How Can I Be Selfless, But Not Overdo It?


My question is about spiritual softness and tolerance for those who are not even trying as it relates to making my own living. Is it Spirituality harmful to myself to go above and beyond, trying to please my employer and customers by exhausting myself, repeatedly used for superior service without receiving any credit... Or is that spiritual service by definition? Where is the boundary of giving of myself? What is the difference between selflessness and not having a self?

—Leah, United States


Dear Leah,

As so many others have shared (including the famous prayer by St. Francis), we can’t control the reactions and responses of others. Our duty is to ourselves and our own reactions. Examine yourself inwardly, asking, “Why do I go above and beyond, trying to please?” Is it for approval? Recognition? Pay? Or do I do my best because I feel more fulfilled, creative, and energetic? Do I perform my duties joyfully as an act of devotion to God, without fear or anticipation of whether, having done my best, it is successful or a failure? Appreciated or ignored?

By definition “spiritual service” is embodied in the term from the Bhagavad Gita: nishkam karma.” This means to do your best (energetically, enthusiastically, and creatively) but to leave the rest (the results) as a divine offering to the one true Doer of all actions: Divine Mother. “Act without attachment to the results!” Action with this kind of non-attachment is not performed with indifference but with inner freedom: joyful and free!

One “boundary” of self-giving is contentment or resentment, so to speak. If your own reaction to having given your all is inner contentment, then the action is more likely to have been from your own center and in performance of what is yours to have done. This is selflessness: to forget the self, the ego, our expectations. Selflessness is not having a self (ego). Well, we all have an ego and need it to function in a human body, but its overweening demands to be appeased, noticed, and appreciated is what we strive to dissolve in the effort to rise above the ego.

Here are a few stages or steps to practice with: 1) Act from your own center: calmly, dispassionately, and with even-minded cheerfulness perform your daily duties. 2) Perform actions as a divine offering, an act of devotion to God, to Divine Mother, to the guru. 3) Act with the thought and feeling that the energy and intelligence with which you act are not yours, but are channeled (borrowed, as it were) from your soul: a child of God. 4) Let God be the Doer of all actions.

Easier said than done, I admit, but practice these steps (in no particular order, but simply experiment) in little actions before expecting to reach these different stages in the big things you do.

Okay? Give it a try and see how it feels.

Joy to you,
Nayaswami Hriman
Ananda ~ Seattle WA