I wrote the following piece in the past few weeks prepping for the upcoming Seva trip to India. It is part of a larger information packet for the participants. I am very proud of it, and the work Off the Mat Into the World is able to acheive with the support of many to make these amazing experiences happen. I will be in India for 6 weeks, my first visit to this country. I am getting my heart ready to take this journey. I trust you will find it a fruitful. Namaste and away I go….

We welcome you to a community of thinkers, activators, and innovators who, like you, care deeply about the state of the world and are willing to be a creative part of active solutions and sacred leadership. With this in mind, and knowing how intense the trip can be once we begin, we want to give you some food for thought about what it means to encounter and serve cultures that are not our own. We want to give you tools to see through a lens that is both spiritual and informed about the root causes of some of the trauma that you may experience in yourself and in others.

Practicing Presence
The Seva Challenge raises significant funds that can make a real difference to the projects that we will be working on and supporting. In exchange, our partners are making a huge effort toinclude us in their work and to inform us deeply about their work. This is SUCH a privilege and it is important for us to know that the kind of access we are gaining is rare. And while we are contributing to our partners and projects in the real and practical senses – the DOING sense -our focus as yogis will actually be on the way we are BEING in the face of suffering. It will be an opportunity for us to look at how and when that suffering triggers our own fears, assumptions and prejudices. We will need to be aware of the most subtle ways in which we are hiding, hutting down, withdrawing or acting out, and to utilize all of our spiritual tools to make healthier choices. In other words, our real journey will be an inner one of awareness of our own shadow and its potential transformation into compassion and authentic truth. Only then will we be able to show up in the world with the kind of presence that connects and inspires. THIS is the true leadership path: taking responsibility for our own experience, asking for help from our allies, and shifting our presence.

In essence, our aim is to interact in such a way that we preserve the dignity of ourselves and each person we encounter. In order to do this, we need to understand that we are not tourists or saviors, but respectful witnesses to real suffering. And while we may have a very personal understanding of our own suffering and the ways it shows up in our own lives, it is also crucial to know that trauma may not be obvious or show up in others in ways we can recognize or fully comprehend. Many of the people we will encounter will not consider themselves “victims” at all. Sometimes we may even mistake trauma and its subsequent coping strategies for healthy behavior or even self-confidence and strength. This is part of our responsibility as conscious witnesses: to leave our assumptions and pre-conceived notions at home and enter into each situation with as much awareness and empathy as possible. It is also crucial for each of us to notice when we are triggered and how our own coping mechanisms are displaying themselves (withdrawing, hiding, over-caring for others, passive-aggressive behavior, addictions and habits etc.). With this in mind, the trip is designed to give us opportunities to practice yoga daily and to process daily.

When we decided to name the trip BARE WITNESS TOUR, we meant that in order for us to be effective listeners, we had to do the work that would allow us to show up “naked”. In other words, we had to be fearless enough to look inside at our own motivation for “serving” others and take responsibility for our own wounds and trauma’s before trying to fix or change anyone else. In fact, some of the most powerful and effective service we can offer is to show up without such hidden agendas and simply ask question consciously, while LISTENING to the real needs of others before coming up with solutions for lasting change. This type of deep
witnessing/listening has proven most effective over time in creating lasting change that preserves dignity and empowerment.

Root Causes
We also need to understand the root socio/economic and cultural causes as well as the current global context before engaging at the grass roots level. Our job is to understand the history, culture, traditions and current issues of those cultures we encounter, and perhaps more importantly, our own complicity as members of a dominant culture, in the current situation. This is not to prevent us from action but to increase our commitment to intelligent solutions that work. With this in mind we have compiled a short synopsis on the next page.

Creative Solutions
We have consciously chosen the projects and partners for this year’s Global Seva Challenge based on their strong and proven results over many years and their commitment to long term solutions. We work with organizations that have developed real solutions which are relevant to the local culture. We will encounter people who have spent their lives working to create successful on-the-ground programs and our hope is to be given the opportunity to study these systems deeply. These creative solutions can be extremely informative and may even be able to be implemented into our own communities. In fact, our hope is that many of you will be
inspired to implement relevant creative solutions for your own communities and become fearless leaders for intelligent and successful solutions once you return back home.

Telling the Story
We also have a unique opportunity to tell the story. We have asked you to do extensive research on particular topics in advance and will request that each of you keep journals and blog daily during the trip. The reason for this is twofold: 1) we would encourage each of you to find your authentic voice and to become a strong and passionate advocate on behalf of those who have no voice; and 2) these stories need to be told. We now know that the human story is the most useful tool for building a community that cares. In other words, most people don’t care about statistics but they will care if we tell real stories about real humans. This connectivity can change lives, and we have seen it happen over and over again. We will be publishing the blogs on the OTM site (and elsewhere) and all blogs from past trips can be found there as well. The stories are powerful and illuminate the details of the adventure as well as very personal experiences from participants. As we open ourselves to the challenge, adventure and inspiration of the trip, we can consciously allow ourselves to be changed and to live in the world more deeply, morepassionately, more purposefully. At that point we can also choose to become articulate communicators and to utilize the access we have been afforded to spread awareness even further. Where there is awareness, the darkness of ignorance cannot flourish. This is our unique opportunity to become “living bridges” between communities, to advocate for positive solutions, to use the gifts we have been given, and to speak and work on behalf of all beings. We have learned from these trips that it is truly through giving that we receive. These trips are a gift, an honor, and a privilege for us, as well as a powerful opportunity for us to tell the story.

Joy and Inspiration
Finally, these trips are created and held in the context of a spiritual container. That means that we will view our experiences through the lens of our yoga practice and spiritual tools. That is not to say that we will be removed from or detached from our experiences, but in fact we will use these tools to stay awake, to stay in our bodies and emotions, and to remember that there
is always more than meets the eye. Indeed, every one or our trips to date has been magical and held unexpected delight and inspiration.

In Cambodia, the UN tribunal on the Khmer Rouge genocide “just happened” to be held in during the time of our trip. In Uganda, some of us were witness to a live birth that was life-changing for us. In South Africa, we visited a classroom where 8 year old children were teaching meditation to us. In Haiti we learned a visceral lesson in surrender and sacrifice and started a dance/song party in a
garbage dump… the stories go on. Personally, some of my most memorable musical experiences have been vocal improvisations with local children and community members, and Seva participants have been deeply inspired by moments of sharing song, dance, yoga, and play.

I have no doubt that this year’s trip will be an incredible journey for us as well…