Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Perfect Flavor

Honoring prasadam in the Vaishnava fashion is the culmination of culture and service. I learned this art when I was in the Mayapur Academy, and so when I helped direct The Radha Krishna Camp for Girls in Brazil, this system was implemented. Everyone sits in rows and servers come to each person with each dish, silently and lovingly offering prasadam. Then when everyone is completely satisfied, the director gets to serve the servers.

On our third day, I was all set to serve the servers after lunch, but several of the girls who had been serving lunch kept saying no, no, Bhakti lata sit down, sit down! I insisted that no, this is a privilege, this is my service to serve the servers.

But they were so insistent. So I picked one girl, Annapurna, to serve everyone. Others also wanted to serve, but I insisted that only Annapurna would serve. Oh boy, here we go. So I sat down with the other servers.

Annapurna served nicely. She actually surprised me at one point – several minutes in she handed me a folded napkin. “What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s to wipe your mouth,” she replied. I was shocked. What? I had never taught her that. I laughed to find this competitive urge rise up in my heart. I needed to serve better.

Annapurna served well, and nevertheless I realized that she was simply not ready to serve the servers. None of the girls were ready, they simply needed more training, more experience.

When all the girls had finished, I served Annapurna. A part of me had this competitive urge rise up in me to serve the best! I also felt that it was my duty to be an example of how to serve properly and respectfully and like salt. This was beautiful for my own growth as a servant. It was hilarious, I kept laughing to myself, because I kept thinking of that folded napkin that Annapurna had given me. So I brought Annapurna ice cubes for her water! She accepted.

By the end of this whole experience I had an idea – I gathered the other servers and we had a mini-meeting. We were all going to discuss Annapurna’s service.

“If Annapurna is salt, then what is one and what is ten on a scale from 1-10?” I asked once we were all gathered in our little meeting.

“10 is best, 1 is not good?” one girl ventured.

“No… If Annapurna is salt…”

“Ah! 10 is too much salt, 1 is too little,” one girl exclaimed.

“Exactly. What is five?”

“Perfect, right in the middle.”

“Yes. So we’re each going to give feedback to Annapurna. First we’ll rate her service on a scale from 1-10, where she was at on the salt scale. Then we’ll give feedback in the form of a sandwich – positive, constructive, positive. Clear?”

The process was powerful. Girls gave feedback to Annapurna that she had been a little too salty, saying constantly if we wanted anything, constantly bringing more and more dishes. Girls appreciated that she had been attentive and patient. I gave feedback that Annapurna had been more like 3.5 – not enough salt. I had constantly been asking for another dish, or salt, etc. I also mentioned my surprise and how she had given me the napkin and how I felt this competitive spirit in me to serve even better – I’m going to serve you ice cubes, so take that! We all laughed and laughed.

Then I asked Annapurna, “So, if you were to rate my service on a scale from 1-10, what would I be? What is your feedback for me?”

Annapurna gave me a 5, and I encouraged her to please be as honest as possible. I wanted to grow in my service. She said that she did appreciate the ice for her water, that I had been attentive. When I prodded for constructive feedback, she fell quiet and then at last she said, “You were so serious,”

“Serious?”

“Yes. Maybe you could smile more,”

I laughed and nodded, taking this in deeply. “Thank you,” I said. I folded my palms to her and thanked her for her feedback and that I would carefully consider what she had said.

“Next time I will fold your napkin into an origami bird,” Annapurna said with a grin. We all laughed. 

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