The snowfall during the winter season in the Catskill Mountains is absolutely beautiful. Each snowflake is unique. The dance of the snowflakes on the air is mesmerizing. The way the snow gracefully blankets the ground, taking the shape of everything it covers, is enchanting. Without a doubt, the winter season is conducive to meditation and spiritual retreat.
As magical as everything about the snow is, however, in places where human beings live and move about, the roads do need to be plowed, the pathways do need to be shoveled, and windows and doorways do need to be cleared of ice. Therefore, in Shree Muktananda Ashram, one of the main seva activities in wintertime is the removal of snow and ice.
I’m a staff member in the SYDA Foundation, and I am very fortunate in that my seva duties cover a wide range of activities. (Most of my colleagues, by contrast, have very specific duties that they need to accomplish in their designated seva areas.) Sometimes I get to go and check the lake. Sometimes I get to go and clean the hallways. Sometimes I get to go and supervise the tree pruners. Sometimes I get to give a talk in a Siddha Yoga satsang held via live video stream. Sometimes I get to hold a meeting with young adults and get them on board with what it is to offer seva in the Ashram. And sometimes I get to meet with senior staff members and learn about the history of various seva topics and tasks so that I may better understand how to take things forward.
Sometimes I also get to go and fix computers that are not functioning. Sometimes I get to go and fix a leak. Sometimes I get to attend meditation workshops led by Swami Akhandananda. Sometimes I get to do the arati in the Temple. And sometimes I get to mentor Rohit, a four-year-old who lives in the Ashram with his parents, who also offer seva in their designated departments.
This should give you a glimpse into how my day unfolds in the magnificent world of seva in Shree Muktananda Ashram. I’ve heard that over the years Gurumayi has asked the managers and department heads of the Siddha Yoga Ashrams to ensure that young adults be given the opportunity to offer seva in different areas. In this way they learn different skills; they hone their talents and abilities. They get a bigger picture of the Siddha Yoga mission and all that it encompasses. What’s more, when they transition from service to the SYDA Foundation in the future, they are fully equipped to succeed in any endeavor.
Now, returning to the topic of the winter season: one evening in early February 2022, I received a message from Gurumayi about a large amount of ice accumulating in the fire pit at the statue of Shiva Nataraj in front of the Anugraha building. The ice was unsightly, and it would take forever to melt on its own, especially since we were still in the thick of winter. Something needed to be done to get it to melt sooner. For this reason, Gurumayi asked that I light a fire in the fire pit the next day.
So, first thing in the morning, I went to the statue of Shiva Nataraj and began to build the fire. When I saw how dense the ice was, it became clear to me that a large fire would be needed to melt it. I lit the fire and tended it for the better part of an hour, adding log after log. The flames kept growing bigger and more intense, leaping some three or four feet above the rim of the fire pit. It was enthralling to watch, to be a part of. On this overcast winter morning, when everything was asleep and the grounds were a muted white, gray, or brown in color, these flames were a vivid yellow-orange, and they were moving and crackling with so much ebullience.
Whenever I have successfully completed a seva task, I sense a certain peace of mind, a benevolent presence within. The same feeling came over me as I was watching the ice melt. For me, completing something Gurumayi has asked me to do gives rise to a feeling that can’t be compared to anything else. Fulfilling Gurumayi’s directive also gave me the opportunity to witness Shiva Nataraj being honored in this way, surrounded by the fire and snow. Lord Shiva loves both.
As I was building the fire, I interacted with three different staff members who, at separate times, happened to be walking past Shiva Nataraj on the way to their offices. Each one of them paused for a moment in the presence of this amazing fire and then asked me, “Is it a holiday today?” To each of their queries, I simply replied, “No.”
Later that morning, I was delighted to have Gurumayi’s darshan in the lobby of Anugraha. I decided to inform Gurumayi that I had lit the fire at Shiva Nataraj earlier that morning and that I’d had to make a big fire to ensure that all the ice melted.
Gurumayi smiled and said, “Thank you for doing that, Jaiya. Even during the winter season, the fire is usually lit in front of Shiva Nataraj, especially for Mahashivaratri. It seems there is no one monitoring the fire pit any longer.”
Since Gurumayi was taking so much interest in what I was saying, and had explained to me the importance of the fire pit, I thought of sharing with Gurumayi about the three staff members who had each asked me if it was a holiday that day. I don’t exactly know why I shared this; it just came to my mind in that moment, so I went for it.
Gurumayi seemed to be all ears when I told her. Without missing a beat, she asked, “How did you respond to them?”
I was surprised by Gurumayi’s question, since I hadn’t considered the importance of my response before that. So I simply told Gurumayi, “I said no.”
Gurumayi was in disbelief. “You told them no?” she asked. “That’s all? You told them no?”
I said, “Yes, that’s all I said. Nothing more.”
Gurumayi said to me, “OK, Jaiya, today you’re going to learn something invaluable.”
When Gurumayi said this, my ears perked up. I was so eager to receive what Gurumayi was going to say to me.
Gurumayi said, “Look, Jaiya. You could have handled it a bit differently. Instead of just saying no when people asked you if it was a holiday, you could have said with enthusiasm, ‘Yes! It is a holiday! On the Siddha Yoga path, every day is a holiday. Every day is God’s day. Every day is a day to worship God!’”
Gurumayi spoke about how, after the fire pit was first placed in front of Shiva Nataraj in 1993, a sacred fire was lit in front of Lord Shiva every day for many years. And now, even though there may not have been a physical fire burning every day, that sacredness—that intention to worship—should always be present. What’s more, the statue of Shiva Nataraj is gracing the front of the Ashram. Consequently, all people offering seva in the Ashram must have the awareness that God’s energy is vibrant on this spot.
Gurumayi further explained to me, “Jaiya, if you respond by saying, ‘Every day is God’s day,’ it will be a reminder for all the people who have been offering seva in Shree Muktananda Ashram for many years. It does happen that sometimes people forget, even in this Ashram, the purpose of daily puja, whether it is lighting a diya (an oil lamp), or a candle, or the fire in front of Shiva Nataraj. If you respond to their queries with enthusiasm, and you share with them the truth of the matter, it will be a reminder for those who may think that a lit fire can only mean that there is a ‘special occasion’ or ‘special holiday’ that day.”
I felt profoundly blessed as I listened to Gurumayi. I understood I had received Gurumayi’s teachings, and I embraced them with all my love.
I also realized that just by doing what Gurumayi had asked me to do, I had been participating in a longstanding tradition of worship—the tradition of lighting a flame before a deity to honor its great power and to invoke the blessings it bestows. I recalled how I have seen Gurumayi making offerings to the fire on multiple occasions. In fact, one of my favorite accounts of her making such offerings is chronicled on the Siddha Yoga path website. It was when Gurumayi made offerings to the fire in front of Shiva Nataraj during the celebration of her birthday in 2015.
I had another significant revelation as well: what had transpired that morning, in front of Shiva Nataraj and in darshan with Gurumayi, had helped raise my awareness of the power of the Guru’s words. Each word from the Guru, as simple as it may sometimes seem to me, confers greater understanding and directs a person to the purpose of sadhana. In my case, all Gurumayi said was, “Light the fire to melt the ice.” And I received a torch that will illumine the rest of my life.
One of the fortuitous benefits of lighting the fire and melting the ice that morning in February has been the resumption of regular worship of Shiva Nataraj. Starting this spring, at Gurumayi’s request, another staff member has been lighting the fire before Shiva Nataraj every morning.
I’ve also seen many other benefits unfold from the teaching I received from Gurumayi. Here is one example.
At one point this year, I shared this sublime story with one of the senior staff members in Shree Muktananda Ashram, someone who I’ve seen is immersed in the Siddha Yoga teachings and whose commitment to seva I’ve long admired. Their eyes lit up when I told them what had happened at the fire pit and the teachings Gurumayi gave to me. Then they told me about a story Gurumayi had shared with them many years ago. It was from a Native American tradition, and it was called “Song of Life.”
The main idea of this story is that the soul of every person has a “song of life,” a special vibration that bears and expresses the unique character of that person. In this tradition, before a child is born, members of the community will come together in prayer and meditation to find the child’s song of life. When they become attuned to the child’s soul, they discover the song and sing it to the mother and unborn child. At significant moments throughout the child’s life, the community will gather around and sing the child’s song of life to them, reminding them of their true and unique nature.
When the staff member told me this story, I understood how powerful sharing is on the Siddha Yoga path. Because I had shared my experience of following Gurumayi’s directive, I had received another gift of wisdom.