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The Selfless Mind and Selfish Heart

Dear Friends,

How are you? I hope you're having a nice time whether you are in Berlin or somewhere else for your summer vacation.

There is a famous TKV Desikachar quote about how to measure progress in yoga - "The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”.

Looking back, the biggest transformation I have gone through in the past 15-16 years of dedicated yoga practice is that I am much less engaged in fulfilling my own desires, cravings, ambitions or goals and feel a much stronger urge to contribute to the wellbeing of others, but if I'm honest this is actually selfishly motivated. It has become quite clear to me that contributing to the wellbeing of others is much more fulfilling and satisfying than feeding one's own impulses and urges. Life can be filled with profound meaning and joy when we are genuinely engaged in being of service to others.

This has actually been mentioned for centuries in different yoga and Buddhist texts and is also something that was discovered in recent trendy research in different Universities around the world. You can check out some of the work that Laurie Santos from Yale University has been doing studying human happiness and wellbeing from a scientific point of view.

Here's the paradox - When having a bad day, shitty mood or crappy feeling for any reason, our default settings drive us to treat ourselves to ice-cream, shopping or a nice glass of wine (just to give a few examples) as a way to relieve this unpleasantness.

What we should actually do at this point is treat someone else!

It may feel completely counterintuitive, but the truth is that we will feel much better when we actually bring joy to others than when we satisfy our own desires. Of course this is not as simple as it sounds, and requires a bit of change of perspective. It can also get tricky, particularly if we know that ice-cream, shopping or wine, although can be enjoyable and pleasant, don't bring any real happiness but rather a short lasting pleasure that leads to more craving. Those of us who have realized this truth may feel the need to look for better ways to help others.

During the first corona lockdown I decided to use all that free time to practice lots of yoga and meditation. After a month or so of intense practice together with seeing the world become frightened, stressed and depressed, or angry and resentful, I noticed a strong urge in me to make real efforts to reduce suffering in the world. I was searching for ways to devote my time and effort and make significant impact. Yoga teaching was something that I chose to do for that reason, but it was not available at that time and it seemed like there are more pressing matters.

How to measure human suffering?!?

First of all, there needs to be some clarity on what is real "suffering" and what are its causes.

Yoga and Dhamma have very clear definitions for that, but there are others as well..

I was trying to compare different sources of suffering in the world and their impact both on an individual level as well as on societies at large. One of many discoveries I made was that modern sanitation, which most of us take for granted, is actually not available for many millions of people around the world. This leads to all sorts of unnecessary devastating sickness, particularly among children. From my point of view losing a child is the most painful thing a person can go through. What I found is that modular solutions are easy and inexpensive, but there are very limited resources directed to that cause. There is also a matter of distrust among people in these areas of the world in rich Westerners intervening with their lives.

I decided to go to Africa and try to convince and teach people how to take a shit Western style!

Unfortunately I hit a wall quite fast. It seemed almost impossible to get a job in an NGO and doing these things independently did not seem like a real option. And so, after some attempts I had to give it up. Instead I decided to try and donate however much money I can, which unfortunately is not much, to organizations that really make an impact. I discovered a wonderful resource - Effective Altruism and I'm still considering taking the Giving What We Can pledge.

Dedicating one's resources to others, whether time, effort, money or love, is fulfilling in profound ways. It is also a sign of real progress on the yoga path, when our more selfish tendencies start to dissolve and lose their grip, and a state of peace and harmony fills our heart with loving kindness and drive us to share this with others. The Buddhists call this urge Karuna (compassion). It is not about pleasing others or helping them satisfy their craving for simple pleasures. It is also not about suppressing our basic needs or sacrificing ourselves at the cross. It is about living with an attitude of caring for others, of being compassionate to those who are suffering and feeling sympathetic joy for those who are happy.

This requires us to live a more contemplative and examined life and observe the internal and external landscape of our existence with some clarity and wisdom.

Looking forward to sharing the wonders of yoga with you!

With love and gratitude



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