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“Put your heart, mind,
and soul into even
your smallest acts”

By Ronald Stiles, husband of Irmina Santaika,
for VilNews

“Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts.
This is the secret of success.”
/Swami Sivananda

Nestled quietly in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Buckingham County, lies the Satchdananda Ashram, also known as Yogaville.  My wife, Irmina Santaika, spent a week there last attending Sonia Sumar’s “Yoga for the Special Child”. Sonia, also known as Sivakami used yoga to help her daughter, Roberta, to overcome challenges that came with having Down’s Syndrome. Savikami eventually developed this methodology that has helped thousands of children with special needs over the years.

Roberta transitioned from this life at an early age. Her life and how, with her mother’s dedicated effort, she overcame Down’s Syndrome to live a fulfilling and active life, is in itself, a story of success. Perhaps, on some unconscious level, that is what prompted Irmina to use Swami Sivananda’s quote as the caption for a photo she posted on Facebook of Savikami and I. The photo was taken when we visited Savikami at Yogaville to present her with an Icon portrait of Roberta Sumar done on a small cedar plank that Irmina had painted.

Success.  What is it? There are many books written about how to achieve it. Roberta Sumar’s success in overcoming Down’s is certainly a living example of it. One definition from a dictionary states that success is “The favorable or prosperous termination of anything attempted; the attainment of a proposed object; prosperous issue.” I find this a rather cold and uninspiring definition. Perhaps this is because I associate success with joy and happiness in a person’s life. Swami Sivananda says, “Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.”  I believe that a successful individual is one who does things that bring him or her satisfaction, things that allow a person to put their heart, mind, and soul into even the smallest act associated with the overall effort. Irmina paints Byzantine Icons on small planks of cedar, praying and meditating as she works. Her art is beautiful and inspiring, successful, because there is joy in her effort. Sonia Sumar used yoga, loving moment by loving moment, to shape her daughter’s life into something vibrant and fulfilling. These are examples of success.

Unless you are doing what brings joy to your soul, then it is difficult to imagine you can fully dedicate your heart, mind, and soul to the task. This can create a bit of a conundrum in our lives.  As we move through life, many of us gravitate towards occupations and hobbies that we enjoy. We are generally successful at them because we naturally put our “heart, mind, and soul” into them. However, is being successful at these core activities the same as the “success” that Swami Sivananda is speaking of? I purport that it is only an element or a portion of “success”.

There are meals to cook, grass to cut, dishes to clean, basements that flood, and a list of life’s interruptions and chores that flows along indefinitely.  You have to put your heart, mind, and soul into even these smallest that they may be performed successfully. If not, your success is limited to only a portion of your life, resulting in only partial satisfaction in life. This results in us finding dissatisfaction with aspects of our lives, and can rob us of joy and happiness. How to fix this?
We fix this by a change of perspective. It is necessary to realize that these smallest acts, such as cleaning dishes after the evening meal, have an important role in our life. We need to respect these chores and treat them with the same regard that we have for those things that excite us. Though I’m not a Zen master by any stretch of the imagination, I believe it would be accurate to say that we must reach a state of Zen in all aspects of our living and breathing. We must find joy each living moment regardless of the task before us so that we can put our hearts, minds, and souls into even the smallest act.

Luke 16:10-12   New International Version (NIV)
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

Category : Blog archive
  • Ron

    Dear Dr. Bakunas,
    Your words bring warmth to my soul and just a bit of tearing around the eyes! Thank you for you comments and the sharing of your own wise observations and learning. As I read them, they seemed to actually complete my article. Again, many thanks!

    Love and Blessings,

    October 24 2012
    • Boris Bakunas

      Mr. Styles,

      When I read your article, many thoughts flashed through my mind. Let me just share a few:

      My heart skipped a beat when I read what you wrote about success: "I believe that a successful individual is one who does things that bring him or her satisfaction, things that allow a person to put their heart, mind, and soul into even the smallest act…" I recall one of my relatives who regarded herself as a failure, because she believed that cooking and cleaning house were not regarded as meritorious occupations. Yet she was a marvelous housekeeper. I never saw a speck of dust in her apartment. Her cooking was not only delicious, but extremely healthy — and the results were immediately apparent. All of her friends marveled at how she looked fifteen years younger than her years would suggest. Having cleaned house, cooked my own meals, and cared for my son when he was a toddler and I was unemployed, I know how challenging the chores of daily life can be. But done regularly, chores become effortless habits. In the words of the great philosopher Aristotle, "We are what we repeatedly do. Virtue {excellence in living] is not an act, but a habit"

      Psychologists who have studied happiness have learned that material gain boosts happiness for only a short time. Dr. Philip Brickman studies a group of happiness and found that while they experienced a temporary boost in mood, within as short a time as a month, they returned to their former levels of mood. People in many prosperous countries like the United States, reported being no more happy during the economic boom of the nineties than they were decades ago. In fact, the incidence of depression, especially among young people, has skyrocketed.

      Like you, I have learned that the happiest moments of my life have not been associated with the achievement of success as defined by the society I live. After passing my oral examination for my doctorate, I was surprised that instead of feeling jubilant, I felt strangely detached, almost empty. When was I happiest? As a child playing with my friends in a poor working-class neighborhood in Chicago, or when I first discovered the joys of learning on my own and spent an entire summer, sneaking into the adult section of our local library. As a teacher when I saw the gleam of sudden understanding flash across a student's face when she or he grasp a difficult concept. As a mountain hiker, beholding the beauties of the verdant valley below. Harvard psychologist Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar has noted his best-selling book "Happier": "Meaningful and pleasurable activities can function like a candle in a dark room…For a single parent, a happiness booster in the form of a meaningful outing with her children over the weekend can change her overall experience of life…"

      Although material things are important in so far as they help us obtain the necessities we need to survive, neither they nor fame will bring us success, which to me seems like a very dangerous word due to its ambiguity. As you have observed, if we cannot take joy in the acts we do today, when will we experience the happiness we seek?

      Dr. Boris Bakunas, PhD

      October 10 2012


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