Does this sound familiar?
You have a project due for work. Maybe it’s a presentation. Maybe it’s a report. Maybe it’s a performance piece, complete with trained ducks, rings of fire, and a dramatic rendition of “I’m a Little Teapot.”
Whatever it is, you give it your all. You prepare. You practice.
When the time comes to deliver the goods, your preparation and practice pay off. You do a great job.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is what happens next.
Let’s say everyone is pleased with your performance. Except for one person.
Let’s say this person’s opinion doesn’t really matter in the greater scheme of things – it’s not your boss or your mother – but their criticism still manages to get under your skin.
How dare they critique me like that? Couldn’t they see what an amazing job I did? Couldn’t they feel the power of the ducks and the rings of fire? Why can’t they get it?
Try as you might, you just can’t get the critique out of your head.
Or maybe there’s no critique. Maybe every single person loved what you did. You got nothing but congratulations and slaps on the back (in a good way).
You bask in the acclaim and approval, soaking it in like sunlight.
At least, for a while.
Then something else enters the scene. A small, niggling thought:
What if I can’t live up to this? What if I blow it next time?
Even though you’ve received nothing but praise, your knickers somehow manage to get twisted around your neck.
Which, let’s face it, is both a disastrous fashion statement and an impediment to basic functioning.
Enter Karma Yoga.
The concept comes from the Bhagavad Gita and the four paths to realization.
There’s Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion. Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge. And Raja Yoga, the path of meditation.
And then there’s Karma Yoga, the path of action.
Though all the paths are equally valuable, and it would be totally un-spiritual to say that one path is better than another, Karma Yoga is really the best path offers a unique and powerful path to transformation.
The basic concept of Karma Yoga goes like this:
Find your passion. Find your unique gifts and talents. And then give them freely. Give them without expectation of reward or acclaim. Give them without worrying about what happens once you give. The Divine will take care of that. And, in the process, you will find your soul.
Actually, what the Hindus say is that you will “achieve liberation.” By this, they mean that you will break the cycle of death and rebirth and achieve unity with the Divine, or Brahman.
In current spiritual parlance, we might say that you become enlightened. Or at least feel really, really good.
If you were practicing Karma Yoga in the example above, you’d pour your heart into your presentation/report/performance piece, and then you’d let it go.
It wouldn’t matter if someone complained. It wouldn’t matter if no one complained. None of that would be any of your business. All you’d have to do is give the performance everything you’ve got, and turn the rest over to the Divine.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
I recently had the opportunity to practice Karma Yoga at a spiritual retreat.
(I know, that sounds redundant, doesn’t it?)
My wife Melissa was facilitating the music for a spiritual retreat, and I had accompanied her there. At several points during the retreat, Melissa and I had the opportunity to perform a few of our raps for the group.
Sounds harmless enough, yes?
The tricky part came with my complete amnesia about the basic properties of Karma Yoga.
One night, we performed our “I Am” rap. In this particular tune, we have the group stand and do movements along with the words to the song. I am incredible, powerful, a miracle, Divine!
We had recently performed “I Am” to a crowd of hundreds of people. Now we were doing it in a room of twenty-five women.
We’ve performed “I Am” to smaller groups before, but this one felt different. Somehow, the performance felt flat. Something didn’t click.
When Melissa and I went back to our room that night, I was fretting and fussing.
What did I do wrong? Why didn’t it feel good? Was there something else I should have done? Maybe brought out the trained ducks and rings of fire?
My fussing went on for quite a while, until the brick of Karma Yoga hit me on the head:
It wasn’t my job to figure out why the group had responded like they had. Or what their response had meant.
All I had to think about were two things:
1. Had I given the best performance I could?
Yes. Yes, I had.
2. Was I now willing to release it to the Divine?
No. No, I was not. Okay, okay! Yes!
With my head screwed on straight and my knickers released from my neck, I was able to go to sleep with peace and ease.
The next day, we found out that the facilitator of the retreat had loved the “I Am” rap. She asked if we would do it again with the group that morning.
We did, and everything felt different. The group knew the moves from the previous day and performed them with vigor and confidence. I responded to their energy and threw myself into my performance with renewed enthusiasm.
When it was over, I reexamined my reaction to the previous performance.
Maybe I had been wrong in my assessment. Maybe they were just learning the moves the first time. Maybe they were tired from a long day. Maybe the cheesecake served at dinner was wreaking havoc on their digestive systems.
What did I know?
I’d assessed the first performance as bad and the second one as good, but none of that was accurate.
Truth be told, it wasn’t up to me to try to figure out how people were responding to what I was doing.
All I had to do was give it my all.
This is not to say that I can’t review a performance after the fact and figure out if there’s something I’d like to improve. A process of review in the spirit of improvement is part of perfecting what I’m doing, and it serves my dharma.
But obsessing over how people react to the performance, or how I think they react to the performance, is not my dharma. That’s the dharma of the Tortured and Miserable.
And who wants a ticket to that ride?
Instead, get on board the Karma Yoga shuttle!
You get to do what you love and turn over the yucky stuff to the Divine!
And if you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll get to perform “I’m a Little Teapot” accompanied by singing ducks and rings of fire.
What’s your experience with Karma Yoga? Share your comments below!