By Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda
You cannot open your heart when your tailbone is tucked under. Just like a scared puppy, when your tail is tucked, you cannot see straight or even breathe properly. Your first priority is, understandably, your own safety as well as those closest to you. That’s where the pandemic started people off, just a couple of weeks ago.
By now you’re getting used to the drill: staying at home, disinfecting your grocery bags and boxes, washing your hands and letting your nose itch. Here at the Ashram, we had a mask sewing party, with some interesting fabric options — lots of orange, of course.
There is a gradual lessening of fear, being replace by intelligent action. It’s a huge improvement. This lessening of fear is why I cried when I saw New Yorkers clapping for their medical personnel. They (meaning we) are beginning to be able to see others. The panic is beginning to subside. It’s important because you cannot function intelligently when you’re in panic mode. Worse, you’re not yourself.
Caring about others is one of the best ways to free yourself from being self-obsessed. This is one of the reasons that my Guru emphasized seva, selfless service, as an essential practice for Westerners. When you prioritize others’ needs over your own, you open your heart. You also discover you don’t need as many things as you thought you did. Opening your heart and becoming free from neediness – wow!
Living with an open heart is so much easier than what you’ve been trying to do. Paired with freedom from neediness, you discover an inner steadiness that supports you in every moment. Delving inward to explore that steadiness, you discover your own Self, your Divine Essence. Serving others gets your mind out of the way, which opens up your ability to see all the way inward.
Meditation has the same goal: the inner exploration of who you are at the deepest level within. But you withdraw from the world to meditate, even if only for an hour at a time, so you can explore the subtle inner dimensions. By doing seva, you draw from that inner depth while you are in the midst of activity. Your seva makes a difference for others, but it also makes a difference in you.
Right now, you cannot do some of the things we’re used to doing to serve others. You cannot cook food and drop it off at their home. You cannot babysit or elder-sit. Even chatting over the back fence requires a little bit of shouting. But you can clap for health care workers. You can open your heart and care.
When you care, you reach out to those who matter to you. Technology makes it so easy to connect. But while you’re connecting, and hopefully connecting often, look at the reason why. Are you reaching out because you’re bored, anxious or lonely? Then your reaching out is full of neediness. Of course, if you have need, please please please do your best to take care of it.
Yet you could reach out for other reasons. Do you want to know how they are doing? Maybe you have a funny story to tell, something that would cheer them up. You could share a recipe or photos of your spring blooms. I recently shared a photo of homemade pie, even though the recipients of the photo could neither smell nor taste it. So we laughed about that.
You do care. It’s built into being human. You care about the health care workers, on the front lines of this battle against death. You care about your family, friends, neighbors. Even the people on the other side of the globe, you care about them. What about people you disagree with, even politicians on the other side of your dotted line, do you care about them?
Everyone matters. Everyone counts. The virus doesn’t see any differences between us, why should we? When you open your heart that wide and that deep, the one who gets the most benefit is you. You’re halfway to enlightenment when the whole world fits inside your heart.