Chelsea Roff: Give Away What You Love: Interview with Mark Lilly

Mark Lilly is awesome. That should pretty much cover everything you need to know about this guy. Okay, okay, I know you probably want a little more background, but seriously… I think you’ll understand after reading this interview why a bio is almost unnecessary. Mark lives, breathes, walks, and talks his service. His credibility doesn’t come from what he’s done (although he’s done a lot! He’s founder and president of Street Yoga and co-founder of the Yoga Service Council), but rather how he is in the world. And isn’t that true for all of us?

So let’s skip to the good stuff. Here are some words about service, authenticity, and mindfulness from Mark Lilly:

What does service mean to you?

Service means having a mindfulness practice that builds abundance, abundance that you can share. You can cultivate love, compassion, tolerance, understanding, self-awareness, self-advocacy, meditative skills and more. To serve means to earnestly develop those in oneself and then share of the abundance that will come from that effort.

Who and how do you serve?

I serve myself first, because I have to take care of me. I’m the only one who can. Then I build abundance and understanding. I study myself, and I share that ability to introspect and understand myself with others. We are all alive right now on a planet teeming with people. There’s a lot going on, and a lot of it is not that healthy. We need to come to clarity within ourselves while simultaneously trying to solve the many big problems we face. The more people who do this, the more people who will be credible allies in making things better.

You spoke quite a bit this week about the importance of showing up authentically in service. Can you say a little more about what you mean by that?

For each of us, there are layers — of experience, memory, expectation, socialization, religion, family, whatever. But beneath all that is a unique person with, in my humble opinion, a unique and highly personal reason for being here on this planet. I believe, that whether we remember why or not, we chose, in the time before birth, to be here, in these bodies, at this time.

A big part of mindfulness work is to come closer and closer to this and other truths — the truths of our inter-connectedness, the truth of the primacy of Love and so much more.

As this path towards an Authentic Self is not only a core focus of, but a sweet by-product of, reflective mindfulness practices, I feel that if any of us wish to share yoga and mindfulness with others, we have to also be questing towards our own truths. In this, we can then show up authentically. Without that journeying, we have much less of value to offer.

What motivates you to serve? How did you get started in sharing yoga with your community?

Neil Young wrote:

“We were giving, that’s how we kept what we gave away.”

That’s my golden rule. If I find something I love, like these tools I share in yoga service, it’s because I value these tools immensely; I give them away, share them how best I can. They are invaluable in giving me greater ability to direct my life the way I want. I want that for everyone.

What have you found to be the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of service?

Service has become my practice. When I practice, when I serve, I feel most alive. Add to that that I love to reflect. I walk a lot, and while walking, meditate and reflect.

As I continue to learn, I find it all rewarding. Just a few days ago, I had breakfast with BK Bose at Omega. He was discussing the need to simplify this work massively; that’s how we’ll be able to get it into the lives of millions. We concluded that this was a pretty good description of the potency of what we do:

Embodied breathing meditation

That’s it.

Embodied breathing is movement and breath in union, and meditation is focused attention and open monitoring.

One of the themes we heard talked about quite a bit  at this conference was the importance of self-care. Has it been difficult for you to balance self-care and care of others in your service?

I don’t view self-care as outside the practice of yoga service, nor outside the work of being me and living well here on Earth. I admonish folks in our Street Yoga trainings (very gently of course) to Serve Yourself with Yoga. Sip from this ancient cup of yoga that is overflowing with practices designed to keep you well. Serve yourself, and in so doing, you’ll build an abundance you can share with others.

And looking at Authenticity, I’m in a near-constant state of Open Monitoring with myself, my energies, health, and all the facets of the present moment. Self-care is simply living well. It’s not separate from anything we do. It has to be part of everything.

What was your intent in being at the Yoga Service Conference?

Help make it awesome.


For more information about Street Yoga and its upcoming trainings, check out their website.

This is the third in a series of interviews from the Yoga Service Council Conference, a gathering that brought together individuals and organizations from around the country who are actively engaged in using yoga to serve their communities. The conference took place at the beautiful Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where the council first came into being four years ago this May. Each year, Omega has graciously allowed leaders in the field of yoga service to stay on campus to meet, exchange ideas, share resources, and collaborate on joint projects. Next year’s conference will take place June 7-10, 2013. Keep an eye on the YSC website for details.

Photo 1: Diane Ferraro

Photos 2 & 3: Street Yoga