Today lets discuss the relationship we have to ideas like selflessness, self-sacrifice or selfless service. Ideas like self-sacrifice or selflessness have become associated for many people with letting yourself be stepped on or over run by others, of being a kind of dish rag, moping up others messes and not taking care of yourself. Being selfless for many has become a way of saying you’re the kind of person who doesn’t take care of yourself.
However being self-effacing and self-destructive is, in reality, not the same as being selfless and self-sacrificing. To do acts of service to another without wanting something for your self in return is to engage is selflessness. If you have to go out of your way a little to do this, or perhaps even a lot, you are engaging in self-sacrifice.
Most acts of self-sacrifice are a choice, a very powerful choice to give freely without expecting any return. These choices are not a result of being self-effacing and weak but, on the contrary, represent a powerful capacity to notice what is needed and give freely. People who on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs ego development stages have healthy ego development become ‘self actualizing’ and gain the ability to dedicate themselves to something greater than their personal wants and needs.
The yogic practice of Tapas, the third principle of the Niyamas, literally means fire. It involves burning away our small since of self in the fire of selfless love. This teaching burns the ego on the fires of selfless love and liberates us from identity with the small ego self. It helps us to see all beings as part of our own Self. When we care for the welfare of other beings and engage in selfless service, seva, and random acts of kindness, with no expectation of getting something in return, then we become self actualizing.
Our ego development expands from focus on I and mine, to focus on the well being of all. Selfishness fades from us, and many of the sorrows and fears that often accompany self-absorption in our personal problems diminish. We find instead that we are carried on the power of our dedication to the welfare of all beings and whatever form of service that manifests as. It becomes more important and rewarding to know that we have done something good that has helped the world than to indulge in personal pleasures.
The practice of Tapas brings meaning and an expanded since of self. The seeds of selfishness are burnt on the fires of selfless love. Then you grow, you become more. By surrendering and letting go, doing something kind for someone despite your personal pain, you become a part of something larger. You expand towards the limitless, towards the one unconditional love of the Divine. It is amazing the healing impact of getting over yourself and taking the time to notice and care for others. It is a big world, and each of us is only a small presence in a vast, cosmic garden. But when we get over ourselves and connect in selfless love to the whole of life and live in seva, we in fact heal our own being and become whole. Tapasis an important practice of Niyama that is stressed for moving into alignment with your Divine Self.
As a point of note, some people over the centuries have gotten a bit confused on this particular point and thought that Tapas meant to somehow impose some harsh discipline on your body, like whipping yourself or starving yourself to burn out impure thoughts. These kinds of self-effacing and self-destructive behaviors represent a misunderstanding of Tapas. Tapas does involve discipline, but not self destruction. If you harm your body or mind, you do harm to the sacred vehicles that have been given to your care. You violate Ahimsa. This is not Tapas.
Tapas is instead the discipline of selfless love, the cultivation of the ability to look beyond the small ego self and live a life in service to the greater Self of all beings. It’s cultivation is an essential part of moving towards Moksha, liberation.
The practices of cultivating purity of heart and mind, contentment and well being, and selfless service to the One Eternal Self in the many forms of living beings on this earth, are all part of developing an expanding awareness.
Next time we will explore Svadhyaya, the practice of study of the Self, Self-inquiry and Self-reflection. If you want to explore all of this in more depth, please read my book Living Love, the yoga and Yama and Niyama.
Namaskar Dear Friends,
Today’s blog is about the second of the yogic principles to follow in Niyama, Santosha, that is inner peace or equanimity of mind.
Inner peace is a powerful state of being but requires the development of certain mental attitudes. If you keep your attention absorbed in the ups and downs of life, always worrying about something missing or striving to attain desired situations, your life will be filled with the turmoil and disruption of the need to acquire and the fear of loss.
To begin to practice the principle of Santosha, you will need to step back a bit from the drama of striving to acquire and avoidance of loss. Doing this entails acceptance. Equanimity of mind comes through letting go. It is not an avoidance of the conflicts or the struggles in life. On the contrary, equanimity comes when a person can find deep contentment, deep acceptance in the midst of conflict or struggle. A real peace comes not through avoidance, but through mental equilibrium in all situations and circumstance.
You can bring all of the pleasant and the unpleasant experiences of life into equanimity be recognizing that all life experiences are temporary. It works better not to feed the negative experiences in life with your anticipation, worry and distress or stress out trying to achieve the positive experiences. When instead you cultivate equanimity, peace with what is ensues.
As the old saying goes, the grass is always greener of the other side, but with this attitude you are never at peace. When you begin to really look around and appreciate the grass on your side of the fence, what is here and now, then you begin to discover Santosha, contentment.
This is where cultivating positive attitudes towards yourself and what life brings you comes in, no matter if it is difficult or wonderful. It is hard to find contentment in life when you cannot accept yourself or appreciate your own life. When you can practice real self acceptance is when you become free, when you can see not only others but your own shadows, look straight into them and see just as clearly as in the light - without response, reaction, or rejection.
As long as you reject the parts of yourself that are shadowy, you will not be the master of them. When you can love and accept all parts of yourself, you can love all parts of others, and the play of shadow and light becomes just a play in consciousness, not a struggling to acquire one state and reject another. This struggle is the human condition of bondage.
To be free is to accept light and shadow, joy and struggle, and to truly accept yourself, with both your strengths and your weaknesses. Life is complex, never back and white, never all good or all bad. It is a mix and each one of us is a mix also. When you stop running and are with what is, even learn to love what is, then life unfolds.
Peace comes when you can find a place inside of yourself that really accepts life as it is with deep love and appreciation, even when it isn’t going your way. This is Santosha, equanimity that allows you to be content and at peace with yourself in all circumstances. It is an amazing experience to really be OK, or even happy, with what is and not feel a restless, hungry need to be something other than what you are or to have something more. To be truly content is to be free.
If you want to explore these ideas further, you can get my book Living Love, the Yoga of Yama and Niyama on Amazon or Kindle.
Be well all,
The yogic concept of Saocha is about cleanliness, or purity, of both the body and the mind. This practice brings a kind of clarity and subtly of being. To practice it is to clean away all the dirt that may clutter the mind so that perception of the Infinite is possible. The mind has many layers. The outer-most layer of the mind is the physical body that resides in this physical world. Therefore there is a need to purify the body as well as the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.
The first act you can do to develop in this practice is to keep your environment simple and clean so that you are surrounded with a feeling of aliveness and harmony. It can make a real difference when you create a beautiful room to be in or a home garden you can really feel alive and whole in, that expresses beauty and harmony.
Then how you attend to your body also makes a real difference in your experience. If you keep it fresh and alive inside and out you become vibrant. This is your ground, your vehicle in this world. It needs to be clean, fresh and vibrant to stay healthy and function optimally. Do you eat foods that give you radiant health? Do you bath, take steam baths, sauna, hot tub, engage in practices to purify your body? How about fasting? It is an ancient yogic practice to fast four days before the new and full moon (Ekadashi) to cleans and purify the body and then if more is desired also fast on the new and full moon. It helps balance the fluids in the body and maintain health. Modern research has supported this practice showing that fasting one day a week extends life expectancy.
These bathing and health practices make your physical body healthy and vibrant, but what of your mind and spirit? That too needs purification. A pure mind is a clean mind, a clear mind devoid of mess and debris, but how does one purify the mind? The mind can be purified in a clean vessel by doing meditation upon the Divine, and by maintaining pure thoughts.
Stress is a big problem in the world today. Although people are stressed by many different situations, much stress is self-made. If you want to solve your stress, learn to love yourself. Learn to appreciate what you have. Learn to feel that grace is in every moment of your life and all that you have is given in grace. Be happy with who you are, what you have and the manifestation that is your life.
Find the joy. Find the goodness and the brightness. Find your peace with what is and then in that brightness, that contentment, come to the equanimity where mind settles and acceptance, love and peace ensue. When you change your habitual thinking patterns to embrace self-love and a positive outlook it purifies the mind. It clears out the sludge and when you connect to the bright light of Divinity within, that light brings joy, clarity and a pure and open heart. Spirits brighten. This is where it all starts, with your spiritual connection and your mental habits. But if you want to manifest your good intentions, you will also need to practice Saocha to keep your body vibrant and healthy.
When mind and body have become clear vehicles for spirit, your relationship to everything around you changes. It becomes an expression of your inner state of well-being, an opportunity to express you pure thoughts and pure heart in the world.
For more on all of this and how to practically put it into play in your life, you can go to my book Living Love, the Yoga of Yama and Niyama.
Maetreyii Ma: a teacher of yogic wisdom & practices