Expectations and Service

We come with so many expectations but are only aware of just a few of these, if any at all. When I reflect on why I chose to accept this fellowship, I see that I came to APV with the expectation and desire to teach and be immersed in its mindful, holistic, and egalitarian educational environment. Wonderful!

And I have been doing that, and it has been such a transformative experience. But in the past month or so, my attention, time, and energy has been called towards other work, work necessary for APV, yet work I did not expect to do nor find much joy in.

For a few days there I found myself frustrated, tired, irritable, and miserably missing all my days dancing, singing, meditating, and learning with our wonderful children. “I came to teach; I am a teacher! Working on fundraising is so mundane, so petty, so commercial, so dehumanizing,” I thought. But as I began to more closely observe myself, I saw so much selfishness, so much ego.

What ignorance! “How self-centered a life I am living!” I said to myself. As if the universe revolved around me, as if this fellowship, this amazing opportunity to come to India, was an entitlement of mine to be had for some kind of pleasure now and some sort of material or career advancement in the future.

This fellowship is in the name of seva, of selfless service. Yet do any of us know what seva actually is? Can we say we really live or day to day lives in the name of “selfless service”? Most of the time we just gloss over it, this thing called service, like any other word, thing, or human being. But when it is just intellectual, or even emotional, we cannot rightly call it seva. Indeed, if we do not take the time to closely contemplate what seva is and how we can practice it, doing “service” can be quite dangerous. It can easily puff up our ego–the exact opposite of what this kind of fellowship is meant to do.

So how do we practice seva? I believe we can start by doing one thing: give. Just give! Give everything you have without any expectation, without any trace or hint of reward, return, recognition, or sense of self. Only when our intentions are pure, really pure–meaning free from any and all ill-will, craving, aversion, free from any notion of “I,” can we practice seva.

Those few days I saw in myself that I was merely acting in the spirit of service. I saw how my mind was so defiled with ego that I was far from being able to selflessly give. Sure, I appeared to be serving, and maybe that’s what we all are really doing. But until we have cultivated that spirit of selflessness within, that thing we might call love, we can never truly serve.

My passions for education, rural livelihood, and meditation come from my experiences working in Kenya and Thailand. My time with the Maasai American Organization in Losho, Kenya, inspired me to dedicate myself to service and to work for educational opportunities in poor, marginalized communities. This commitment led me to Thailand on a Fulbright fellowship, where I taught English at a small government school in Chiang Mai province and worked with refugee and migrant women from Myanmar. I hope to use these past experiences this year to learn more about myself, holistic education in rural communities, and self-sufficient development. I come to AIF honored and excited for the chance to immerse myself in Garhwali culture, practice mindfulness and yoga, and make friendships with the people and community of Ashram Paryavaran Vidyalaya.

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4 thoughts on “Expectations and Service

  1. Matthew
    The word Seva is actually in my view more than Service . It is more than helping out. There is a human element of “giving of yourself”. My Father got me into volunteering at a very young age. We used to go to many events managing booths, ushering , arranging seating etc. we proudly wore this green plastic badge shaped like a horseshoe with our Club’s motto- Service before Self. That is Seva.
    Thanks for doing the heavy lifting for the fundraising.
    Best
    Sridar

  2. Dear Matt,

    Thank you for this blog post. I completely relate to what you are saying. I have also been pulled into a plethora of fundraising proposals and projects that do not relate whatsoever to my original project. Thank you for the eloquently written reminder of our purpose.

    Best,
    Angela

  3. Wonderful to read this, Matt. I really agree with your definition and understanding of service. Quietly using what talents we do have to make a difference without recognition or flattery is the essence of seva. Thanks very much!

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