sevacafelogoahmedabad_1Something beautiful this way comes. Five of us drove from the Bay Area to Long Beach to be part of the opening of the first Seva Café here in the States and the second in existence.

After a life-altering service vacation to India, the folks from Be The Cause were so moved by the overwhelming generosity they received that they wanted to plant some of that giving spirit in the ground right where they lived – in Los Angeles.

They spent time at the Seva Café in Ahmedabad and fell in love with the overwhelmingly positive energy and culture of giving that they experienced there.

When Sri, who wasn’t even present on the India trip, insisted that this must come to LA, the others all rallied behind him to take this extraordinary step.

The Seva Café is no ordinary restaurant. Business operates anything but “as usual” here as your meal has already been paid for by a previous guest and the bill that comes to your table says “Total: $0.” Seva Café is a shift to a “gift economy” where those who are serving you are doing so because they recognize that it is in serving others that we grow in spirit and in happiness. The place is full of love and you can feel it. It is a celebration of giving and care for others.

sevacafelove_3The beauty of this experiment is that it can only continue if the circle of giving is completed – which requires that guests also join into the spirit of giving and “pay from their heart” – to allow future guests the opportunity to experience this as well. If it doesn’t happen – if people choose not to support it – then it will cease to exist. But for as long as people keep the chain of giving in motion, we all get to experience a taste of a better world that is possible.

Another beautiful byproduct that comes out of such a venture is that it tends to create a community around it. People love coming to the Seva Café because it is such a positive environment. Within this space seeds of service are planted and watered and begin to grow, and before long, an organic service movement is taking root. The trust and responsibilities of taking on a project like this are enormous, but the fruits are exquisite.

Be The Cause took a brilliant, low-risk approach in opening the café. For each Saturday, for the next three months, they are simply taking over an existing restaurant, slightly modifying the menu and atmosphere. By renting it weekly, rather than investing in a new establishment – they can try it out and see how it goes. By setting a time frame of three months, they can test it thoroughly and evaluate whether it is something that is to be continued or simply a worthwhile experiment and adventure that they were able to experience.

When we arrived, we were amazed by the level of organization and preparation that had taken place and more importantly by the amount of love and care that had been put into all the details.

For instance, just like in Ahmedabad, they had created a box for community money. Anyone can put money into this box or take money out of it. Simple as that. I took a peak into this community box and spotted a $20 bill and more money that people had invested into this new community of giving.

Many of the details from the Seva Café in Ahmedabad were revived in Long Beach, like the characteristic flowers and vines that adorn all the signage.

We worked with them to help set up and then everyone went out into the community to clean up the neighborhood – simply to put out some good energy before getting started – by picking up trash, cleaning store windows, washing public mailboxes and trashcans, etc.

wowsignlanguage_1From opening hour to closing, the place was packed. There were so many stories of people moved by the experience that I could go on and on. Everyone served in harmony as part of a deeper, collective understanding and treated the guests with such care. All I can say is that this small group of people masterfully pulled it off and I am just still in awe that they have done it.

Wow. Even the word “wow” has a new meaning now, given by one of the guests, a young Ethiopian woman who was deaf. She came in and sat down, reluctant to participate, but after being gently pulled into the spirit, her happiness was palpable as her grin became one of the biggest I’ve ever seen – stretching from ear to ear – for the entire evening, as she taught sign language (such as “Wow”) to everyone interested.