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How Karma Yoga Can Keep You Sane

photo: Step on flickr

photo: Step on flickr

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.

photo: Vinni on flickr

photo: Vinni on flickr

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.

photo: melissa phillippe

photo: melissa phillippe

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.

Here’s why.

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.

photo: Joanna Orpia on flickr

photo: Joanna Orpia on flickr

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!

photo: David Bruner

photo: David Bruner

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?

photo: sung ming whang on flickr

photo: sung ming whang on flickr

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.

photo: flippinyank on flickr

photo: flippinyank on flickr

What did I know?

Nothing, apparently.

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.

photo: Morgan, US CPSC, and techchick94 on flickr

photo: Morgan, US CPSC, and techchick94 on flickr

What’s your experience with Karma Yoga? Share your comments below!

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16 Responses to How Karma Yoga Can Keep You Sane

  1. jeannette quinn bisbee April 22, 2014 at 6:12 am #

    Thank you so much; I have enjoyed all of your blogs, but this one really struck home. I have been doing a lot of creation and sending it out to the world, but it has seemed…..unreceived……But I have loved doing it! So, this blog reminds me to stick to my path of love and joy, and let go of my expectations.

    Thanks for sharing your story and journey! xoxo Jeannette

    • Z Egloff April 22, 2014 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Jeannette!!

      Yes, I love this. Yes!!! When you stick to you path of love and joy, you know you’re on the right path. Because the path of love and joy is always the right path!! The whole concept of Karma Yoga really brought this home for me.

      Thank you for your comment. I always love it when readers come forth and let me know that they’re enjoying the blog. :)


  2. Claire April 22, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    I love you Ze!

    • Z Egloff April 22, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      I love you too, C!! 😀

  3. Sauda April 22, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Hey Z! I love this one and I think it goes right along with Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: Be impeccable with your word, Don’t take anything personally, Don’t make assumptions and Always do your best. You know When I perform without abandon completely committed to honoring the Divine within me it’s such magic and so empowering. Really all we can do is do our best and trust that the Universe will take care of the rest. And when I do it from that space they love it but more importantly I love it because I can feel the communion with the Divine. It’s a great spiritual practice for life.

    • Z Egloff April 22, 2014 at 10:55 am #

      Hi Sauda,

      It’s always so fun for me to “see” you here!

      Yes, I love this description. Performance as a Spiritual Practice – it’s deep. Truly. And I hear everything you’re saying – Yes! It’s about just giving it all/letting the Divine give Its all when we’re up there. I mean, ultimately life is about doing this all the time, really. But the whole performance thing really is a wonderful way to continually surrender to the Divine.

      Thank you for your comment! 😀


  4. Jerrine April 22, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    thanks i needed that…i’ve been working very intensely on my book. the drop dead date is one week from today. I am feeling a little stage fright…it relieves a lot of myself, poor choices, love affairs i’m not proud of, but are good story material. If some one doesn’t like it -OH NO. I’ve gotten over thinking i want everyone to like me- some do some don’t. but the book is different, funny i thought i’d handled that emotion.

    • Z Egloff April 22, 2014 at 11:32 am #

      Hi Jerrine,

      My experience with this whole Karma Yoga gig is that when I find my dharma, it’s not only awesome, it also tends to take EVERYTHING I have. Which includes the more angsty parts as well. Good times!! But then the Divine takes care of the angsty parts too. I know that the same is true for you. Sending you love as you finish your awesome, full-of-heart, full-of-YOU project!! :)


  5. Laura April 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    I never noticed it feeling flat. Flat must be “in the eye of beholder” kinda thing. I loved it both times. But…I love everything you two do!

    • Z Egloff April 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

      Hi Laura,

      Yeah, I guess it was in the eye of the beholder/rapper kinda thing. :)

      Thanks for sharing the love!


  6. Diane April 22, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Hi Z. As usual, your blog found a home in me. The other thing I notice when I pay attention to my gifts,rather than the reaction I had somehow imagined to be the ONE I was supposed to have, is that i get clearer about what it is I do want. I might even change my mind! But at least I would be changing it for my own reasons, and not as a reaction to what I though someone else might have thought. What a tricky path that is.
    thanks again. diane

    • Z Egloff April 23, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      Hi Diane,

      I know, it can be tricky at times, can’t it?! I hear you. Especially when it comes to what “other people might think.” More and more, I find that even “what other people might think” is totally made up by me anyway. Plus it’s just not worth the energy worrying about. Not that I don’t still do it. AND – the path of continually checking in with my own desires is a wonderful and fulfilling process.

      Thanks for your comment!


  7. Marlene Cobb-Carlson April 23, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Thanks Z for the reminder to “Let go and let God”. Love reading your blogs. Thanks for posting the link on Facebook.

    • Z Egloff April 23, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      Hi Marlene,

      Great to see you here! Glad you liked the post. :)

      And you’re right: The phrase “Let go and let God” really does sum it all up.

      Come back again any time!


  8. Sherry April 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm #


    I love being ME. I wasn’t always this way.

    I have been loving being ME a lot, lately.

    I’ve been noticing that I really like how I treat people and how I get treated back. But, that is not the point, is it? The how I get treated back, point, I mean. It’s how I treat people is the fun part – that IS what I get out of it. I am releasing how they feel about me back. It doesn’t matter.

    I don’t know if I’ve articulated this correctly but – This is something I am noticing and, of course, your Blog is the Universe telling me that I am right on target.

    Thank you!

    • Z Egloff April 23, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

      Hi Sherry,

      Yay! I love getting to be the voice of the Universe. So fun!

      And I really like the focus here, as far as your interactions with others. How we treat people is totally under our control. I especially like this because we can’t control how others will treat us back. Sometimes it will be with kindness and sometimes not. But if the focus is just on how we treat others, and enjoying that process – we’re free. Yes.

      Thank you for sharing this!


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