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Selfless Action and the Path to Happiness

February 3, 2017

Sometimes in life it seems that everything you read or hear has a common theme, and this is certainly the case with me at present. It seems that whenever I pick up a book or cast my Runes for guidance the theme of non-attachment to outcomes crops up. The general idea seems to be that I should approach tasks without placing any emphasis on the end result and enjoy the task for the tasks sake. It certainly resonates with me, but it can be a hard one to actualise living in a results focused society. We are all so used to saying "Well, if I do A and B then the result should be/I want / what will happen is C". But what happens if C isn't the outcome? How does that make us feel, and how does that effect our equanimity or state of mind? Often,if not always, we will feel frustration, or sadness or some other negative emotion because we have become attached in our minds to a particular end result. And no one wants that.

 

The Bhagavad Gita, one of India's (and yogas) main spiritual texts, talks much about this notion of non-attachment to outcome and what it calls 'selfless service'. Selfless service in essence means dedicating all your daily actions and tasks or work to something higher than yourself, to the greater good. Krishna tells Arjuna:

 

"You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work.

You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself - without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind." (2:47-48)

 

Here Krishna is saying that by performing work without attachment to the outcomes, and without looking for personal reward, we can remain in the present, and remain unaffected by success or failure. The reward is in the doing itself. That is where the  joy is found, not in the end result. So, if the outcome is different from expected or desired, you are less likely to succumb to negative emotions because  the joy has been in the work itself and in the present moment, rather than looking forwards towards the future.

 

 For myself, it means not railing against my present situation where I can feel a little trapped, as I still need to work a full time job in order to pay off personal debt. I spent a good part of last year internally whinging to myself how I needed to find a newer/different/better job than the stress free, well paid one I already have (eye rolling permissible), and consequently making myself discontent and unhappy in the process. To cut a long (whingy) story short, I went on a three week solo, yoga focussed jaunt to East Bali, and came back not only clearer and  more energised, but also with a renewed sense of purpose. I now look at my day to day job as part of my path. I can't confess to jumping out of bed with glee on a Monday morning, but I don't focus on the end - which for me is becoming debt free-  but instead find my job almost meditative and have a certain joy in being present and non-results driven. And the result is of course, a more content mind and life.

 

Later in Chapter 3 Krishna says:

 

"Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind." (3:19-20)

 

Devoting your work to others or to something greater whether that be God or the Universe or the Divine or Self, will lead us to happiness. Non-attachment to outcomes and selfless action go hand in hand. Working for the greater good, not striving for a particular outcome but working for work itself and with love in our hearts, will lead us to the attainment of happiness and equanimity where our emotions are less effected by the vagaries of outcomes.

 

Now interestingly for me, this verse resonates for me with regards to my yoga teaching. It can be all to easy to forget that the real reason I teach is because I want to share the joys of this beautiful ancient practice, and not to become some self-styled yoga diva/guru (yeah, feel free to roll your eyes again). The ego really does have a mind of its own hey?  Sometimes, I catch myself worrying more about how many are going to show up to class and taking it personally if the class is small, rather than going deep to the source of why I decided to do a teacher training after 18 years of dedicated personal practice. And that reason was because I know only too well the transformational effects of yoga and want everyone else to know them too. Whilst sometimes that damn ego still gets in the way, for the most part I now dedicate my teaching to the Divine and see my self as a servant to my students - I am there to serve them, not the other way round.

 

Sp,keeping this all  in mind then, doesn't it make sense to approach everything we  do with love and dedication in our heart? Not only will we be truly present and mindful (where we know personal happiness and joy can be found), but we will be contributing positively to the world at large.  I like to use the analogy of a road trip - the enjoyment is in the actual journey itself as much as in reaching the destination. By approaching our day to day tasks and work with a sense of enjoyment and less emphasis on the conclusion, we can find joy and happiness in not only the end result, but in the doing. And therefore, in life itself.

 

 

 

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