Anyone can be peaceful and happy when everything goes their way, when their every desire is fulfilled and they don't face disappointment, stubborn co-workers, wayward children, overdue bills, or health problems. It's also relatively easy to find a satisfying tranquility and joy while practicing Yoga at home or at your favorite Yoga studio, or when spending a week on a Yoga vacation. But these experiences are short-lived. Our wishes, no matter how heartfelt, don't always come true. Anyway, how many days or weeks can we spend on Yoga vacations, meditating, or practicing our Hatha Yoga routine? Karma Yoga is the Yoga that fills those gaps in our lives; that brings the peace and joy of Yoga into every hour of every day of our lives. It is Karma Yoga that takes Yoga from something we do a few hours a day to a lifestyle that supports and amplifies the benefits of all other Yoga practices.
Karma Yoga is based on living a life dedicated to selfless service. It is learning to take selfishness out of our actions and responses in life. It doesn't necessarily mean changing what you do for a living. It is a matter of refining, and perhaps altering the motive behind your actions. With a selfless attitude, any act can be a yogic act; any act can bring us joy.
The key to Karma Yoga's ability to bring calmness to the mind and joy to the heart is knowing that it is our expectations that bring stress, anxiety, and fear, not the act itself. Normally, the motive behind our actions is tainted by selfishness. To a lesser or greater degree, we tend to be self-centered in our intents. "How is this going to affect me," often tops our list of concerns in making a decision or how we react to or understand an event. In the name of Karma Yoga, we make a subtle, but powerful shift in our thinking. We seek that which brings about the greatest good in any situation. In doing this, we don't ignore our needs, but our vision has taken on a more holistic dimension; one of loving-kindness.
A Karma Yogi's life is based on selfless choices and outlooks. They act, but without egocentric expectations. Their actions are dedicated to the welfare of others, or to God. It is not only the most direct way to live a life of peace, wisdom, and joy, but it is a more sane way to live. Can we really control the outcome of our actions? To do so would mean that we either have amazing ESP abilities to predict the outcome of every act, or be able to control every factor in every situation. We all know that the results of our acts are unpredictable. Sometimes they disappoint us, sometimes delight us.
There is an adage in Yoga: Karma Yoga alone is enough to bring Self-realization. Karma Yoga shows us that each and every act, each and every situation, can be filled with Divine wisdom and the opportunity to grow. It releases us from the bonds of ego-centered acts and puts us in tune with the Divine Will.
Karma Yoga is also the path that tests and refines the gains we have made in the other branches of Yoga. It's relatively easy to be peaceful when we meditate, pray, study, or chant. The real tests of the depth of our growth will come, not from how far we can bend or how long we can sit in meditation, but from how peaceful, clear, and centered we remain when we face the successes and failures, surprises, and disappointments in daily life.
Part of what makes Karma Yoga so central in the practice of Yoga is that others benefit from our service. The world becomes a better place for our good works. Everyone wins when the spirit of Karma Yoga prevails.
One vital and wonderful point to keep in mind: there is a joy in serving. It's not that you get joy from serving. The joy comes form turning away from actions influenced by ignorance and selfish ego. There is no greater joy than to live for the sake of others. Try it. Pick one day and make it a Karma Yoga day. Do what you need to do, but take care not to harbor any selfish expectations. Do what you need to do, but do it for the welfare of others.
Let the harmony, peace, and joy of everyone be the goal behind all your actions. Your peace of mind will be assured.
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