Time for Some Karma Yoga?
I know a lot of us, including myself, have gotten tremendous benefit from various forms of yoga, which can help with strength and cultivating movement integrated with breath. These forms of physical yoga provide deep benefits for body and mind. But yoga as it emerged in India thousands of years ago has multiple levels of practices associated with it and is grounded in the spiritual.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word Yoga means 'union'. You can think of it is a union of the individual spirit with the universal spirit that some call God but is also known as the universe, the one life, all that is. Yoga is a combination of practices, which are designed to bring the individual into harmony with life at the deepest level. One aspect of yoga that was explored by the mystic Ram Dass is Karma Yoga. This way of understanding yoga gives us some indications of how to bring the spirit of yoga into our everyday work lives and into the work path that we choose.
In his book Paths to God which is focused on interpreting the Hindu sacred text the Baghavad Gita he says that Karma Yoga:
“...embraces a spiritual path of engagement in the world rather than withdrawal from it. I see the Gita as... a guidebook for bringing spirit into action. I find the teachings of the Gita reflected in the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The Gita is a path of yoga that’s designed for a life of action rather than a life of contemplation, and it tells us how to carry on our spiritual quest right in the midst of our lives in the world. In practicing true karma yoga, we sacrifice ourselves and our gratifications into selfless, dharmic action. The ritual of sacrifice satisfies some deep yearning in us to complete a cycle, to offer back for what we’ve been given.”
Dass is bringing forward this idea of sacrifice to emphasize that love of service to the greater good needs to be the driver of our actions in our work in the world, not our ego or the material rewards we may get or the results we might achieve (though those come too and differ in importance for each person). When he says that we have a deep need to complete a cycle, we can think of it as giving back to life in our unique way filled with gratitude for being given life and being able to experience the wonder of existence right where we are. This isn’t some denial of the difficulties of life – the main character in the Gita is a warrior on the verge of being engulfed in a brutal war - but a deeper understanding of how to be effective in the world and how to experience personal bliss as well.
How can we bring Karma Yoga more into our work in the world?
- Discern and pursue a work path that uses your unique skills, talents, passions and that makes your heart sing (or stay in the one you are on and upgrade it by being in passionate service)
- Do that work with gratitude for the opportunity, for the path you are walking, and for your life
- As you do the work, know that you are fully integrated into the one life (the divine oneness) and offer the work up as service to the whole
- Be unattached to the outcomes of your work so that you stay aligned with your purpose
This is all about the spirit in which you do the work, and as you focus on that your fulfillment and the experience of the people you work with and serve each day can shift into something beyond what most of us think of as “work.” Enjoy experimenting with this approach and let me know if you want help to discern your highest work path.