother and grandmother retreat to our prayer room every morning and chant to Krishna. I sometimes sat with my mom, peeking my eyes open at her stillness as she silently spoke the words over and over, 108 times. In my teen years, when I stepped foot in western yoga studios and took eastern philosophy in college, I heard the words “japa meditation,” “bhakti yoga,” to understand the pieces of my upbringing were special and not to be taken for granted.
My father, on the other hand, was not one who prayed daily. He focused his attention on his service to others. This included helping seniors carry loads at grocery stores, stopping to help strangers fix their flat tire, helping financially if someone couldn’t afford something, sending an anonymous gift to a friend who least expected it and many more examples that he called seva.
Seva in Sanskrit translates to the act of selfless service. For me, it was one of the first spiritual practices passed down to me.
Karma yoga describes seva where we do not seek any outcome, as a simple act of love that is what it is. There is a purity in seva that lacks words. It feels like a place of no ego and a reflection of compassion.
In time, I began to see how seva can seep into my life as a mother and as a public health dentist. As parents, the selfless love for our children is heart opening. When my little one was sick, I poured everything into her healing, every second of my action was solely for her recovery. As a dentist, I focused my time and effort to serve those in need throughout my career. Recently, I followed my passion of writing to release my first fiction novel and as I stepped into the newness of my creative pursuit, I wondered can writing be seva?
The story that emerged from my novel For My Sister follows the journey of light and darkness with Amla and Asya: twin sisters trafficked into India’s notorious Sonagachi district. It portrays the power of poetry, mindfulness, and sisterly love.
What I learned is that even while fiction, the story of Amla and Asya is all too real. And in the research that accompanied my writing, I worked with organizations that aided survivors of human trafficking such as Oasis India and found alignment with Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation.
My whole heart wanted to go across the world and help these organizations, the way I could in my youth when I was not a mother of young kids. It was in the interviews and moments of learning that I understood how even in writing my novel, I could still perform seva.
Here are 3 reasons why seva is everything… and easy ways you can start seva without having to travel far.
1. Have Discussions for Change
In writing the story of Amla and Asya, I was opening the space for others to understand the experience of trafficked girls everywhere. This awareness is crucial in topics of social change. I had to grasp that writing for social change doesn’t mean that I will change the world overnight, but it adds to the larger collective efforts toward social justice by helping those who have been second-class citizens of the world to feel validated and understood. Ultimately, it can lead to important discussions. These discussions motivate others and support causes that are taking action.
When you read something that speaks to you or you hear about a topic you feel invested in, having discussions on it is the start of helping create change. As Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
2. Cultivate Loving Compassion in All You Do
When I started to understand my writing could enter the hearts of others for the sheer purpose of compassion, I felt my own heart blossom at a new level. In this opening, I began to release any attachment or outcome and redefined what success looked like. Of course we need monetary assets to survive, but when the service you provide for others comes from a place of compassion, the attachment to more diminishes. Ironically, this is when more doors opened for me.
Cultivating compassion can be in any place of life. It can be lifting someone up with a big action or small smile.
You can simply ask yourself, “How can I be useful to the people around me and to the whole world?”
3. Align with Causes You Believe In
The doors that have opened are amongst others who are aligned with raising awareness on the topic of trafficking, authors who write for social change, the like minded individuals who share about my book because it simply speaks to them. It is being in the flow of alignment. This has brought me to win awards, speak at bookstores, share at nonprofit events, media coverage and a journey that feels remarkable because it is rooted in seva.
Volunteer at causes you feel passionate about when you can, donate to causes you believe in, spread awareness on their efforts to create more change. These are ripples that create waves together in the ocean of humanity.
Ram Dass once said, ‘We’re here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.”
The truth is, we all will not get to volunteer at an orphanage in India or work in a hospital in Uganda in our lifetime. But like my father, you may pass someone struggling to shovel snow and stop to ask if they need a hand, you may meet eyes with a homeless person and offer a meal or see someone who looks sad in a park where you just smile. Maybe you love animals and volunteer at an animal shelter during the holidays. Empathy is the crux of our connection and perhaps this service to one another is the most important part of our yoga and spiritual journey. Without it, our threads of harmonious existence would be broken.
Seva is everything.
About the Author
Puja Shah is a visionary poet who shares her voice through written and spoken word, guided meditations, and teaching. Born in Queens, New York to immigrant parents, she defied teachers who questioned her English skills by winning countless poetry and short story awards in her youth. She is a doctor of dental medicine and has completed over a dozen trainings in various forms of yoga, meditation, and ancient wisdom. With over 10 years of nonprofit experience and a long public health career, she has aligned with girl trafficking awareness causes for her award winning debut novel, For My Sister. More information is at www.formysisterbook.com. Follow Puja on Instagram and Facebook!