Most of us live busy lives with overbooked calendars. We carry lengthy to-do lists in the hopes of conquering them sooner than later. Yet, every time we cross an item off, it seems as though more items appear to take its place. It is as though we spend our day on a leaky boat, bailing it out with a bucket just to keep from sinking. We end up exhausted and feeling no further ahead. We may ask ourselves, when will this struggle end?
Though stress and speed are indeed signs of the times, the problem of how to find peace in a busy life is nothing new. In fact, the ancient art of yoga addressed this particular issue thousands of years ago in a prescribed spiritual practice called Karma Yoga.
There are many different kinds of yoga. The most commonly known physical practice of yoga, hatha yoga, is only one aspect of a broad life science. The yogic traditions understand all that is to be an expression of pure consciousness, or the divine. All that has form, all that is before you, around you, within you, is the result of an eternal love affair between spirit and matter. The Hindus call this Lila, the divine play unfolding, of which you are a part.
In karma yoga, the aspiring yogi is asked to practice seeing action as a means to self-liberation. He understands that nothing is happening “to” him. Instead, he sees everything in his life as an opportunity to welcome this moment as an expression of the divine. WIthin it, there is a sacred teaching to embody. He learns to see the tasks that are before him as an opportunity to serve this truth and realize God. In this practice, he does not see the person he serves or the tools he uses as separate from himself. He sees all that is as a reflection of himself and of the divine. To serve another is to serve God.
My spiritual teacher, a realized master from South India known as Amma, speaks of our inherent interconnection:
The sun shines down. Its image reflects 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.
She teaches spiritual aspirants,
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.
The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit word “kri”, meaning “to do”. In the 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, desires, likes or dislikes, and without attachment to the fruits of one’s actions.
In the sacred Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, the divine avatar Krishna teaches karma yoga. He explains that one attains the Supreme by working without expectations, motives, or anticipation of its outcome. He teaches us to surrender all our works to the divine, “without desires for profit, with no claims to proprietorship, and free from lethargy and fight.” Krishna explains that work done in this spirit purifies our mind and gradually makes us fit to experience the divine in all things.
He states that it is not necessary to become a hermit, or be without action, in order to practice a spiritual life. You don’t need to run off to an ashram, or lock yourself away from your busy life. It is through awakened action right where you are, meeting what is with openness, alertness and ease, that you meet the divine.
It is our habit to feel that we must conquer the day, and overcome that which it brings. The karma yogi instead feels he is already on his meditation cushion, even when he is washing dishes, changing diapers or walking down the street to catch a bus. He is never separate from the divine. He always has the opportunity to soften to this moment as it is, and welcome the wisdom and compassion it brings.
EXERCISE: KARMA YOGA
Write a to-do list of all the items that linger undone, that may be causing you to feel compressed or stressed.
Now look at the list. Take a moment and consider the possibility that all the tasks in your life are an expression of pure consciousness arising, a call from unconditional love bringing you back to oneness. Welcome them as a living meditation. Let them be a reminder to be mindful and present in all you do, while you feel interconnected, loved and supported within the whole.
What would life be like, if you perceived the moment this way?
What if you are not separate from your tasks?
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, you learn to live each moment in the divine?
Now take a fresh look at the list and allow yourself to feel rooted, vital and expansive as you look at them.
As you feel moved to act, do so from a place of relaxed confidence, as you humbly play your part within the whole. Stay open to grace, ever present.
Parvati is an award-winning musician (“I Am Light”, “Electro Yog”, “Yoga In The Nightclub”), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (“The Grace Mindset”, “Aonani of Avalon”, “The Three Supreme Secrets for Lasting Happiness”) and founder of the not-for-profit Parvati.org. All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS). More info: parvati.tv; parvati.org.