The wisdom of Karma Yoga

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Giggling about life. There are a couple of scooters outside as decoration we take in at the end of the day.

 “Selfless service will make you Divine
          ~Swami Sivananda

When it gets really busy at work—and it’s almost always really busy—one of my bosses says everything twice. “Cutlery to table 60. Cutlery to table 60,” he says as he rushes past with two arms full of dishes he’s just cleared. “Cabinet service only, now. We’re doing cabinet service only.” “Someone follow me with the steak sandwich, please. Someone follow me with the steak sandwich.”

It’s helpful, actually, since I’m not yet fluent in Kiwi—a quick and mumbled language—and don’t often hear something the first time. Or the second time.

I repeat the phrases under my breath, slowing them down and attempting a translation. I’m working on it.

Speed isn’t just in his manner of speaking, Rhys and Leanne are a quick-moving power couple who’ve created a business to match. Lambretta’s is busy, and there are few better settings in which to learn about attachment to finishing a task than in a bustling café.

Whenever I get far enough along in a conversation with someone new to mention I spent three years living in an ashram doing karma yoga, I’m always quick to define exactly what that is. Karma yoga: doing the work that needs to be done without attachment to the various outcomes and watching the mind in the process.

In popular culture, karma, the Sanskrit word meaning action, means something akin to you reap what you sow, but that definition feels incomplete to me. It turns life into something linear rather than something cyclical, or better yet, the spiral it truly is.

Karma isn’t just about our actions being mirrored back to us; I see karma as the interaction of our mental/emotional, physical and spiritual selves. These interactions are not necessarily a conscious choice, nor are they limited by a linear understanding of time. They emanate outward, vibrating with the world around us as we create it. What will we encounter in the world? Well, depends what we’ve created in our own.

Turns out I’ve created working in the front of house in a café in Nelson, New Zealand for a few months. It’s there I keep catching myself hoping for a task to be completed. Okay, I think to myself, I’ll roll this last batch of cutlery into napkins and then be done. But it’s never done. There’s a line of 15 people at the counter who will use those forks and knives, requiring another dishload to be wrapped.

The same mindless tasks repeated throughout a shift clear my mind of wanting to receive praise or congratulations for having done them. For starters, that’s what I’m paid to do, but deeper than that is part of my mind that wants to finish something.

I pull a stack of empty plates from various tables, walking them to the dish-pit to be cleaned. Later, I’ll take those same dishes full of food to new people to eat off of and continue the cycle. The part of me that wants a task to end forgets there is no end.

It’s not what I do that is important in life, but how I do it. If I am doing a task with attachment to the end in mind, then I will carry that expectant energy into other areas of my life and into other lives. Instead, I want each moment to be created with its own fullness. I want to be free of karma—both good and bad.

I’m grateful for these lessons, glaring at me in the churn of a busy café. Grateful I know I have a choice in where my mental energy is directed, that I can let go and be free.

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Wall art
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Forget about work, this is where I spend most of my time 🙂

 

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