By Sarah McGrath
Saturday night was beautiful, but it certainly didn’t go as planned.
It all started on a very average Tuesday morning, as many things do. Nestled in my gmail inbox was a newsletter from The Africa Yoga Project announcing their second seva safari trip and that registration was open to the public. Twenty spots were available for individuals interested in spending 12 days in Nairobi learning about the amazing work of AYP while working on a service project, hence Seva (selfless) Safari (adventure). The potential was right in front of me, in plain sight, and for many reasons I said yes.
And so the planning began. I pledged to raise a minimum of $5000 to join the group, $1600 of that would cover my in-country costs, I would pay airfare, and the rest would go to the service project. This was my first fundraising endeavor to date, if you don’t count the UNICEF penny boxes at Halloween, and I had all sorts of ideas. I could teach a donation-based class, I could send out an email to family and friends, I could sell t-shirts, etc. But as we all know, some of the best ideas come from those that are shared. Tracy suggested Mitchel and I do a yoga demo, Lyn suggested a silent auction, and I wanted to show images of The Africa Yoga Project at work. And so, Demo for Dollars; Auction for Action was born.
One of the driving forces behind me wanting to participate in this trip is my immense gratitude for my yoga kula and the richness it has fed my life over the past six years. Essentially, this is how I’ve grown to define yoga – it’s held and affirmed in community. And so I wondered, if this is what nourishes the yoga I love, here, in Fairfield County, would there be striking similarities in a place that couldn’t be farther from Fairfield, the slums of Nairobi? I have a pretty good guess but I’ll let you know when I return mid-March.
The intense planning for Demo for Dollars; Auction for Action began early December. I started reaching out and contacting people who could help me at the grassroots level. What I quickly learned is that I didn’t have to go far, all the resources were woven right in the fabric of my own community. One student had a background in corporate PR and so we had coffee to discuss ideas. Another has organized several silent auctions and answered every nagging question I had up to the last minute. I met with Carol who interviewed me and wrote a press release that a week later was listed on all the local online calendars and appeared on the front cover of the Norwalk Hour. Ravi at The Red Grape was eager to provide a wine tasting, and Walter Stewart’s Market and Rosie’s in New Canaan didn’t hesitate when I asked for donated snacks for the event. I was blown away by the generosity – all I had to do was speak and people were more than willing to participate. Then I started collecting auction items. Framed photographs and oil paintings, cooking classes, yoga and reiki sessions, jewelry, clothing, fine wines, and restaurant gift certificates. The list grew to over 30 highly desirable items – all as a result of the connections I have made over time and through the simple act of asking.
By last week I had every detail of the evening strategically planned. My body felt amazing as I had intensified my asana practice and more importantly I had rehearsed in my mind how things would go hundreds of times. What I would say, who would be there, how I would feel (I imagined being able to really believe, “today is the best day of my life, so far, as I thanked people in the room…it would be like receiving an academy award I thought). Friends and students dropped off tables, offered to help set-up, and reassured me over and over that it would all be just fine and I needn’t worry about a thing. As this project grew, my biggest fear became success. I was stuck on the idea that too many people would show up – how would they all fit in the room? Well, the universe answered.
Thursday evening I had the chills. Thursday night I felt like someone was stabbing the inside of my abdomen with a knife and I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed breathing in, I am, breathing out, healthy. Breathing in, I am, breathing out, healing. Breathing in, I am, breathing out, strong. But Friday morning I wasn’t feeling strong or healthy, but was throwing up and had a migraine that felt like someone was now scraping the inside of my skull. I had the stomach flu. Then the forecast became more and more ominous. Considering this has been the warmest, driest winter of the past decade, I couldn’t believe that a snowstorm was busting its way in – on my night, on my plan.
So, while Saturday night was beautiful, it didn’t quite look like the hundreds of times I had imagined it would be. There weren’t hoards of people, but there were enough. I didn’t say everything I wanted to say, but I said enough. And yes, I fell out of my handstand in the demo (I never fall out of a handstand), and the demo was more than enough. So what impression am I choosing to make last? One of various not enoughs? Or one of showing up, giving it my best shot, and being satisfied that for my first fundraising event of this sort ever, it was a success? I’m intentionally choosing the latter, even though I feel a tug towards the former and I keep hearing David Whyte’s very wise words, “what you can plan is too small for you to live…” Sometimes you have to dissolve the plan to see the beauty in what you are actually living. Before my planned event had even begun, I had already raised close to $7,000. On Saturday night I raised an additional $4739 in less than 2 hours…not for me, for AYP. Had I forgotten what was behind all of this all along?
I love that this event coincided with the conclusion of Hanuman Highway. I can’t help seeing the similarities in Hanuman’s story to mine, and that’s the point of these stories after all. They belong to all of us. I was able to remember my success in the conception, in the planning, and in the execution of this event not by doing it all myself but by keeping my company in close reach. Sometimes we don’t feel healthy, nor do we feel strong. But when we share our experiences with those close to us, we recognize our greatness, because that’s what our company reminds us of. That re is important – it’s the returning that matters. I could not have done this alone. I certainly didn’t do this alone, and I consistently saw that kula is simply woven out of love, not criticism. So thank you to everyone who has been so incredibly supportive of not just me, but of the intention behind what this is all about, which yes, I still have to remember.
Follow up: Sunday night I had my first conference call with the group that I’ll be traveling with, an introduction to my AYP kula. It was during this call that I learned what exactly our service project will be. Many of you have asked if I’ll be teaching yoga in Africa and no, I will not necessarily be teaching yoga in the formal sense, but rather I’ll be a student of the AYP teachers. During the day we will be teaming up with an organization called Shining Hope for Communities to continue to offer The Kibera School for Girls (a tuition free all girls primary school in Kibera) infrastructure. Last year the Seva Safari group built them a classroom. This year they have asked for a playground, a community toilet, and some furniture for their classroom. We will work side by side with AYP teachers and local construction workers to implement a playground with the help of Playground Ideas, http://www.playgroundideas.org/. The intention is that we will not only walk away having established a place for kids to do what they do best, play, but we will teach locals how to construct playgrounds so this becomes sustainable training. This will be the first playground Kibera has ever seen.
Check out this youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NexqrXbJM-Q&feature=youtu.be. The girls at this school have infectious smiles.
If you missed the demo on Saturday, check out this edited version (Mitchel kindly edited out the fall)
Demo for Dollars
And if you would still like to make an online donation to my fundraising campaign, go to https://www.z2systems.com/np/clients/ayoga/campaign.jsp?campaign=92
So Much Love,