One great theme which psychologists have sought to address over the last fifty years is why so much human energy is directed to serving the needs of others. From the millions of people who give their time and energy looking after kids sports teams or working with the homeless, to extraordinary tales of ordinary people sacrificing their lives for people they have never even met, there is an enormous amount of care and giving out there, sacrifices that often do not get due attention in a media preoccupied with negative stories. For psychologists, it can be very hard to reconcile this behaviour with the evolutionary principle that we are all individual agents in a battle for ‘survival of the fittest’.
Giving comes from the heart
Undoubtedly, the notion that we are all looking out for ourselves and our progeny does indeed have some foundation in truth. There is no denying that there is an animal part of our nature which is still a considerable force to be reckoned with – the world is still rife with ‘survival of the fittest’ behaviour, jostling for position, and looking out for number one. When we live in the mind, it is this kind of behaviour that takes prominence. The mind tends to cut us off from others’ hopes and feelings and induce feelings of ‘them’ and ‘us’, with all the feelings of superiority and stereotyping that come with that.
However, those of you who are frequent readers here at Sri Chinmoy Inspiration know that many of our posts are given to exploring a deeper part of our being beyond the mind. In the heart – that space in the middle of the chest where we can feel the core of our being – we have a part of ourselves that we often only connect with in moments of great beauty or silence, a part of ourselves that comes forward when the mind is still, and a place where all the best impulses of mankind are located – empathy, brotherly love, and oneness. We have the saying ‘my heart went out to him…’ and this is exactly what happens when we see someone in a state of distress; we instinctively empathise with his condition and and we can feel a part of us wanting to overcome the self-obsessed aspects of our nature and help. This is the root of all true self-giving.
Giving makes us happy
The reality is that true happiness comes not from receiving, but from giving. We often try to establish happiness in our lives to tweaking and adjusting the outer conditions of our life, acquiring one thing and then another in the hope that the temporary satisfaction that gives will turn into something lasting. It often takes us quite some time to realise that true inner joy comes from spontaneously offering what we have to make the world a better place. The world is not a zero-sum game where your happiness comes at the expense of someone else’s – it is the diametric opposite. Self-fulfilment is world-fulfillment. We all have a unique purpose here, a unique dream that lies waiting to be manifested in our lives, and that dream when it is put into action automatically makes the world a better place.
For some of us that purpose will be in the creative and athletic sphere. This is indeed service to others – how many times have we been inspired by amazing athletic feats, or listened to a piece of music that really expanded our whole being? For many others, that purpose is more actively entwined with engaging with and serving others – family, community, planet. Making the world a better place is like filling in one giant jigsaw puzzle – each of us is holding a unique piece of that puzzle in the search for our own self-fulfillment.
Giving when we know what to give
Some of us are blessed to know instinctively what it is they have to offer in this lifetime; for the rest of us, there seems so many ways to be of service, and such a short lifetime to choose in! What do we do? Well, since our life’s purpose comes from deep within, we first have to go deep within in order to find it! Here is where a daily practice of meditation or reflection can be invaluable. Meditation is often mistakenly construed as isolating oneself from the world; however what actually happens in meditation that the mind is quietened so that our true nature and purpose can come to the fore. In meditation, we also gain inner peace, joy and balance and we then can offer these qualities to the world at large. (For those interested in finding our more about meditation, there is an article here…)
Meditation and prayer are of course used to connect by cultures all over the world to connect to something bigger than themselves, but it also makes us realise our own interconnectedness. It is no coincidence that all of the world religions have some social or humanitarian aspect to them – when you go deep within and explore your own inner vastness and beauty, you also begin to see something of that inner beauty in everyone around you, no matter what their background or social condition. Conversely, you could also say that giving is an act of discovery akin to meditation – when we give, our heart expands, and we crawl further out of our own shell and identify more with the human condition.
Giving from the right place
Sometimes when we give to others, there can sometimes be our human egos involved. We give with a subtle desire of appreciation, or an expectation that it will turn out in a particular way. And when we don’t get what we want, negative feelings come to the fore – hardly the path to happiness described above! You can tell if your inspiration is coming from the soul or from the ego simply by watching for any trace of conditional demand or expectation on your part. You will know if the action is inwardly inspired if you have a feeling of joy and certainty even before the action is carried out. When an action comes from deep inside rather than the ego, we don’t care for human recognition and we manage to keep our equanimity if the result turns out to be success or failure – for deep inside, we have gotten joy just by doing the right thing.
Photo by Bikash Frost, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries