Karma Yoga

Expect Nothing and Appreciate Everything

Recently I have been thinking a lot about our reward based society.  It seems that everything we do is aimed at achieving a certain goal or outcome.  It is simple cause and effect; If I do A, then I get B.  This is particularly worrisome for me as a parent.  Since my children were little, they have been rewarded for their actions: consumer goods, gold stars, good grades, and unique education options.  I can easily predict the next set of rewards: job, money, live well, power, and perhaps fame.   But what is wrong with doing a good job for the sake of personal satisfaction?  Is it possible to enjoy the process without an eye to the outcome?  For the most part, contemporary goals focus on material gain, status, and power.  Noticeably absent from this list are internal peace, happiness, and fulfillment.  In the end, aren’t these the values that matter most?  If so, why are they left out of the discussion?  

The philosophy of Karma Yoga attempts to answers these questions.  Karma Yoga is often confused with the popular term Karma, meaning your destiny or fate is the result of your actions.  Karma Yoga, however, is practically the opposite.  Karma Yoga speaks to actions done without any attachment to the outcome.  Those who practice Karma Yoga believe that results should not be the focus and that it is not what do, but your attitude and motives that matter.  Even the most mundane of everyday activities should be performed with care not because you are seeking some reward, but because it is the right thing to do.  

The concept of Karma Yoga was first introduced in the Bhagavad Gita, a chapter from the epic poem Mahabharta.  It is explained that when you remove attachment to the outcome of your actions, the Ego is stifled.  With the Ego, the root of all suffering, removed from the equation, there is room to experience joy or to find happiness in simple activities.  Moreover, with expectations eliminated, the mind is free to make reasoned decisions without being clouded by fear of disappointment.  

Karma Yoga can easily be incorporated into your physical yoga practice.  Start by trying to simply enjoy the experience of practicing yoga.  When working on or trying new poses, don’t get caught up in whether or not you master the pose.  Greet each trip to the yoga mat as a new and unique experience.  Suppress the urge to compare your practice to your neighbor or even your previous practice, and refrain from asking where the current practice will get you.  Finally, remember that advanced poses are not the goal, and that yoga is a process and not a destination.

Clearly, we live in the 21st Century, and it is neither practical nor reasonable to live our lives without any goals or expectations.  However, there is some wisdom to be gleaned from Karma Yoga.  Perhaps the lessons you learn from practicing yoga without being goal oriented will trickle into your everyday life.  You will potentially become less attached to outcomes and more flexible or open minded when things don’t turn out as planned.  With expectations removed or dwindled and the Ego quieted, you might find that you are free to try new things, take new paths, or explore possibilities previously unimaginable.  Faced with less disappointment or exerting less energy managing the Ego, you may even be able to lead a more fulfilling and happy life.  


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