February 4, 2014.
Knowing how much we have to give comes as we learn more about ourselves from the inside out, not from the opinions others have of us or how we would like to be.
As we serve others without expecting rewards, our capacity for service grows.
I loved participating in and then later leading ten-day silent yoga retreats. We would vary the daily activities. There was time for meditation, postures, breathing—all the practices that help us to know ourselves. During the day, there would always be a specific time for service (Karma Yoga). Some days it would be working in the kitchen or cleaning the rooms, whatever needed to be done. To understand the true spirit of service, many times that task was done without obvious reward. We might move logs from one side of the field to the other and back again, watching the mind in its frustration and its need to accomplish. After some time the mind would let go of that need and just enjoy the service.
The first time I participated in a retreat of this kind, I was assigned to the kitchen to wash lettuce. Slowly and meticulously I washed the lettuce with full meditative consciousness. The person in charge came by and asked if I could continue to do it as perfectly but a little faster, that is if we wanted to eat lunch that same day!
Perfection is not in the slow speed; it is in doing the action at the proper time, in the appropriate way, without stress or looking for reward.
At the end of each retreat, when the silence was broken, there was a time for sharing. The retreat participants and staff shared some of their experiences during the ten days of practice and silence. Most people got up to say how they enjoyed or disliked a particular part. Some were funny, some were heartwarming.
One woman from the retreat raised her hand, asking to share. She came up to the microphone and spoke to the whole group. Looking specifically at me, she began:
“Each time the Karma Yoga period was about to begin, I hid under my bed,” she confessed. “I came here as a reward for myself, a special time in my life that is only for me.”
With that she continued to teach me about Karma Yoga.
“Eighteen years ago I gave birth to my first child. She was born with cerebral palsy and needed twenty-four-hour-a-day care. Two years later my second child was born with the same disease. My every minute was focused on the children. I had no time to think or do for myself. As life goes on we get into routines and somehow manage. Ten years ago my husband had a severe stroke, which left him paralyzed on one side. My job and time allocation increased. Five years ago, my aging mother came to live with us. I nursed her as her health deteriorated. My mother died two months ago, and I gave myself this retreat as a gift.”
There was not even a breath to be heard from the audience.
“So you see,” she continued, “Karma Yoga, serving others, is what I understand and know how to do. I came here to learn to take care of me. I hid under the bed because I was afraid that you would want me to work and I wanted to rest and rejuvenate.”
Tears streamed down her face. As I looked around, I saw those tears repeated on the sea of faces. Our hearts had merged with her suffering. Healing was taking place.
“Please forgive me for not following the retreat schedule,” she said.
Everyone stood and applauded for her and turned to hug each other. I made my way through the crowd and encircled her in my arms. Planting a kiss on her wet cheek, I said, “Thank you for this great lesson in service.”
❤ Nischala Devi talks more about generosity of spirit in Never Miss an Opportunity to Give.
❤ Deep Relaxation: Stress Management by Nischala Joy Devi CD or Digital Download