The yoga that best fits the temperament for many of us living in the western world is Karma Yoga, the yoga of action. We are all about doing. We strive to do more in the course of a day, or a lifetime. We desire to better ourselves financially, so we can do more with our families and friends. When we meet someone new, the first question we often ask is “What do you do?”
The word karma means “to do” and as a yoga of action it recognizes that you cannot be in a physical body and not do. Life is action. Even the decisions you make not to do something, are a form of doing. The question the ancient yogis posed is this: Is it possible to be in action, without losing your spiritual connection and balance in the process?
One of the great books from India is the Bhagavad Gita, written sometime before 500 BC. The yoga of action is explained in exquisite detail in a conversation on the battlefield between Arjuna, the warrior, and his charioteer, Krishna, who is the voice of the infinite. Krishna asks Arjuna to examine who is doing the action. Is it Arjuna, a man separate from all others, including those on the other side of the battlefield? If so, then his actions are determined by his upbringing, beliefs, previous defeats and victories, and what others think of him. What if, Krishna poses, Arjuna is not a solitary, independent, isolated entity traveling through time and space towards what can only conclude in his death. What if Arjuna (and all of us really) has deluded himself into thinking he is separate, when really he is made of the same essence as the universe itself.
It turns out that the subtle distinction between seeing yourself as separate and seeing yourself as connected plays out in large and small ways in how you act, what actions you engage in, and your inner experience of the actions themselves. If you come to see that underneath it all, you are connected to an all encompassing, ever-present, unending and infinite source (no matter what you call it) then you come to see that who you really are is a receiver, rather than a transmitter. All you have has come to you, and through you, but does not originate from you. This shifts your attention from trying to be a better transmitter, to focus instead on how to improve your reception.
Before you act, you ask, “What is the highest good in this situation?” And you ask this question of an infinite source, of which you are a part, and quietly listen, asking for this source to fill your thoughts, words and actions with the highest and best actions possible.
This leads to a different kind of action, because when you act in service to the infinite, you also act in harmony with all those you touch. In this way, Krishna tells Arjuna, you can give yourself fully to the action itself, and not to an end result living somewhere in the future. Krishna puts it this way, “Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice. Better than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace.”
This practice is only difficult if you have been conditioned to think that who you are depends on how well what you do is judged by others. Much of the stress in life is not due to the actions themselves, but how much we believe our self worth, attractiveness, and relevance is tied up in the result. Worry, angst, and all other future-oriented emotions disappear when you dive deeply into the action itself, and find your fulfillment in the moment, not the awards ceremony at the end.
This is what being in action is all about. In the simple act of being, you absorb and are infused by the infinite, which is the source of all there is, including you. And not being separate from it gives you access to all that it is, including the ability to create something from nothing, and the opportunity for endless improvement.
One way to practice receptivity to the infinite is through prayer. A prayer to the infinite need not be merely to influence outcomes, such as what happens when we want someone to be protected from harm, or to be healed. A prayer can also be a sincere request to see more clearly, to be filled with wisdom and to know the infinite more fully in thoughts, words and actions.
I encourage you to find some time this week for quiet contemplation. Consider your source. Where is home for you? And when you say the word I, as in “I want,” or “I know,” what is the source of that I? Try not to settle on an answer. Keep it open, so you can be filled with new insights daily.