If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.- Mother Teresa
Our subject of the month is Karma Yoga. Karma means action in Sanskrit, and when we link the word “action” with “yoga” we should expect we are going to be encouraged to observe and perfect our actions. And since yoga practices inherently guide us towards unification rather than upholding the individual “I”, it makes sense that Karma Yoga translates to mean self-less action.
Mother Teresa is good example of a Karma Yogi. She worked tirelessly to improve conditions for underserved populations, and she was an inspiration for many to do the same. I love the quote above. It gives us permission to do something, anything at all, when we feel overwhelmed by the enormity of need.
Like all of yoga, selfless service is a practice. So we watch ourselves as we strive to give time, money, objects and serve humanity. I believe most of us want to serve others but we don't know how to go about doing it. Leaving our families and possessions behind to join a missionary are not in the cards for most. Even devoting a day to deliver for meals on wheels may seem daunting if you have a busy schedule.
I came up with an idea for practicing Karma yoga that I would like to share with you. I can do this in the comfort of my own bathroom! First you need to know a fun fact about me - I LOVE hot showers, I could be in there all day. When I think of the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico and how so many still have no running water, I recognized my privilege and how I am serving myself in these long, hot immersions . Of course the water I save by shortening my showers wont go directly to the people in Puerto Rico (remember your mother making you eat all the food on your plate because “children are starving in China?”) But long showers do tax an important natural resource, and that is also important to me. I decided that for the time I spent over and above what was necessary for the essentials in a shower, I would make a donation to the Red Cross. The same if I buy too much food that ends up going bad before it is eaten (another bad habit of mine).
Even though I may not be able to be on the front lines of service in Puerto Rico at this time, I think this donation system can fit the ideals of Karma Yoga. This process requires that I observe actions that benefit me, shift them to have a more global, constructive impact, and adds some tapasia (heat, difficulty) to an otherwise mundane action. We will see how it goes… I will keep you posted. Let me know if you want to join in this at-home Karma yoga practice. Not for praise of course, but for inspiration for others!
Halloween is next Tuesday. Frenchtown is a HUGE halloween town. If you live here, you don't need to be told that! Hundreds of dollars worth of candy are handed out to ghoulish kids, primped up teenagers and babies dressed as pumpkins. So if you planned on coming to class that night, stay home instead. We will be cancelling class for that night and giving John the night off. And this means there will be more parking spots for the ghosts and goblins and their chauffers.
Back to Halloween- most of us might say that it was our favorite holiday when we were growing up. But now, if you are not dressing up or giving out candy, does halloween hold any significance? When my kids were in middle school they were encouraged to honor an ancestor by dressing up like them or representing who they were and what they did in some way. It was a really sweet tradition and allowed kids to get to know stories about their relatives and tell them to their friends. We can all honor our ancestors by remembering them and how they laid the groundwork of the lives we are now living.
When you begin to meditate and participate in other yoga practices that you feel are transforming you and clearing out some of the not beneficial mind stuff we tend to suffer with, it is said you can affect 7 generations back and 7 generations forward. Now it may be easy to see how you can affect generations going forward by becoming more patient, clear headed, kinder, all the lovely things we want to see come from our practice. Certainly an increased level of discernment so you can make better choices is going to benefit your family into the future. To affect the generations that came before you may not be as easy to grasp. It is far more subtle, but it does work. When we start to burn the karma through our practices, ancestrial patterns are broken, energy is liberated and everything can shift. You might sometimes feel a long gone relative was looking down at you, guiding your movements, or just happy to see you happy. Many of us feel that and we will sometimes talk to the people we loved who are gone. In that scenario we feel we are making contact of some kind and if the energy of that observer shifted, what might happen? Watching our actions, can they now "rest easy" or are they "turning over in their grave"? All interactions change us somehow. So feeling that your ancestors are observing you, what in you shifts, what in you is transformed? Can we change the behaviours that are difficult and maybe inherited? Can we consider that we eased someones spirit by making a positive change? Consider also that even if there is no legitimate contact with those departed, if we felt like we made a change in a family pattern, what fresh energy and new direction does that give us? Even if Grandma doesn't get "liberated" after she has been dead for 40 years because of your practice, the love that you felt for her will only magnify if you feel like your efforts benefitted her in some way, right? And anyway, all of our ancestors live in us in some form or another and perhaps its that part that got free, the part that lives on in you.
Halloween is a good time to remember your ancestors and perhaps make a connection because that is when the veils between this world and other worlds are thinner. We can have more contact with the unknown. Eat too much candy, and you can easily loose that contact! Sugar tends to do that. So sit and meditate for a bit, see if you can make a connection, then go on and eat as much as you like.