Perennial Theme: Selfless Service Leads to Happiness

"Eileen," the one footed Bird of The Rockaways

"Eileen," the one footed Bird of The Rockaways


My partner and I have seen this one-footed bird around Arverne in the Rockaways and have nick-named it "Eileen." I have no idea what Eileen is thinking as s/he goes about doing its bird things, but for me when I see her/him, compassion is evoked within. Eileen serves me by reminding that no matter what we've been dealt in life, each and everyone one of us can make a difference.

For a number of years now, I've returned every summer to the Hanuman theme in my yoga classes. I love what Hanuman stands for, and he inspires me to keep doing my work.

Hanuman, also known as the Monkey God, appears in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. In the story, he is deeply devoted to his master, Lord Rama, whose wife Sita is captured and taken to an island in the middle of the ocean. Because his only desire is to keep serving Rama, he summons up all his strength and power from within himself and does a giant split leap over the ocean, lands on the far away island, and rescues Sita and returns her to Rama. Can you imagine executing such a feat?! Actually, many of us already do similar types of things all the time.

The story of Hanuman of course is a myth, and like all myths it is meant to remind us of the things we know but have forgotten. Essentially, when the cause is great enough and it serves humanity in some deep and profound way, we somehow are able to muster up the strength, capacity, and will-power to complete the mission. I believe that each of us here on earth have some important mission to accomplish, cause to serve.

For me, it's running a nonprofit. For many, it's being a good parent. For teachers, it's giving the next generation skills to succeed and being good role models. For those in service industries, it's providing others with basic things we need to make our day a bit easier, and hopefully doing it with a smile on their face.

I believe that selfless service, like Hanuman constantly demonstrated, can lead to increased levels of experiencing happiness.

Sonja Lyubomirsky researched ways to increase happiness, and writes: ... what precisely can we do to hasten or bolster ... increases in happiness? The answer lies in the pie chart theory of happiness. Recall that 50 percent of individual differences in happiness are governed by genes, 10 percent by life circumstances, and the remaining 40 percent by what we do and how we think?  That is, our intentional activities and strategies. The secret of course lies in that 40 percent. If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.

In yoga, there are some things we can’t control – like how loose our joints are, or how long some of our tendons and ligaments are, or whether our muscles tend to be fast-twitch or slow-twitch, or whether we started yoga too late in life to be able to touch our toes. Let's face it, some people were born to do the forward splits, and others will never be able to do it in this lifetime. But what we can all control is giving the practice our most sincere effort and staying within our own truth. If you do these things, you should be happier by the time you leave your yoga mat.

And by staying within our own truths, we discover the myriad of ways that we can be of service. Eileen, my bird-friend can't change the fact that s/he has only one good foot, but s/he makes me smile every time I see her/him. That's what I call being true to one's self, sincere, and serving others!

From Wikipedia, "Neem Karoli Baba (1900 c. - September 11, 1973), also known to followers as Maharaj-ji, was a Hindu guru, mystic and devotee of the Hindu deity Hanuman." He influenced millions of people around the world, including Krishna Das, the American Kirtan Singing Artist. A long while back, I read Krishna Das describe his encounters with Neem Karoli Baba and I recall him saying something like that when he was in his presence it was like experiencing Pure Love. Neem Karoli Baba was so simple and humble, and had an infinite heart that could hold within it the suffering of many other beings, including Krishna Das' own, which apparently was quite immense at the time. In his very simple way, Neem Karoli Baba, like Hanuman who he was devoted to, found the strength to keep on reducing some of the suffering he witnessed around him. By all accounts, he appeared to be quite happy too.

Neem Karoli Baba wrote:

I am like the Wind, No one can hold me,
I belong to everyone, No one can own me.

Hanuman was the son of the wind, which made it possible for him to fly across the ocean to the island where Sita was. As yogis, when we practice Hanumanasana -- forward splits -- we can imagine ourselves being stretched out in 6 directions like a bird, and taking flight with the wind. Professor Joshua Greene says, "practicing the pose, we gain victory over our own selves, our ego and our tendencies towards evil."  Our heart is spread wide open, and when it is we will always find our way back to remembering our highest missions on earth. When the heart is wide open we can sail farther and higher. When our heart is open, like the wind, like Hanuman, we can belong to everyone, while not being owned or held by any one. That is selfless service. That is the key to happiness.

May you be happy,
Like "Eileen," may you change what you can, and not worry about what you can't,
May you serve selflessly, 
May you gain little victories over your little self,
May you know and serve your Higher Self,
May you remember to breath and feel the wind moving both inside and outside,
May you accomplish your mission on earth, for the benefit of all beings.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni Chun