Karma. The west has twisted this Sanskrit concept into a pop culture excuse for… well, everything. Let’s fix that, shall we?
The word karma simply means “action,” and from the classical yoga perspective, actions are vitally important. In fact, karma offers one of few paths to self-realization.
Karma yoga understands that actions have consequences, so what we do matters. Therefore, karma yogis practice acting with intention.
This isn’t easy! The influence of past karmas can be strong. We may feel compelled to act according to how past karmas imprinted us, regardless of what present-day values we hold.
The True Teaching
With practice and attention, we can build enough awareness to begin recognizing karmic impulses and open up the possibility of choosing something different.
Stepping back from habits of thought and belief empowers us to act in alignment with our values, rather than being driven by ego-centric, karmic conditioning. We can do beautiful work when ego isn’t invested in the outcome, and action becomes an end in itself.
Since it’s difficult to interrupt the habit of focusing on our own needs, karma yogis perform selfless service. Confession: Even though I want my life to be about something bigger than myself, motivating for karma yoga service projects doesn’t come naturally to me. I really have to make an effort.
Along the way, I’ve discovered a secret! As long as you’re trying to do something that’s not about you, even if it feels forced, the path will rise to meet your feet.
In high school, for example, I went on a church “mission trip” to rural Honduras. I had no idea what I was doing, but the trip extracted me from my affluent, pop culture, teen life for the first time …and turned my worldview upside down.
The Honduran people lived close to the Earth and to one another in a way I had never seen before. My materialism began to erode, and my heart grew. That trip caused the single largest leap in maturity of my life.
Later, as an adult, I volunteered at a homeless shelter one Thanksgiving. Many guests were gripped by a frightening state of rage. Others struggled to communicate. Some were just totally checked out.
I came away with profound gratitude for my own mental health and ability to navigate the world. I saw clearly how vulnerable we can be to the forces of karma and how precariously our capacity for change rests upon our capacity for awareness.
Healing From Grief
This year, Hurricane Dorian just barely passed us by on the same day when the dive boat Conception caught fire and sank in California, taking two dear friends down with it.
I was gobsmacked by their tragic deaths, by being spared from a hurricane but thrust into the jaws of grief, and by my cross-country distance from the support of a community to grieve with. After days of devastated uselessness, I schlepped my sad heart into town to help sort donated hurricane supplies for delivery to the disaster zone of the Bahamas.
It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but the work healed me. That one act of selfless service turned the corner on my grief and helped me begin to flow with life, again.
All Karmas Are Shared
What we do matters. However, always remember this: Results are complicated. The karmic currents of this interconnected world converge and diverge endlessly. We are caught in a Universal web of shared karmas.
We can only pour this present moment action into the mix, with an intentional whisper of blessing, and then let go.
I have no idea how volunteering in Honduras, at the homeless shelter, or for the Bahamas impacted the people I wanted to help. I only know how it impacted me.
Karma yoga is a path of self-realization. When we step forward in selfless service, ironically, it’s self that transforms …and by transforming ourselves, we heal the world.
Our actions create the future. There’s no escaping this fact. We are setting up new sequences of cause and effect right now. So ask yourself what type of world you want to live in, and whatever your answer is… act like it.
About the Author
Delana Thompson helps spiritually-inclined entrepreneurs express their hearts and expand their influence with authentic copywriting, project management, and professional delivery of their online content. Her clients include teachers and practitioners of meditation, yoga, ayurveda, shamanic healing, astrology, and fine art. When she’s not writing marketing emails or designing landing pages, you’ll find Delana salsa dancing, practicing meditation, planning a trip, listening to a podcast, speaking Spanish, or missing all her faraway friends. Visit Delana on LinkedIn to learn more about her business.