Be the Cause

First time as a Volunteer at Seva Cafe, Long Beach

I was lucky enough to go on the Service Trip with the gang that went to India in Dec 2005. So, I got to volunteer for a night at Seva Cafe, Ahmedabad. To be honest, it was probably my least favorite project on the trip (please read all the wonderful stuff people say about Seva Cafe and realize that all the other stuff we did was more worthwhile for me).  I do see it as a worthwhile experiment. We are lucky to be living in a time of the “internet revolution” (where people can easily network with each other using machines) and the “Open Source revolution” in business — where “software” (ideas) are laid out for anyone to use, experiment, and tinker with the assumption that any new changes will be checked back in for prosperity’s sake. So, I was pretty glad that there was a move going back to “Open food”. Check out the middle paragraph in this little write up I an year after getting to think about what Seva Cafe is about. It made me think a little about how the notion of Free and Open are subtly different.

 I was thinking I should voluteer to just do something with some of the cool people I’ve met at Seva. So I emailed Sri asking to tell me when there was a lite load of volunteers and he said to come THIS week. I was pleasantly surprised to see long lost Mellissa back in the BTC fold. There were a bunch of Sri Lankans in the building too, since Varuna from West LA came to volunteer for the first time. Tim gave us a pretty concise run down of what we should think about. We talked about why everyone was here, and I didn’t have a good answer, but so be it.

Josh, Ceci’s son, was going to be celebrated for being born and living for 13 years as well. Dustin brought some balloons and decorations. We got a nice smile from him when we said “surpise”. I did kind of feel allittle annoyed that people were calling him the “Stand up for Kids kid”. So I wrote that sentance.

 We made a card for Sveta’s and Sri’s Amma who was hospitalized with Pancretis last week. She’s recovering now. Sveta’s going to visit next week.

 I learned how to make the sandwiches from Kat and Raju. Kat was able to give me the run down in between dancing with her partner (Christine) from across the kitchen. They know how to put the fun in Seva. I don’t know if Raju knows this, so I’ll write in this blog for the whole world to see (not to embarrass him but so he’s proud of what his mom, dad and nature made of him), most of the BTC ladies refer to him as “Handsome Raj”. So, it was the supermodels (Raju, Kat, Christine, Malena, Varuna, Manuri) and me in the kitchen. I think they threw my goofy [self] in there just so people don’t get the notion that you have to be all that good looking to serve in the kitchen :)

During the 2 hour break I gave myself I had some Seva Chai (the best tea ever made on earth) and the Peace and Serentiy (w/ extra mango chutney) with Tim, Mehul, and Mehul’s pretty travler friend who’s name I’ve already forgotten. We talked about meditation. Tim also told us how he’s ready for a job change because he was tried of the bull[crap] that we are trained into sometimes. 1/2 of the people at that table have been going to Vipassana regularly, so I got the chance to pull their coat on how it’s done. Tim wants to try to put some work in a non-profit. That was good to hear. Mehul just finished his LSAT so he was enjoying the meal even more. I’m glad he’s probably already read the part in Gandhi’s autobiography about how lawyers should be facilitators for compromise and fairness instead of the leeches that they are portrayed to be. He volunteers at Seva a few times, so I’m sure the legal system will enjoy some progress after he passes the bar. The break lasted 2 hours because I had to help Sonali give Ceci, her family and friends a ride back home. I took Emerald (cute little girl who looks like she’s 9 years old, but is really 15) and Coolio home. They were kind of quiet but we got to talk alittle. They both said bye with a smile. They were sad to hear that Seva is taking a break too.

When I got back, it was already time to shut it down for the night. I guess it’s already understood that people have to battle for the karma that comes from sweeping and cleaning. It was fun laughing as ‘bows and hip checks were delivered to claim the karmic cleaning tools. I guess this is usual. Raj and Manuri are thought of as Masters of Mopping and the others sometimes feel as if they are not worthy to mop (or maybe it’s our creative way of getting them to mop without asking us). Sonali was all too happy to teach Sveta how to sweep. And then profusly apologized for being critical of Sveta’s skillz :)

After we locked up, people didn’t seem ready to go. So a freestyle cipher formed around the notions of how attached the volunteers are to the idea of Seva Cafe and the saddness of taking a break. Sonali talked about how we really serve eachother and it’s good to practice that. To me Seva Cafe is just cool because the BTC gang don’t meet regularly as much and I can come get good vibes on a weekly basis. Manuri gave us a brief lecture on attachment by telling us how she was thinking as she printed out the last 4 quotes for this chapter.

This week’s quote was
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. by Anais Ninn . She is an erotic writer that wrote rather matter-of-factly about some human perversions when it comes to sexuality. The most disturbing thing about her writing is how the charictures in her stories seem only half alive. It makes me question if I’m only half alive? It struck Tim because the anxiety from his 4 month old job as more pressure than upliftment. I’d seen this quote before and had sent it to my cousin and a co-worker when I felt they seemed stagnant.

Anyways, I’ll end here saying that I’m not that sad about the end of this Seva Cafe era. One pretty cool story I read about was how a rapper felt that a part of his life was kind of like when Yeshua and Yosef (Jesus and Joseph) kept flipping through Genesis when they were told by the world that they weren’t [crap]. It is an experiment in giving and there is some things to be learned. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the cool people in the building at the Royal Cup I probably would have enjoyed staring at the four corners of my room’s ceiling than making sandwiches for “no reason”. Of course, I’m being facetious. It was fun to make sandwiches for no reason. There definitly could be other things we could be doing like learning about poverty, consoling sick children, encouraging marginalized people to get back in the stuggle, meditating, feel sad, making someone else feel good, etc. But we can do that on our free time. Seva Cafe is about experimenting with an open heart. One thing I’m trying to learn is to not be so detached so I can kind of be more whole-hearted. If I was the idea of Seva Cafe, and I had somehow gotten lost and never seen again, I would probably hope that someone spray paints my name somewhere where no cops would come and erase it.


  • Sonali


    You certainly absorbed a lot & shared much of your Seva love with us. Thanks for helping out & expanding the Seva family.

    For your information…. I believe you are alive, all of you. When we serve, we are alive & thriving! Thanks for thriving, Supun.

  • melisa

    Awesome write-up Supun! You’re spot on in saying that I was “lost.” Still kinda am lost, but my experience this past Saturday got the wheels turning again. My inner-hamster has been awakened. See, I’m one of those people who quit the corporate world, volunteered, switched to non-profit out of a simple desire to live out my values, live with conviction, every action has meaning, etc. Well, turns out that my job is starting to feel like a job. I know I keep saying it. Basically, I counsel people who are on Medicare — old and disabled folks who feel like they’re not being heard. And so I listen to them. Everyday. For 8 hours. Sadness, frustration, anger. Sometimes my hands are tied and there’s nothing I can do, I have to work with time constraints….can’t counsel for 1 hour because there are 10 other people waiting who are in just as much, if not worse, trouble. Other times I feel great, and I’m reminded why I got into this. But I wanted to come to the Seva Cafe this weekend because I needed to be reminded of what it’s like to give, regardless of the outcome, regardless of someone’s disposition, with no salary, no other obligation to be there. (Plus, I like hanging out with BTC peoples because you all rock so hard!!) Unlike other events where we served people in the past, Seva isn’t about charity or homelessness (well, not necessarily). For me, it’s just about creating a space that does feel like a home. I knew I could come over and hang out, crash for a while, pick through the fridge and dish about all the latest BTC news. Instead of listening to records together, we listened to some killer live music. That made me happy. How can I transfer that feeling back into what I do? How can I be a loving force when someone is yelling at me about something that isn’t my fault? or when I’ve talked to one too many crying old ladies in one day? eh, it’s something to work on. Hey, by the way, I didn’t know that Gandhi was into law. I’ve put my pursuit of law school on hold for a while as well….still trying to determine whether or not it’s a good path. Looks like it’s all about being a good negotiator…..gotta learn how to negotiate better! Anyway, thank you all for making this a great learning experience, thank you for your warmth and love! I can honestly say that today, Monday….I’m at least more aware of how I’m interacting with my peoples.

  • gianna

    This is one of the quotes I live by: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” We could all sit at home and not risk and we do things like volunteer and help at a place like seva…and I personally am on the bandwagon for it to continue on and on…foreva! Supun, I know we did so many other valuable projects in India, but remember, we were on the “love team” with Carolina and Angela, and I think sheetal was with us too. Every project, especially with the kids struck my heart in India…but something about Seva cafe..this place of community…where u can pay with your heart and there’s this cycle of giving. It has been hard for me to even miss a week of seva…because of all the love and compassion that has been given and received. I will put another blog about why it has affected me so in Long Beach. Thank you everyone. Long live seva! He he…I like this: “If I was the idea of Seva Cafe, and I had somehow gotten lost and never seen again, I would probably hope that someone spray paints my name somewhere where no cops would come and erase it.” Melisa, I am sad I didn’t get to see u at seva the other night…I would say to you…these things like seva and the light established is something to take in and hold in your heart and just know that that love and heartfulness can never be taken away, even through the tough work weeks. U are awesome. We are all awesome individuals to even take a step toward awareness and this kind of risk…of giving and stepping into such a creative kind of love.

  • Sukh

    Handsome Supun! Good stuff!

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