We habitually think of tasks on our to-do list as obstacles to our happiness that are to be conquered and cleared, so that we may find freedom and ease. New Year’s resolutions can burden our already bursting-at-the-seams task lists, despite our good intentions to somehow create a happier self.
We want change because we are unhappy where we are. We run from our problems to perceived solutions, often not taking time to make friends with the present. In the whirl of lists and the determination to complete them, we can forget to act with consciousness. Yet sages tell us that everything that is before us, around us and within us is an expression of the Divine.
Yoga is an ancient discipline designed to free us from the bondage of our ego and return us to the undivided state of pure consciousness, or enlightenment. When we hear the word yoga, we may immediately think of the physical practice of yoga, Hatha yoga. Yet this is only one small aspect of a broad life science. There are many different kinds of yogas.
In the practice of karma yoga, the aspiring yogi is asked to see action as a means to self-liberation. This is a practical form of yoga ideal for those of us who lead busy lives in a fast-paced world. A karma yogi openly welcomes tasks before him/her as opportunities to serve and realize God. In this practice, serving is not seen as something done to another, to someone who we perceive to be separate from ourself. The karma yogi learns to see all that is as a reflection of oneself and of the divine light of pure consciousness. The yogi knows that to serve another is to serve God and himself. With this attitude, the illusion of separation is challenged and the walls of our ego crumble.
The word “karma” is derived from the Sanskrit word “kri”, meaning “to do”. In its most basic sense, “karma” means action and “yoga” means union. Karma Yoga then is the path of union through action. Karma yoga is described as a way of acting and thinking without thought of personal gratification, or one’s desires, likes or dislikes. One acts without being attached to the fruits of one’s actions.
The revered humanitarian and spiritual master known as Amma, profiled in the Activism section of this issue, is a world-renowned karma yogi. She says: “The sun shines, its image reflected in a thousand different pots filled with water. The reflections are many, but they are each reflecting the same sun. Similarly, when we come to know who we truly are, we will see ourselves in all people.”
Amma encourages us to “fill your hearts with love and express it in all you do”. Of karma yoga, she says, “Do your work and perform your duties with all your heart. Try to work selflessly with love. Pour yourself into whatever you do. Then you will feel and experience beauty and love in every field of work. Love and beauty are within you. Try to express them through your actions and you will definitely touch the very source of bliss.”
We don’t need to run off to an ashram, or lock ourselves away from our busy lives, in order to practice a spiritual life. We need to act with consciousness. Karma yoga shows us that through action and non-resistance to what is, through meeting what is with openness, alertness and ease, we meet the Divine.
What if this year, you shifted your perspective and practiced seeing all the tasks in your life as a call from the Divine back to Oneness? What would that be like? What if the tasks you resist are actually your teachers, guiding you to wholeness? What if by learning to act lovingly, with integrity and kindness in all you do, you are moving in your actions towards the joy you have always dreamed of finding? This year, give karma yoga a try. Take your yoga practice off your mat and through your daily life.
Parvati Devi is the editor-in-chief of Parvati Magazine. In addition to being an internationally acclaimed Canadian singer, songwriter, producer and performer, she is a yoga teacher and holistic educator, having studied yoga and meditation since 1987, and developed her own yoga teaching style called YEM™: Yoga as Energy Medicine. Her current show, “Yoga in the Nightclub”, brings forward a conscious energy into the pop mainstream.