Disclaimer: Writing this blog was a challenge because there are no words that accurately describe just how special this experience was. My intention for writing this is a tribute to Preethi’s existence. I feel that people like us need to be aware that she exists. It brings me peace to know that somewhere on this earth, tucked into the corner of a mountain, there are people much like Preethi and her beloved mother who are showing up in service regardless of what cards they’ve been dealt in this lifetime. She is an inspiration to me. I offer you this story as my gift to her.
Synchronicity abounds here in India, and I am perpetually humbled by Grace.
Before I arrived in Thiruvannamalai, I had been reflecting a lot about seva (sacred service) and the true spirit of bhakti yoga. Carrying this inquiry in my heart has opened new doors of awareness and possibility for me.
My dear friend Sebastian connected me with his friend Preethi here in Tiru. What started out as a mutual friend connecting international mutual friends turned out to be a much deeper weaving of sisterhood, sangha, support, and magic.
When I connected with Preethi on facebook, I was scrolling through her photos and noticed she was in a wheelchair. I was not phased by this and was excited to meet her.
I arrived at her and her mother's house and immediately felt a connection rooted in sisterhood and play. I sat at their kitchen table and listened to Preethi's stories. Her mother and I also felt a deep kinship with one another, I was even compelled to start calling her Amma (Mom).
Over masala chai and under the cool breeze of a fan, I began to listen.
Preethi shared that she was in a freak swimming accident when she was 18 that changed her life forever. She totally lost her identity within seconds. She was at one time an active young student and sportsperson.
This accident left her paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, but it didn't limit her from using her trauma to create a life of purpose and selfless service. It created an opportunity for her to let go of her attachment to her body, and enter into the mystery of the eternal heart.
After the accident and two near death experiences, Preethi has arrived at a state of complete acceptance and inner peace. She uses her inner connection to All That Is to serve others who have similar injuries.
Her and her mother enjoy the simple pleasures in life and it was a great joy to witness their dynamic.
Preethi says, "There are more than 70 million people with disability in India. Nearly 15% suffer from severe limitations, including social isolation and harsh stigmas. They are treated as expendables."
Support for these acute conditions remain scarce. Many of these people are encouraged to commit suicide. After Preethi witnessed two of her friends die this way, she knew she could not stay silent any longer.
Preethi is the founder of Soulfree, an organization that dedicates it's time and energy to connecting with others who have similar spinal trauma. Preethi's hope is to spread awareness and work toward establishing a more sensitized, accepting, and inclusive society for people who have been through medical traumas.
Soulfree's primary focus is on the needs of people (primarily women) with spinal disabilities. Preethi hopes to provide support in medical care, rehabilitation, education, employment, societal acceptance and integration, government assistance, long-term care facilities, thus providing a safe container for families and people with these injuries.
Listening to Preethi share was deeply inspiring because I, too, have a spinal condition and could empathize on a personal level. I am not in a wheelchair, but I still struggle with pain and discomfort and immobility at times. I was happy to be able to connect with her and hear her tales of triumph and defeat.
Being connected to her has created an opportunity for both of us to serve each other. I was able to provide her with a photoshoot and be present for an event that was meaningful to her. This event was the unveiling of Soulfree's first Paralympic Sports Wheelchair! I was able to capture these moments on camera and offer her new portraits for her website and growing organization.
Her gift to me feels much bigger.
She has offered me a divine reflection of humility and embodied Bhakti.
Being able to spend time with her reminded me of what is possible when we truly go within to find peace. True freedom is the constant surrender to a Force much bigger/greater than us.
A Force that is inconceivable... and felt only through the continued turing toward our hearts.
A surrender to the true Self.
The Self that is untouched by the chaos of the outside world.
She has been a mirror who has confirmed that if we open our hearts, our bodies can be used as a conduit for the Divine. From there.... From our true CENTER, we can serve and find greater purpose here on earth.
Sacred Service is born out of constant surrender. We don't always have to organize a pilgrimage to Africa to save the world. We don't even have to leave our homes. The radical service work starts within.
Sometimes saving the world is as simple as opening our eyes and seeing how we can contribute to a life or a heart that is directly in front of us.
Sometimes our pain and our struggles can become our most treasured gifts and motivation on the path to Wholeness.
Aum Namah Shivayah.
'Assert you are not the body but the Eternal soul, a Divine Spark.' - Yogi Ramsuratkumar