When we recently visited the tomb of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, we learned of something she said that is pertinent to all devotees. She said that “the heart is to love, the mind is to think of God, and the hands are to serve with humility.” To spiritualize daily life, it’s not enough to meditate and then become absorbed in the busyness of the day. We need to find a way to bring these three elements—heart, hands, and mind—into everything we do.
“The heart is to love.”
The heart represents love. Love can be expressed in different ways, but we want to recommend two specific aspects of love: kindness and gratitude. One of the purest ways to express love is by kindness, especially to people who carry a heavy emotional burden and aren’t able to give kindness in return. Paramhansa Yogananda said, “When I see someone who is unhappy, I shoot him with the buckshot of my smiles.” He always gave kindness whether or not the circumstances supported it.
Swami Kriyananda, like Yogananda, always gave kindness. During his last years, international travel was hard on his body, and once, upon his arrival in India, a young man came to the ashram and gave him an excellent massage while he lay on a bed. When Kriyananda suggested that the young man could work more easily if he had a massage table, the young man answered that he worked two jobs to support his family and could not afford a massage table. Despite the young man’s protests, Kriyananda insisted on buying a table for him.
The young man was so deeply moved that he wept. He told one of the ashram members that he had been an orphan and, while growing up, had lived on the streets and barely survived. As an orphan, he had yearned to know the love and protection of a father. “Today,” he said, still weeping, “I felt the love of a father.”
People need our kindness.
There are people in our lives who need our kindness even more than they need food; without love, their spirits will begin to collapse. Those of us who have received God’s kindness have an obligation to share it with others. If we don’t share it, God’s kindness towards us will diminish. It is a divine law that what we hoard, we begin to lose, but when we share what we receive with others, we are given more.
In the Christian Bible there is a parable of three men who were each given the same amount of money. One man hid his money in the ground. The second spent his money on himself. And the third used his money to help others. When the overlord who had given them the money returned, he asked each of them what they had done with their money. He took back the money from the man who had hidden it in the ground and gave no more money to the man who had used his selfishly, but to the man who had helped others he gave more money so that he could continue to do so.
Always try to share God’s kindness with others. Every day try to find a way to be kind to a stranger or to someone with whom you have personal difficulties. Give them kindness and watch your heart soften and expand.
Gratitude requires that we be thankful.
The second key attitude of the heart to develop is gratitude. Kindness requires that we share what we receive; gratitude requires that we be thankful for what we are given. Medical studies show that gratitude strengthens our immune system. People who are grateful heal more quickly and are healthier. Unfortunately, when things go well in our lives, we become happy in the things themselves and often forget to give thanks.
As the following story illustrates, we need to train ourselves in an attitude of thankfulness. A friend who lives at our meditation retreat in California found himself in the position of forgetting to give thanks. At the time, he was on a nine-day diet recommended by Paramhansa Yogananda, a diet which requires that one eat only citrus fruit, raw vegetables, and one steamed vegetable each day. Because others at the retreat were also following this diet, the kitchen had prepared steamed cabbage for lunch. When our friend, who had been doing physical work all morning, saw the steamed cabbage, he thought, “Oh yuck, steamed cabbage!” He slapped a spoonful of it on his plate and was about to take the first bite, when the cabbage seemed to speak to him. It said, “How can I give you any energy when you treat me like that?”
Life is going to give us a lot of steamed cabbage in different forms. If we slap it onto our plate and say, “Oh, I hate this,” God will think, “How can I bless you when you treat Me like that?”
We need to train our hearts to respond with gratitude to whatever comes. When we begin to do so, everything starts to change. But it’s not easy. I (Jyotish) have worked on this attitude for decades. I wrote an affirmation that helped me, and I would repeat it while walking or running: “I am grateful for my life exactly as it is. I am thankful for this day. I welcome every hour. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.”
Gratitude resides in your heart. It’s always there, but it’s like a little plant that needs nurturing. Water it daily with sincere expressions of gratitude.
“The mind is to think of God.”
The heart is made to love God and to be grateful for whatever He sends. The mind is made to think of God. This too is not easy.
A great Christian writer, Frank Laubach, whose letters appear in the book Letters by a Modern Mystic, had a game he called “the game with minutes.” He would challenge people attending a church service to think of God once every minute. At the end of the service, he would ask for a show of hands: “How many of you thought of God for every minute?” One or two hands would go up. “How many of you thought of God for at least ten minutes?” A few more hands would go up. “How many of you thought of God at least twice?” Many hands would go up. “How many of you didn’t think of God at all?” The majority of the hands would go up.
To think of God, most of us need reminders. We suggest memorizing something that is meaningful you and repeating it periodically during the day. For this reason, many devotees have memorized Paramhansa Yogananda’s beautiful poem “Samadhi” and repeat it every day.
Many people insist that they can’t remember God throughout the day because they work on projects that require concentration. They ask: “How can I remember God in the midst of these tasks?” There are many gaps in the day. Whenever your mind is not engaged, actively engage it in remembering God. You can remember God when your car is stuck in traffic or when you are waiting in line at a bank or store. When your mind needs to be engaged at work, you can’t actively think of God, but as Ramakrishna said, “Be like the cow. The cow can be grazing, but it always knows where the calf is.” You can be busy doing your work but in the back of your mind, you can always remember God. If you do that, God will become more and more present in your life.
There are two aspects to this process. First, focus on one God-reminding practice and make it your own. We recommend repeating a single chant that you like over and over. If you stay with that chant for a long time, it will begin repeating in your mind whenever your mind is not engaged.
The second aspect is to take a break several times a day and think of God. You may think, “I’m so busy I don’t have time.” Most people have more time than they realize. There was a study done of an insurance company where thousands of people worked on keyboards and could track how long they could do concentrated work without taking a break. The most efficient people concentrated an average of fifty-two minutes and then took a seventeen-minute break.
If your life is busy, do concentrated work perhaps for an hour and then take a short break to refresh the mind. Think of God during that time. If you train your mind to think of God, the mind will become very good at it.
“The hands are to serve with humility.”
The heart is to love, the mind is to think of God, and the hands are to serve with humility. Service is an extremely important part of our spiritual life. One of the reasons Ananda has become strong and vibrant throughout the world is because people who become part of Ananda enjoy serving. Service means to work without thinking of what you are receiving in return, to work for the sheer enjoyment of it.
But we need to serve in a personal way. We need to understand that when we serve, we are giving to God. Mother Teresa became an example throughout the world of serving the poorest of the poor; by inspiring others to do the same, she has uplifted the consciousness of the world. She always served in a very personal way.
There is a recording of her discussing a time when, while visiting London, she was being driven somewhere in a car. When the car was going through a park, she said, “Please stop the car,” and she got out. It was a cold day, but she had noticed an old man who was not warmly dressed and looked very lonely. She took the man’s hand, and he looked at her and said, “Your hand is very warm.” She replied, “Yes, my hands are always warm.” The man then said, “It’s been many, many years since I’ve felt the touch of a human hand.”
Mother Teresa’s hands were warm because she had dedicated her life to serving others. If we serve even two or three people each day, the power of God flowing through us will increase.
Each day do acts of kindness and express gratitude to God for everything that comes into your life. Memorize something that touches your heart and repeat it over and over until it works its way into your subconsciousness and then into your superconsciousness. Take breaks during the day and think of God during those breaks. If you do these things, you will experience God’s presence in daily life, and the very point upon which you stand will become your Himalayas.
From a September 2014 talk in Calcutta, India.
Nayaswami Jyotish and Nayaswami Devi are Spiritual Directors of Ananda Sangha Worldwide. Swami Kriyananda, in his Last Will, Testament, and Legacy, named Nayaswami Jyotish as his “spiritual successor.”