As best as I can surmise, today’s twenty minute stint was perhaps my shortest weekly walk on the trail in quite a while. The weather front was turning rain to sleet, which meant that it was cold, blustery, pellets were coming at me sideways from all directions and it was as grey and foreboding feeling as winter can be imagined.
And yet I wasn’t deterred because it is these weekly walks that have become my inspiration for the ideas that turn into the weekly blog post which I often write after the walk. The clarity, lightness and simplicity that flow from walking in solitude and observing the dynamics of flora and fauna creates a portal through which the thoughts flow into words on the page.
At the start of today’s walk, I set the intention to invite feelings and memories related to ‘service’ into the heart. Swami Vivekananda talked about the notion of ‘service as duty’ and how we often engage in service as a means to fulfill our sense of duty. In 12th grade, we actually had a ‘subject’ called SUPW — socially useful productive work — which was on the schedule for one hour a week. As a teenager, I used to often scoff at the idea that one could do any meaningful ‘service’ in one hour a week. As is often the case, I was wrong. It was during SUPW that I discovered the work of organizations like UNICEF, and gained some awareness of how privileged my life was as compared to millions of children around the world.
As I walked the trail around the pond on the soggy grass, skirting temporary lakelets created by yesterday’s heavy rains, I remembered my ‘service’ projects in engineering school. The Saturday morning hours set aside to meet the requirements of volunteer hours for the National Service Scheme (NSS) brought familiarity with the Red Cross, learning about blood donations and such. However, the sense of ‘service as duty’ remained.
It wasn’t until my visit to a ‘nursing home for disabled children’ on an NSS Saturday that my heart towards service finally shifted. The hands-on and heart-filling experiences of seeing, listening, simply sitting and walking with those with life-long impairments, mostly children of my age and below, was transformational. The heart-shift meant that I couldn’t wait for Saturday mornings to arrive so that I could go visit the home and spend time with those that I had formed mini-friendships with. Service transformed from a sense of ‘duty’ to a sense of ‘doing good’ — over time, the one benefiting most from the ‘goodness’ was actually me.
At the halfway mark on the trail, where the wind had died down because the path was flanked by thickets of trees, I took a pause and reflected on my experiences with service through SUPW and the NSS. It is said that there are no small acts of kindness, and I am convinced that it was those small acts of giving that opened my heart and mind to the power of small acts of service. To paraphrase Swami Vivekananda, the world doesn’t need our help — we need the world in order to exercise our ability to serve. Our heart needs the world, so that it can feel the joy of serving and eventually arrive at a state where we feel that service becomes a privilege, not mere duty.
It is said that in the midst of our serving, when our heart is fully immersed, we become observers of the One who is truly serving and the One who is truly being served. Service thus becomes the unifier of people.
We realize that the day’s walk is over, the storm has becalmed us and it is time to return home to warm up with a cup of green tea and share our heart of service with the world.
Thank you for serving. Namaste.
P.S. Join us for our weekly twitter chat with the #SpiritChat community on Sunday, Jan 15 at 9amET / 2pmGMT. We will pause to remember Martin Luther King, Jr and discuss the topic of ‘heart of service’. Namaste – @AjmaniK