“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Service. One could argue it is why we are here. Look around and you’ll see that it is in service to others that so many of us find the greatest rewards in life. The mother serving the child, the firefighter serving the community, the soldier serving the nation, the friend serving the friend, and on and on it goes. We are social creatures, and service is something we’re wired for.
Even so, in our overly busy and distracted lives, many of us stumble into a distorted view of the gift we can make to others and come to believe it to be a chore. We begin to think of our investment in others as a cost to us—and something we need to protect ourselves from.
And this misstep comes with a price.
You see, the truth is precisely the opposite. It is in the gift of our time and energy to others that we ourselves are sustained. This is not to say that it cannot be overdone (it can be). But the moment we become miserly with our energy, we begin to choke ourselves off from the mysterious source of vitality that flows to us of its own accord.
Some call it the law of karma, I like to I call it the Law of Circularity of Energy: Give freely with love and immediately you are nourished with a particular kind of feeling in your body and mind. Give while hobbled by doubt, judgment, or concern for reward and we are immediately bestowed with an all together different kind of experience.
To be clear, this is not just some mumbo-jumbo yoga theory I'm postulating. It's a biochemical fact.
You see, Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom (and her attempt to help ensure the perpetuation of our species) has recognized that collaboration is a key ingredient in helping us humans meet the challenge of existing in a sometimes hostile world. And to encourage this crucial behavior, she's seen fit to hardwire a kind of reward circuit into each one of us. A reward circuit that is tripped whenever we perform altruistic acts.
So if you've ever wondered why you have those warm and fuzzy feelings of positivity, goodwill, and connection when you selflessly perform good deeds, now you know why. It's not magic or mystical after all; it's your reward: oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone responsible for that pleasant glow of fulfillment that seems to come right along with acts of kindness. It's released by the endocrine system as a way to incentivise the cooperative behaviors that are most likely help our feeble and pokey species triumph on a planet of lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).
Now, while it's true that the knowledge of this neurological science is in no way necessary, it does serve as a reminder of the readily available source of feelings of trust and warmth and connection that are waiting for us whenever we bring a little generosity of spirit into the lives of others.
As always, I ask that you don’t believe me in any of this, but rather I invite you to turn to your own experience and perhaps make an experiment of the investigation. Notice in your own daily life how the smallest of contributions to the welfare to others when done selflessly can feed you; and on the flip side, notice how, perhaps even in the midst of the very same act, the miserly hoarding of your time and energy, or the constant concern for reward, can actually leave you feeling depleted, worn, or worse.
Of course, nothing here is to say there is a “right” way or a “wrong” way; it is just that there are consequences to any particular way of being—and we get to choose which consequences we get, by the way we invest in the moment.
Have fun with it—and I’d love to hear how your experiment goes. So please stay in touch.
About the author
Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized speaker, teacher, and best-selling author of Waging Inner Peace. As one of the most sought-after authorities on the application of yogic technology for self healing and empowerment in the nation, Eric is the founder of one of Arizona’s largest yoga centers, and Arizona's first 500-hour Master-Level Yoga Teacher Training Program. At the core of all his work is the effort to make yoga's ancient wisdom and techniques practical and relevant for people from all walks of life. In addition to his work in his wellness center in Phoenix, Arizona, he is the creator of BOOTSTRAP, a yoga-based program to help troops and veterans heal from post traumatic stress as well as BetterBox, a subscription box revolutionizing the self-improvement industry. An ordained Yogacharya (preceptor of yoga), Eric is currently finishing a book on the Science of Happiness.