Reflections on Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Learning to Become a Giver

Before I was introduced to the Siddha Yoga path in 1983, I spent more than eight years as a circus performer—as a juggler, mime, and magician. In the circus, people trained with discipline and courage to achieve perfection in their acts. When I began offering seva, I observed similar qualities in my fellow sevites and I offered with the same kind of discipline that I had learned in the circus. Quite soon, however, I learned that seva comes not just from the muscles, but from the heart.

During the fifteen years that I served as a staff member in the SYDA Foundation between 1990 and 2005, I learned most about the seva I offered in Food Services from watching and listening to Gurumayi. When Gurumayi would come to the kitchen, she was fully focused and attentive to every detail. Gurumayi would show us how to roll and shape the dough for Indian sweets so that they were just the right size and shape; she would demonstrate how to recognize the balance of flavors in a dish by lifting the lid from the pot and inhaling the fragrance; and for the inexperienced cooks she would demonstrate exactly how to stir the soup in a big pot. Watching Gurumayi in the kitchen taught me a lot about giving and serving. It made me realize that when you truly serve, you give fully with love to everything you do.

During one summer when I was working in the kitchen, there was a period of time when Gurumayi would come to the dishwashing room every day. She would put on an apron and rubber gloves and begin to scrub—elbow deep in soapsuds. Her joy in cleaning those dishes made the entire room sparkle. Gurumayi’s focus on the task at hand was greater than the focus of any high-wire tightrope walker I have ever known. The dishwashing sevites became a perfectly functioning team and I knew I was witnessing yoga in action.

In my professional life, I perform for many different kinds of audiences. One day it might be a formal performance at the White House, the next day an informal show at a child’s birthday party. It doesn’t matter. I have learned from watching Gurumayi to offer my talents with full focus, attention, welcome, and love, whatever the circumstances. Before a performance I prepare by cleaning my backstage area. Then I set up a puja and offer arati in a private space. Just before I step on the stage, I silently sing to myself verses 4 and 5 from the hymn Shiva Manasa Puja. I pause and recall Gurumayi’s selfless way of giving and immerse myself in that remembrance.

Then, I walk onto center stage, welcoming each person with my eyes. When an entertainer gives fully, you can see and feel that the audience is having that “Aha!” moment—that moment when the mind stops in wonder and a kind of freedom is experienced. In that magical moment both performer and audience enter the realm of pure love where God resides. I felt that moment so many times, witnessing Gurumayi in the kitchen. And I experience it during my performances.

After the performance is over, I feel Gurumayi’s love so strongly and I often see the bright light of love shining in people’s eyes. For me this is the fulfillment of the cycle of giving and receiving. At such times I bow my head in gratitude to Gurumayi for showing me the magical ingredient of service: coming from the heart and being a giver in each moment.

 

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