Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's your motivation?

Substituting for my teacher is a lesson in humility.  The first student to arrive to class greets me by saying
"It must be hard when no one is ever happy to see you".  Humility wasn't exactly the bhavana I had been contemplating but apparently it was the lesson of the day. 

What I have been contemplating lately is what my motive is behind the "self-less service" that I do.  More accurately, not just my motivation but other people's motivation.  Have you ever had the experience where someone does something nice and thoughtful but the person is always reminding you of the nice thing they did for you?   It brings up the question "What was the motivation behind the kind act?"  I believe that the part about "self-less"  is often forgotten when self-less service is performed. 

This simple question "What is the motivation?" can change everything.  It's an exercise that I've been practicing.  Whenever I am about to do some "self-less services" or some act of kindness I stop and ask myself this question, "What is the motivation?"  Is the motivation "I'm looking for recognition", or "I'm expecting a reward", or "I want that person to like me", "I want to impress you".   If it is, is that still self-less service?  I don't think so. 

Let's examine for a moment what exactly the phrase self-less means.  Wikipedia says:  Selflessness, the act of sacrificing ones own interest for the greater good.  Sacrificing ones own interest is the important part.
Let's face it people.  Most times our motivation is more about our own interest rather than the interest of the  greater good.   It's time to give some thought to what motivates us.  My hope is that the simple act of asking this question, "What is the motivation?"  will help to bring more awareness and consciousness to my actions.

Practicing humility is a challenge.  What's even more of a challenge is trying to practice humility for humility's sake and not because you want others to say  "Oh, wow! look how humble he/she is".   Try asking yourself this question the next time you have the opportunity to do some self-less service  "What is the motivation?".  Just an exercise in awareness.  No judgement required - simply awareness.  Give it a try.  You can learn so much about yourself from this exercise.

Back to yesterday's lesson in humility:  I expect that students are going to be disappointed when they show up for class and there's a substitute.  I have felt that same disappointment.  On several occasions, upon seeing the substitute, I tried to quick figure out a way to back out of the room without anyone noticing.  The reality is that the student's statement really had nothing to do with me. It was about his disappointment that his teacher wasn't there.   Besides, the motivation behind the statement wasn't to be hurtful.  He was simply not aware or conscious of the words he said.   As my friend, Jon, says "It ain't all about you, hon!"


  1. I know that student meant no harm, but you are a teacher and you deserve respect. Often that isn't extended in yoga classes where so much of it is about personality. I remember when I did yoga with the Sivanada centers and ashrams. I became very attached to one teacher: with him, I learned to do poses without much effort or anxiety: I could even do the splits comfortably. One day I came in and he had been moved to New York. I was really upset. Another student said to me: I don't care who teaches the class as long as I can go to a yoga class. That was an important thing to say. It's great to have teachers we adore, but it is even greater to be able to practice yoga period.

  2. Terrific INSIGHT Mirella and well worth sharing. I had a conversation with a woman two days ago about all of the service she has done and the good it has done for others. I reminded her of how it also SERVED her... and she at first seemed shock that I could make such a suggestion. But we conversed and ultimately she connected to what I was saying. Know that I'm not saying that selfless service can't include the self, but believing that there is more then meets the eye and more worth investigating has merit. The feeling state of disappointment need be recognized... but in that same vain... considering that there is a multifaceted appreciation of much more always going on inside and outside. Communication is sometimes not clear, concise or definitive, but rather a go around and back... Sometime it seems plausible to ask, are we clear? :-)