Always, inspiration for themes in my teaching comes from what I see around me in the world and what is taking place in my personal life. They say one teaches best what one needs to learn, and I have certainly learned a lot about karma yoga in the last few months.
Mahatma Ghandi Karma Yogi
We are heading back to Springhead Centre for Sustainable Living in Dorset on the May bank holiday weekend for our third yoga retreat there. Inspired by the spirit of karma (action), our yoga practice will be centred on the heart chakra, and we will be practicing with awareness of how much of our lives is lived in anticipation of what is coming back to us, and how much is lived just for the joy of living. Our yoga can help us to live more mindfully.
Karma yoga is the practice of selfless service, and is a complete path of yoga in itself, the others being Jnan yoga (path of wisdom), Raj yoga (path of meditation), and Bhakti yoga (path of devotion). Most yogis choose to balance their practice amongst the four paths although there are those who devote themselves almost exclusively to either service in the world, philosophical thought, internal practices of concentration and meditation, or chanting the names of the beloved.
We are increasingly driven by outcomes, always looking forward to see what we will reap from our effort. This is apparent in the work environment where targets are being placed not only on sales people but on doctors, teachers and police – systems that once were in place as an integral part of the country’s infrastructure are now being required to justify their existence with hard evidence of results. Elsewhere, we are always being told about what we can get, how much we should want, and how we can be clever and get back more than we give.
A few months ago, I found myself in a caring role for a friend who is suffering from serious physical and mental illness. I earnestly set about making life as comfortable and easy as I possibly could for her while she went through the trauma of a life-changing diagnosis and I counted myself lucky to be in a position where I could help; often friends and family of people in a similar situation feel redundant and unsure as to what they can offer. I cooked and cleaned and listened and accommodated any changes required around the house that would make her life safer and easier. Aren’t I a little magic porridge pot of sweetness and light?
Not quite. It’s so easy to be a jolly spring, gushing forth the milk of human kindness when one’s actions are being appreciated, witnessed or at least acknowledged – in other words, it’s easy to give when there’s something coming back. So what happens after months of daily acts of care go by and those acts are unnoticed or taken for granted? What happens when kind words are met with scowls and growls and any action at all triggers criticism? Still brimming with unconditional love? Didn’t think so.
Every day I receive messages from www.tut.com which is a site run by Mike Dooley, a proponent of manifestation and abundance. These sweet little messages are a much needed daily reminder that I am part of something much greater. The other day “The Universe” sent me this (via TUT):
the trouble with troublesome people is that they often have much to teach to those they trouble.
It is so annoyingly true, that every challenge, every irritation, every obstructive person is one of your teachers, and although it is unpleasant to come up against resistance within and without, it’s a chance to look at what is really going on for you. When confronted with suspicion and criticism as a return for my loving efforts I did not inwardly smile kindly and float away on a breeze of boundless compassion, I felt resentful, unappreciated, betrayed, critical and indignant – “after everything I’ve done for you!!!” I said to myself. That’s NOT karma yoga, by the way. That’s doing something nice but then expecting to bathe in the glory of appreciation and gratitude.
I needed to get myself out of this cycle of needing something back, so every time I washed the dishes, or cleaned the bathroom and more importantly every time I caught myself contemplating withdrawing one of these offerings, I would think about the action in and of itself, put a smile on my face and consciously make the act an offering of love, detaching myself from any hopes of how the act would be received. This was a refreshing liberation from the shackles of expectation and made my day and my heart much lighter. More recently, a friend showed me an interview in the Inspired Times with Satish Kumar, a teacher, former editor of Resurgence magazine and activist for positive change. In it, he talks about how he draws his inspiration from Nature, and he uses the example of an apple tree. He says an apple tree just keeps on giving, it doesn’t count what it’s getting in return, it gives in abundance and indiscriminately. Thank you Satish, thank you a thousand times. When I found myself to be a perceived adversary of my friend and still in a position where I was in a caring role, and about a hair’s breadth from saying something I knew I was going to regret, I thought about Satish’s little apple tree, and that was my gateway from my small, ego driven self into my big, capital lettered Self. I didn’t manage to stay in the big Self for very long at the best of times but it was enough to keep me going.
The Bhagavad Gita ft. Krishna: The Godfather of Karma Yoga
I now have a profound respect for anyone in a caring role, especially those caring for the disabled, the mentally ill and the elderly. This is pure karma yoga and is one of the only true labours of love. It requires a surrender of the ego beyond our normal everyday capacity in order to really appreciate action as its own reward, and it’s a big mental and emotional leap for all of us who have been brought up in the age of materialism and feedback. There is joy and freedom in serving, and when we really let go of outcomes we can enjoy the actions that we make so much more, as they are free from conditions and they are true acts of love.
This year at Springhead, some of our guests will be doing a karma yoga shift in the kitchen to get into the spirit of things. However, it’s not all about cooking and cleaning so we won’t be putting you all to work. We will be looking at how every act that we make can be an offering in and of itself if we give it our care and attention, and we infuse it with intention. This is the basis of Mindfulness and can help us to live happier, more abundant lives.
Come on retreat with us this May! we still have some spaces left. If you’d like to come along and do yoga with us at Springhead you can find more information on the webpage: www.yogabynature.org. This year we have Ali (Piriamvada) coming along to give us a gong bath and a taste of Kundalini yoga, and Tim Chalice will be leading us in kirtan. We’ll also have an optional afternoon meditation workshop as well as twice daily yoga.
Contact Morven 07938 889028/ email@example.com.