Thursday, Apr 18 2024  


An experience at a service project brought to light a new perspective of service for me. Oftentimes we take comfort in the thought that we are doing service and helping others "selflessly" just because we regularly attend a service project. In doing so, we readily forget that we are serving people - individual souls, each of whom have unique talents and abilities. We need to understand the true meaning of service as Swami teaches us … that in serving them, we are serving God and in fact serving ourselves.

The New York Young Adults initiated a project at a homeless drop-in shelter in the City. At our first meeting at the shelter, one of the coordinators, Ray, made a very poignant statement about service. He said, "it is extremely important for us to put ourselves in their shoes before trying to help them." He was referring to the residents at the shelter who deal not only with homelessness, but also with alcoholism, drugs, and mental disabilities.

During our second visit to the shelter, we began with the usual activities of helping in the kitchen and cleaning up. It was difficult to break the ice with the clients at the shelter who were mostly engrossed in TV or playing dominoes. Admittedly, we didn't try very hard. I was sitting at one of the tables trying to figure out what I can say or do to feel useful when I noticed that one of the men was sketching something on a piece of paper. Later on, I spoke with Ray who introduced me to Patrick, the artist. I looked at some of his artwork and I was really impressed with the beauty and detail of each piece. As I flipped through Patrick's portfolio, I kept thinking that I should not be simply doing chores at a shelter for nameless, faceless people in the name of service. Each resident is a soul, struggling to realize his or her innate divinity, just like me. Each individual is unique, special, talented and beautiful and we should make a conscious effort to get to know him or her.

Patrick was quiet and reserved at first when I approached him about doing a drawing for me. He didn't interact much when I explained what I wanted him to draw but he was keen on doing it. I found out from workers at the shelter that he suffers from alcoholism but I didn't let this hinder the relationship. I gave him a copy of an old SYAN issue along with a picture of Swami and asked him to draw whatever came to his mind.

I went to pick up the final version of the piece with no expectations. I didn't know if he was reliable or if he understood what I wanted. Needless to say, I was extremely happy with the results. I was even happier that Patrick was starting to open up. Most unexpected of all was that he had read the newsletter and told me that he could really relate to the "body, mind, and soul thing that Swami talks about." I was surprised to hear him use the word "Swami" as he explained how he felt. I found out that Patrick was a carpenter by profession until his house burnt down in January and has been at the shelter ever since. Now he is using his hobby of drawing to help earn some money.

In sharing this experience with you, I hope that you too are reminded that it is important to realize that each individual is extraordinary in his or her own right. In serving others, we are in deed truly serving God and ourselves.

Bro Kiruba Murugaiah
New York, USA


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