Service to others without expecting anything in return is sometimes challenging but always rewarding because it brings joy to our hearts. My freshmen Marian University students experienced that quite often as I required that they do 10 hours of service for my Theology 101 course.
I wanted them to experience joy in their lives as they trudged through their required college course. I also wanted them to experience what Mother Teresa always called the joy of Christ within them because to me Christianity is not just understanding the rules and concepts of the tradition but experiencing the spiritual source of the Christian way of life.
When I asked my students about their experience of playing bingo with seniors in a nursing home, or feeding hungry people at Loaves and Fishes, or playing with children at Solutions Center, their face would often light up with a smile. I saw in their eyes the joy of those moments when they did something for another out of obligation, yet they touched within themselves that core of the divine. They felt “filled” with happiness that truly joy-filled.
That’s what selfless giving does for us. Yoga talks about selfless giving as well. The Yoga Tradition calls this karma yoga. This selfless service becomes a path (marga) to unity with God. The action of serving another, when we expect nothing in return, becomes transformative. It changes us by permitting us the experience of connecting with the life of the divine within ourselves. We now know and have access to our spirits. We begin to know meaning and purpose in our lives and begin to value life itself.
There is a caution though in serving others selflessly. We begin, after a while, doing the action of love and care in order to feel the joy. When this subtle change occurs the expectation of joy turns to resentment. We begin to serve ourselves and our desire for the joy instead of the person in need. I’ve seen this joy deteriorate into anger toward the one served because “they are not grateful for all that I am doing for them.”
I have experienced this myself. The serving no longer becomes selfless but needful. At that point I have needed to re-examine my motivation. I had to retreat from my service so that I could fill the need I had within myself. When that need was met, usually with a “vacation” or meditation time or non-obligatory time (like a surprise snow-day for a teacher or student), I was able to focus on the other’s needs and not subtly use the other to fulfill my own needs.
“Meditation vacations” are wonderful opportunities for us to bring ourselves back to our true self. In those quiet moments, when we don’t need to do anything, but just breathe and reflect and watch, we allow the God within us to take care of our needs. We allow God to selflessly serve us because The Divine Mother (as I call God) always wants us to be happy and filled with the joy of Her Love.
In Christian terms, God always wants the Light of Christ to shine brightly in us! In Yoga Sutra terms, when the “roaming tendencies of our mind,” triggered by our needs, is quieted, we become “established in our essential nature” (YS 2-4)! We then are able to serve others selflessly and joyfully because we are acting from the Source of Life within us, expecting nothing in return.