Each year, for the past 10, Jala and the surrounding community come together on the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, with the intention of adding some light to a dimmed world. We do this by moving body and breath in unison through 108 Sun Salutations; by listening to the sound of chant; by communing with fellow practitioners, those we know well and those we’re just meeting, over food and drink; and by offering what we have in order to connect with fellow community members who are struggling in some way. I’ve said it before—this is my favorite event we do all year. To show up and witness the intricate web of connection between humans that is woven when we offer our mutual humanity, is a great gift to us all.
Once upon a time, I thought of these events as our opportunity to help another. Since my time with Kate Foster Connors, director of The Center in Baltimore, MD, I have understood service, Seva, in a whole different way. This the heart’s greatest connection—when we understand that we all receive when we connect our mutual humanity through resources, time, and attention, we get to show up and witness the way that love is what is being created and what is fueling the moment. “Helping” another can be depleting; connecting with the heart of another is life affirming. This event is so much more than an opportunity to help—truly it is life affirming.
This year, I got to connect with two families. First, I spoke with a mom of four named Patricia. Her youngest, 18 month old Mi’aire, will battle hydrocephalus for as long as she lives. The family travels weekly from Martinsburg to Johns Hopkins with the hopes of lengthening and improving her life. Mom does the majority of the travel, which, along with a brain injury sustained during abuse from her ex-husband, means she can no longer work. This year, she told her kids there’d be no Christmas.
I was then led to a Jefferson County family; a family with 3 children, who work incredibly hard and have so very little. The children must wear the same thing day after day to school.In the interest of the family’s privacy, more details weren’t shared, but the children’s school chose this family believing that while there are many deserving families, this is the one most so this year. And so, every cent raised this weekend will serve hospital bills and Christmas presents and clothing needs for 7 local children.
When I finished hearing these stories, my heart burst with such love. Even though it is hard to ask for help, and so often we believe we can’t or shouldn’t, these moms are allowing themselves to be vulnerable, to connect with people they do not know, and allowing themselves to be held by a community. I’m honored to be a part of their lives. And in their gratitude, I surely received much.
This event is one of the most connective of the whole year. And so, as I consider this upcoming Saturday Solstice celebration, of the way it is a renewal of life and the life affirming force of service, I think of what struck me those months ago working in Baltimore with Kate Foster Connors. I’ll share again the recollection I wrote then: “Kate’s taking her hands and feet mission to the poor, the drug addicted, and the food impoverished, and saying with her actions: I want to know the heart of you. Because the heart of you and the heart of me are the same. We are both divinely made, and I am here to connect to that. I heard her mission loud and clear in the spirit of her presence and the work she’s doing. As we made our way into places that, on another day, I might have only seen as dark and degraded, she made me believe in the power of seeing the multi-colored dimensions that shine the presence of all that is divine into this world. It is with this divine love that I understand my role as a teacher–to partake in, distribute, and share in an abundant spirit of love that exists always and everywhere. As I give, so too I receive. The power of service, then, means there is no helping. There is only unified participation in an endless flow of love and connection, available if only we pause to be in connection with all the layers of humanity before us, trusting that our open-eyed, open-hearted, willing presence will be enough.”
This is as true if not more than it was in March. When we remember this, and unify as a community with this understanding, the light that gets through the darkness is more than a small stream—it’s the kind of light that can fill the heart of a family, or two. We are better together—and when we remember this, the connection we create as we find a way to sustain another, serves to sustain us too.
I hope to see you Saturday, my friends. Whatever darkness there is, there will be enough light for all.