Disaster relief ~ a devotee's experience
God Transforms Us Through Love in Action
One night I had a dream: I was seated with Sathya Sai Baba and a few devotees. I wanted to ask Swami (as we call him) for help in growing into greater God consciousness. Swami asked another devotee if he knew the purpose of living and loving God. The devotee hesitated a moment, so I gently took the opportunity to speak, and offered, “To see you in all forms and know that God’s formless essence fills all as love.”
Swami said, “Yes, he knows. . . . Life is overflowing with love, and all contains it.”
Through the past years, I have been blessed to experience this overflowing love through many opportunities to help brothers and sisters in need – feeding the poor, clothing the desperate, housing the homeless, offering consolation to the disconsolate and love to those who feel abandoned and unloved. Yet, through it all, the greatest gifts of love have been found in those and from the very ones I sought to help.
A transformation of consciousness, a movement from selfishness to greater unselfishness, has brought me peace and a deep awareness of who it is that serves and who is the one being served. It is my experience that service transforms the one serving into the One, and that it is by the grace of God and the gift of those who are in need that these opportunities to serve arise.
Our consciousness evolves into awareness of the oneness of all life and God. We begin to realize there is only God, only one life, only one love, only one divinity, only one humanity – and God is the only doer. I have found the reality of this oneness reflected in the eyes of the most stricken and bereaved.
2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
The Tsunami of 2004 struck the South Asian circle on the day after Christmas. In its aftermath, millions of people suffered, and more than a quarter million perished. The entire world was touched and moved to an outpouring of love and compassion on a global level, to an extent never before witnessed. Over 14 billion dollars were given in aid worldwide.
In response to the cries of anguish after the tsunami’s devastation and destruction, the Sri Sathya Sai International Medical Committee initiated a disaster relief effort to provide desperately needed medical treatment, counseling, and associated service activities. A team was formed of 18 volunteers from the United States, Canada, and Sri Lanka, including medical doctors, psychotherapists, emergency medical technicians, nurses and associated support staff, drivers, translators, and service coordinators. The team traveled to Batticaloa, Thambiluwil, and Thirukkovil, hard-hit areas on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. I was fortunate to be on the team and given the responsibility of heading the counseling group.
The team entered the flooded areas via an inland route. We traveled for 12 hours on roads often bordered by land mines, buried during decades of civil war. Ultimately we merged onto the destroyed coastal highway, which was reduced to only a thin thread of sand and stone. Over two hours south of Batticaloa, the group met with the remaining students and teachers from two schools destroyed by the tsunami.
Being a part of the Divine, each one of you should serve society. For whose sake is the existence of man? It is for the sake of society. Similarly, society has its existence for the sake of creation. In face, creation is the manifestation of God. And you have a unique position in it. Indeed, service to society is the most important duty of each one of you; that will endow you with Divine Power. Service to society is, in reality, service to Divinity.
Sathya Sai Baba, 27 May 2006
Journey of love, instruments of love
Continuing on their journey of love, the Tsunami Relief Team ultimately reached its final destination – the displaced citizens, numbering over 2,000 and living in several inland refugee camps. Upon our arrival, children and adults were gathered together. Medical treatment was provided where needed. Counseling and grief relief began with disaster survivors, who were desperately in need of help.
The medical team members strove to maintain the consciousness of being divine instruments of love, grace, and infinite compassion. We envisioned our oneness with Swami, in which state of awareness divine healing energies could flow to the surviving citizens of the communities, healing the broken hearts and traumatized minds of those who had had loved ones torn away from them. Swami, through us, touched, spoke with, counseled, and consoled fathers and mothers who had lost their children, wives who had lost their husbands, husbands who had lost their wives, children who had lost one or both parents, and all who had lost beloved friends and relatives. Everyone had lost their homes.
Sai Baba has lived a life of being the Master Counselor to those who have come to him. He has modeled to us the perfect methods of counseling. Once when asked how to do counseling, he replied simply, “See Me in everyone,” which is another way of saying, “See the Divine in each patient.” So, in this way, it was from him that we sought the direction in meeting the emotional and psychological needs of so many.
When we acknowledge the oneness of God in ourselves and all beings, we permit divine healing love to flow through us to reach out and touch lives, healing the hearts and minds of those with whom we are working. In this state of oneness-consciousness, a compassionate, empathic flow of healing grace takes place. We are one, and this divine loving oneness uplifts others, transforming tears of grief into smiles and happiness through a transcendental peace of mind that only God’s love can bring. This divine love brings a transformation of consciousness: everywhere we are, is with God. In all beings, God lives.
When we arrived on the scene of the refugee camp, tears and fears showed on the people’s faces. They had all been eating only white rice and pumpkin squash since the tsunami. Through divine grace in action, the refugees were nourished by meals of varied foods, along with love. When we left, people were smiling and much happier. God’s love and grace had filled their whole demeanor and were readily apparent.
2010 Haiti earthquake
Five years later I was called again to deeply experience this divine healing love. On the afternoon of 12 January 2010, another major disaster occurred, a catastrophic earthquake with an epicenter west of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. By 24 January, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded. An estimated 3 million people were affected by the quake; the Haitian government reported an estimated 316,000 people had died, 300,000 were injured, and 1 million rendered homeless. Residences, commercial buildings, and any pre-existing infrastructure had collapsed or were severely damaged, leaving people without shelter and having to fend for themselves.
In the midst of this chaos and despair, the Sri Sathya Sai International Medical Committee and Sai organization members once again responded as instruments to bring love, relief, and comfort to the affected population in Haiti. Waves of teams of doctors, nurses, psychotherapists, aides, and young adults arrived in succession, offering loving medical treatment and other support where needed. We counseled, consoled, and shared how to meditate in order to relieve stress. Sai relief teams traveled to Haiti for periods of 7–14 days and continued doing so for a year, and food service to the needy still continues. I was fortunate to be included on one of the early teams.
The Haitians had been left with nothing following this devastating earthquake. Water, food, and clothing were scarce. Our team organized fresh pure water to be brought to the local citizens. Donated food was cooked and distributed fresh daily to hundreds of hungry souls. Over 7,000 pounds of new clothing were donated from the northern East Coast area of the U.S., through the public schools and merchants. Airlines were contacted, with the help of the local political officials, and requested to transport donated clothing for free. They gladly cooperated. Tents were donated to help house those in need of shelter. People came together, as one in love, to help the helpless and needy.
In Haiti, the medical team stayed in a local home of a wonderful devotee named Ronnie Joseph. We were fed each day by selfless souls, whose sole purpose was to help all of us help the local people. Medical treatment and counseling efforts were based in a local Franciscan church, where more than 2,000 people received medical treatment in a 10-day period. Over 500 people were counseled; they learned to meditate by repeating Amen as a soothing “mantra”: breathing in slowly while saying or thinking Aaaaaa . . . , and breathing out while focusing on –meeeennnnnn . . . . Most people experienced sleeping through the night for the first time since the earthquake had struck.
Serving in these two disaster relief efforts led me to a profound awareness of this truth: that the hands and feet of the Lord are everywhere when we acknowledge the oneness of God in ourselves and in all beings. The true residence of the Lord is in our hearts and in the hearts of all people and beings throughout all of creation.
It is the divine oneness in love that uplifts others, transforming tears of grief into smiles and happiness through a transcendental peace of mind that only God’s love can bring. This is what brings a transformation of consciousness.
Everything that happens, including natural disasters, is for a reason that only God can understand. Only God can truly say, “I know.” For all others, such disasters are times that test the fortitude of our faith and the degree of our surrender of the small self to the true and divine Self in all. Regardless, it is readily apparent now that a new global consciousness of sharing and caring, compassion and sacrifice – out of love greater than duty – has been born on Earth. It is a consciousness of pure, selfless, and unconditional love. It is a consciousness that will wash over everyone, until all are one – living embodiments of divine truth, living avatars of divine love.
God is the doer.
God is the deed done.
God is the one done unto.
And God is the one who bears all the fruits thereof.
Thank you, dear Lord, for all your love and grace.
Thank you for this transformation of the heart, of consciousness into Consciousness.
Thank you, God in All; you are our refuge.
~ Allen Levy, PhD, Sathya Sai Baba Center of Norwalk, CT
While the author is affiliated with the Sathya Sai Center of Norwalk CT, the article reports on his experiences as a psychologist during disaster relief efforts undertaken by the International Medical Committee of the Sri Sathya Sai World Foundation to provide medical and mental health services, after the tsunami in Sri Lanka in December 2004 and the massive earthquake in the Caribbean island of Haiti in January 2010.
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