The Altrusim of the Body

Wherever there’s a suspension of typical quid pro quo mentality it’s worth taking a closer look. To us one of the brilliances of the Aravind model is its deliberate un-inquisitiveness regarding the paying capacity of individual patients. You don’t have to jump through hoops, or fill out a series of forms to prove you are eligible for, or deserving of free care. Years ago, former President of India, Abdul Kalam slipped anonymously into the queue at Aravind’s free hospital and received service, no questions asked. The fact that a system like this actually works and manages to be more than sustainable financially is not a trivial thing. There’s a profundity at play here that reminds me now of a startlingly beautiful command from our yoga teacher Rajiv:

” Use your growing awareness of give and take and inter-connectedness within the microcosm of the body as a tool to manifest altruism in the macrocosm of the world.”

When your body is honest with itself it expresses phenomenal generosity and an understanding of how giving is receiving. Stand straight in Tadasana — mountain pose. Feet firmly planted, shoulders back, chest lifted. Now lift your knee caps and feel how your thighs respond. Feel the subtle movement of the tailbone. Lift your toes and watch the kneecaps,  watch the thighs. Notice how you can’t touch one without affecting the others. These are relatively proximal parts of the body, but as you go deeper,  in yoga it becomes clear how there is no such thing as movement in isolation. A small action  of alignment on one small region of the body ripples out to far corners. The heel of the palm, the skin of the forearm, the outer edge of your little toe, the expanse of the brow — all these areas can be powerful benefactors and humble recipients– devoid in themselves of expectation or “payback” from other parts.

To move through giving, in alignment with natural, wholesome forces, is to recieve, and to strengthen the whole tenfold. No business case on Aravind is going to explain its robust sustainability in quite that way, but I don’t think it’s something to be lightly cast aside. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a naive feel-good model. It operates with a rigorous and systematic intelligence — you see it in the way targets are set, the way results are monitored — not by pure volume, but also in terms of visual outcomes and patient acceptance rates. A perceptive delivery model that offers its services to the community thoughtfully —  not in the spirit of a hasty handout for “the poor”.

I stopped by the camp hospital last evening to visit some of the patients who’d been operated on.  I sat on the floor in the middle of a ring of cheery, pirate-patched grandmothers. More wrinkles than I could count, and such kindness in their faces. Women who’ve worked the fields, fetched water, gathered kindling decade upon decade. One of them, a woman who raised six children to adulthood and lost a seventh, looks at me out of her one unpatched eye. There is nothing she wants from me, she doesn’t even know my name. “May I please buy you a cup of tea?” she asks with sweet dignity.

Her small offering is in itself a humble expresion of alignment — a subtle, unconditional movement that invisibly straightens something within me, inspires something that wasn’t as awake a moment ago. The mechanics of giving can  really be that simple.


4 thoughts on “The Altrusim of the Body

  1. a.r. says:

    your passage on the altruism of the body just made me cry. that was absolutely beautiful. just wanted to write and express my gratitude for your words :-). send my love to your parents and the rest of the family.

  2. Jenny Douglas says:

    Beautiful, Pavi. The older woman’s offer to buy you a cup of tea–and the humble expression of alignment within that gesture, along with the result of an “invisible straightening” within you–is exactly where it’s at.

    (And with your own offering here, you’ve invisibly straightened something within me, just as the Wednesday meditation you attended here in Brooklyn in which you quietly and humbly prepared a beautiful meal. Neither of my girls have since forgotten it, and you invisibly straightened something within them…)

    To the ripples! With love and gratiitude, Jenny

    • pavimehta says:

      Jenny — how lovely to hear from you … such happy memories of that evening in Brooklyn! Was such a treat to meet the girls — big hugs to both of them, and of course you.

      Across the miles,

  3. Trishna says:

    Really powerful passage Pavi! Thanks for sharing and offering these beautiful reflections. Really meaningful to think about how our internal alignment is reflected in external manifestations and just how interconnected the two are.

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