By Barb Cooper
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi
There are a lot of different interpretations of what Karma Yoga (Selfless Service) is and how it fits into a budding yogi’s practice. For me, Karma Yoga is where my entire practice comes together—all the limbs of yoga, the relinquishing of the ego, not being attached to the fruits of one’s labor, actions as offerings to the Divine—Karma Yoga is where my practice meets the real world.
I’m given to the concept of Karma Yoga naturally. As someone who has fought depression and anxiety for much of her life B.Y. (before yoga,) I learned that the best antidote for sadness is doing something for someone else –-to turn the focus outward. Last year, in response to the almost crippling grief I felt after the mass murder of school children in Connecticut, I implemented a systematic campaign aimed at sowing little seeds of love in the world.
I started by buying the next person behind me a hot tea in the tea shop, or coffee at the deli. A few times, I bought the next person behind me some soup at the local bakery. The effort seems to have blossomed from there, and has ended up genuinely changing my life over the past year.
Because what I’ve found is that the impulse to give people stuff is matched by the impulse to just...well, GIVE in general. So I rush to hold the door open for people or I let people out in traffic. I help people carry their packages to their cars. I just try to adopt an attitude of service, offering whatever is needed in the moment to whomever I encounter.
The interesting thing about Karma Yoga is that it gives back to you exponentially. I really didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect these small acts of devotion to change the way I viewed the world, but that’s what happened. I find that the more I look for ways in which to give to others, the more I genuinely SEE the people around me. And when I’m genuinely noticing them and their struggles, it’s so easy to tap into a vast compassion for them. That compassion, in turn, begins to translate into everything I see around me—animals, insects, this planet.
This year, if you aren’t already doing it, try this: in the midst of all the holiday chaos and demands on your time, do one small kind thing. Just one tiny thing—open the door for someone, or buy a cup of tea for someone who looks like he or she needs it. Take some hot chocolate to the crosswalk guard you pass every day. Surprise your mail carrier with some hand warmers. Just one small thing that shows someone that you’ve noticed him or her. Sometimes, just being seen is enough to begin a ripple of kindness.
"Giving of any kind... taking an action... begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe. ” ~ Mbali Creazzo
Barb Cooper, 48, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York-to-Texas transplant, and a writer by nature and training. She considers herself a grateful observer, a recovering perfectionist, and no longer shy. Barb graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in June 2013 and teaches yoga at Rasna Yoga in Austin, Texas. Read more of her musings at sothethingisblog.blogspot.com.