Serve Man Until You See God in All Men
Sathya Sai Baba has said, “Serve man until you see God in all men.”1 Have you wondered what “seeing God in all men” truly means? How does it actually feel to experience this? What needs to change in us to be able to experience this? These were questions I used to ponder. The answers came in the form of a service project called Story Circle.
Some devotees from the Sathya Sai Baba Center of Dallas, Texas, attended a service activity called Story Circle where they met with guests of The Bridge, a facility co-sponsored by the city of Dallas that provides shelter solutions for about 1,200 homeless adults. Story Circle took place every Sunday morning for about 1-1/2 hours at The Bridge. The make-up of the participants in Story Circle changed from week to week, though there were some regulars. Anywhere from 5 to 25 people of different religious backgrounds attended.
What started off as a service to encourage reading evolved, with divine grace, into a project that delved into the deeper meanings of the stories, and of life. We brought printouts of inspirational and motivational stories, including “Get Inspired” stories from www.radiosai.org.
As the name of our group implied, we all sat in a circle in the library at The Bridge, and after initial greetings and exchanges of how the week had been, someone would eagerly step forward to read a story. Once a story was read, all would have a chance to share their thoughts. Reading stories and discussing them might seem to be simple on the surface; however, as the discussions continued, we experienced the underlying beauty of each story that was neither visible to the eye nor fathomed by the mind. It is as if we were all transported to a different space, where we experienced oneness and love. This experience provided me with the experience of seeing God in everyone.
From SOUL to Story Circle
Story Circle became both a learning and evolutionary process. It used to be called SOUL – Sai Outreach to Uplift Lives – and began in March 2007 at the Day Resources Center (DRC) in downtown Dallas. At the DRC, a few of us read stories in a classroom while other Sai Center members served breakfast nearby. We used to have a room filled with 25-30 guests. We were then moved to another building, the Bridge, to a smaller room, in the back of the building, called Secret Garden, which had an informal lounge-type setup. The name SOUL was then changed to Story Circle, which reflected the new format. By now the sessions had evolved in their goal from reading stories to encourage literacy, to pondering on the stories and relating them to the guests’ lives. However, the number of guests attending Story Circle dwinded due to its location at the back of the building . The public announcement system also went out of service at The Bridge, making it difficult to publicize that Story Circle was in session. So, we had to invite participants individually.
At that time only two regular volunteers were conducting Story Circle. My task was to approach guests outside our meeting room, talk to them, and invite them to Story Circle, while the other volunteer facilitated the session in the Secret Garden. The task of going person-to-person made me feel very uncomfortable. How could I go among people who were of backgrounds so different from mine, let alone convince them to come to Story Circle? I was petrified. I started doing this reluctantly, because there was no choice: without participants, there would be no Story Circle.
From Om Sri Sairam to Why fear when I am here?
Every Sunday I kept repeating Om Sri Sairam in my mind as I went on my rounds inviting guests. Some obliged just to be nice, while others did not want to be bothered. As more and more people expressed their lack of interest, the number and speed of Om Sri Sairams in my mind increased exponentially. During this time, Story Circle continued in the Secret Garden with its five to seven regular guests.
By that time the library at The Bridge was up and running, so we requested the management to let us use it to conduct Story Circle. The library was located toward the front of the building, so it became easier for more people to see the session in progress and walk in. The number of guests increased somewhat after the move to the library.
My rounds of inviting guests to Story Circle continued, along with the Om Sri Sairams in my mind. Then one Sunday there was a change. The phrase, “Why fear when I am here?” kept ringing in my ears. I interpreted this as Sai Baba’s way of telling me to talk to every guest fearlessly, since he was right there in them. My approach changed and I started addressing the Divine in each and every guest. I experienced what seeing God in everyone truly meant. Instead of persuading them to come to Story Circle, I left it up to the God in them to decide. Thereafter, a few who had been reluctant and skeptical at first actually began attending and even became regulars.
Sharing Stories, Sharing Love
I began to truly enjoy going on my rounds inviting the guests, and started having my own one-on-one version of Story Circle with the guests who were not able to attend for different reasons. A few of them would recognize me and say, “Hey, the Story Circle lady is here!” They shared their thoughts, insights, wisdom, and sometimes jokes, too. During these conversations we sometimes talked about how “all is love” and that “we are all one.” I realized that once I began to see God’s presence in each of the guests, what I initially feared became enjoyable and fun.
Around this time, the number of guests at Story Circle began to increase to 20-25 again. The guests felt comfortable and poured out their innermost thoughts and feelings from their life experiences. It was as if they had waited all along for an opportunity like this, to begin sharing. As the discussions during Story Circle sessions grew increasingly involved and deeper, we felt transported to a different space, where we experienced the melting away of our external selves and experienced the love that was underneath all. A few of the guests started seeing value in this and became regular participants. They shared that they started seeing an improvement in themselves, in how they dealt with challenging situations during the week, and that things were starting to move in a positive direction for them.
One gentleman, a reluctant participant at first, eventually got a job and no longer needed the services of The Bridge. However, he and many like him still stopped by to visit Story Circle occasionally. He would carry a folder of stories, which he called his treasures from Story Circle that he still read for inspiration. He also kept in this folder his favorite quotes to share with others. Though he did not know the source of these sayings of truth and wisdom, I felt happy thinking that he and others were like little beacons of light sharing Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings with so many others.
As for the volunteers, we attended Story Circle to get recharged every week with a lot of positive energy from the discussions. Along the way, we have learned valuable lessons that carried over into other aspects of our lives – work, home, the Sai Center, everywhere. Although my recent responsibilities have prevented me from participating at The Bridge regularly, I still find that the lesson of seeing God in everyone has helped me accept even that change peacefully.
I began this story by posing the question about what needs to change in us to be able to experience oneness. I now see Story Circle like a stereogram Just as seeing the image in a stereogram takes concentrated effort and several attempts, it took several tries to experience the underlying oneness of all at Story Circle. In a stereogram, you need to figure out how to shift your focus to see the hidden image in the picture that you did not know existed. Once you figure it out, it is easy to see the hidden image.
Similarly, in Story Circle, it became easy to shift the focus from the attributes of the story, the problems of day-to-day life, and our ego selves, to insights and deeper meanings. We became transported to a space of LOVE that we didn’t sense before. We experienced the feeling of what it was to “Serve man until you see God in all men.” As we all go through life on this earth, when we shift our focus, shed our ego selves, and delve deeper within our true selves, we can truly start experiencing the oneness that pervades everything.
Sathya Sai Baba Center of Dallas, TX