On a recent Sunday morning, Edward Viljoen spoke about Seva, the Sanskrit word for sacred service and the different ways in which Seva differs from volunteering. Although both involve actually doing something, volunteering simply means freely offering to do a task or set of tasks. The key element in Seva, however, is the consciousness we hold while doing the task, the recognition that we are offering our time, our energy, our skill in service to God, or whatever term we may want to use to convey that sense of Oneness and Connection.
Chopping carrots, with love
He recounted the story of Dr James Golden, also a recent speaker at our Center for Spiritual Living, who was given the task of chopping carrots during a Buddhist meditation retreat. Chopping away with great efficiency, true to his military KP training, he was shocked when the monks told him he was doing it all wrong. They proceeded to demonstrate the exact quarter inch by quarter inch size the carrots needed to be. Staring at the crates of carrots waiting to be chopped for the monastery’s lunch, he expressed his concern that he would not be able to chop all the carrots as instructed in time. The monks reassured him that what was important was that he chop them with love, and that no doubt the right amount of carrots would be ready by lunchtime. Huge break through for him, as he realized that indeed the consciousness with which he approached this Seva was what mattered, rather than his efficiency in accomplishing the task.
What matters most, consciousness or efficiency?
Reflecting on this story as I dashed home from the morning service to wash the breakfast dishes I had left piled up in the sink in my mad rush to bake cookies (Seva) in time for the morning bake sale, and proceeding to buzz through the dirty dishes as fast as possible so I could get on to the next thing on my list… (this being Sunday, no less!) I was struck by the startling revelation that I too was totally focused on efficiency rather than my connection to the One life. And not just while performing Seva. I started wondering how many moments of my life am I so focused on getting the task done and being efficient that I loose sight of my place in the grander scheme of things, the wonder of Life, the magic of each moment, the sacred web of love which unites all living things…
And so, I paused, took a deep breath, and surrendered to the moment, to washing the dishes with love, to being truly present to each moment in my life.