Be the person you want to meet

Today in Yoga Philosophy class I got really inspired again by my our super advanced yogi teacher. He helps me grow as a person so fast. We spoke about Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga means "to know how to do" (karma means "to do"). Essentially practicing karma yoga is to perform all of our daily actions with full consciousness. What does it mean really and how does it help us be a better person?

Woman cutting jasmine
Woman plucking jasmine flowers

Most of us today don't know how to perform quality actions. i am guilty of that. We multi-task, we are absent-minded at times, we do the minimum necessary because we are too pressed for time, we rush through things thinking about the next to do on the list, we settle for good enough not as good as we'd like it to be. While we may be a bit more attentive at work, when it comes to the little things like house chores, brushing our teeth, doing the groceries, the laundry, cooking, etc. we are usually lost in our thoughts and executing these "trivial" tasks mindlessly. We even have a hard time focus long enough on a conversation with another human being.

That is an issue because from the Karma Yoga viewpoint, who we are today comes from our actions over the years because our actions become the mental impressions that shape us. How we perceive our life is the result of a mental impression of all our actions, like a scar. In other words, the quality of our actions is responsible for our emotions, not situations.

In karma yoga, in order to perform quality actions that will get us close to our consciousness (the key to our happiness), the things we do need to align with who we are. If not, we will end up feeling like two different people.

Imagine you are doing a job you dislike, that bores you. You put up a smile on your face at work and try the best you can all day to focus but you are feeling disconnected, farther away from your conscience, from who you really are. Then you come home at night, remove your mask, and you complain and cry, you dream of what could be. When you do a job that does not align with your consciousness, there is no quality behind the action. Worse, you multiply thoughts that afflicts you with restlessness, negative emotions and disturbs your inner peace. You get farther from your consciousness, lost in these mental impressions which, in yoga are illusions.

Sunday walk
Sunday walk in Rishikesh

Therefore, in Karma Yoga we learn to perform quality actions. We perform our duties without compromise, with the highest quality, care and attention, and accept our life without complaining. There are no action too small. Doing so, our actions will get us closer to our consciousness. You have to see yourself in your action to get closer to your consciousness.
  • Side-note: Getting to our consciousness is the raison d'etre of yoga. The definition of yoga in the yoga sutra by Patanjali (officially recognized as the father of yoga) is "the restriction of the fluctuations of our consciousness" by quieting the mind. In traditional yoga, asanas are designed to get fit and flexible so that we can sit still and comfortable in Lotus Pose for 3 hours of meditation and reach our state of consciousness.
So how to perform quality actions? To perform quality actions, you need to be detached from the result of your actions. THAT is the big mindset change I'd like you to contemplate with me here. In the US, actions are results-oriented. Our nation has been conditioned for efficiency and therefore perform an action to achieve a certain result: monetary, health related, relationship, etc. Well, Karma Yoga is asking us to switch our mind away from the results, focus on the actions performed itself and do not expect anything in return for our actions if we want to get closer to our consciousness, to who we are.

We cannot control results anyway, and they create mental afflictions, worry, fear, sadness, etc. which then disturb our mind and keep us away from our consciousness as we wrestle with dozens of thoughts at once. Being conscious, means having one thought, one focus, being present with oneself in the action.

When you perform quality actions, you are not thinking. You cannot. Your consciousness is focused on that one thing (while the mind is always jumping between 10 things). So when we are conscious, in meditation in the action, we considerably reduce mental impression from a lot of thoughts to basically ONE. In addition, by not being attached to the result of our actions, we can accept everything that comes to us in life, further reducing mental affliction and increasing our peace of mind.

Krishna Vegetable stand
Karma yoga is teaching us skill in action. Perfection in action is to focus on the small actions because then the action becomes meditative. The action becomes conscious. Imagine you are an office cleaner. You are focused on the action of cleaning the floor and doing it exceedingly well. Your hands are active and your heart is not afflicted. In karma yoga, you are not expecting results beyond the immediate gratification of having a shiny floor. You are not doing the quality work for a recognition by your boss or a promotion. In fact, Karma Yoga completely destroys the ego, there is no more "Watch what I did!", there are no comparison, no superior and inferior individual.

When practicing Karma Yoga, and therefore performing quality actions, you are feeling happy, fulfilled, aligned with your consciousness and you positively affect the people around you. The state of your consciousness is contagious (happiness makes others happy). You are attracting the right people in your life with your way of being, so be the person that you want to meet. A person who gives of him/herself selflessly, is kind, performs quality action and lives life to the fullest. Through your actions, you understand the other dimension of your life, your consciousness and your true potential.

What does it mean for me? How do I apply this learning?
You need to perform quality actions, detached from the results. Can you do this in your current job? If the answer is not, you may need to change occupation. Karma Yoga really teaches us to choose what we want to do in our short life (remember karma means "to do"). In my job and in my house chores, I try to perform karma yoga. At work, I am focused on the action of coaching, teaching, and creating the best nutrition and fitness programs all my current know-how is enabling me to put together, regardless of whether it will sell or whether my current clients will like it. I do what is right and I am detached from the result. I wrote my book Feeding Success with the same conscious effort, I had to get my message out, whether people would buy the book or not and whether I would recoup the cost of making it. I try to deliver my best, fully conscious in my creative process, focused on the action, executing with quality and integrity. and it feels so good, it gets me deep into my soul, it is that meditative process that Karma Yoga presents us with. I am doing a job that is aligned with my consciousness, which enables me to be in my consciousness when I work my job. This is Karma Yoga. When I worked as a management consultant, I also did throw myself into action with consciousness especially towards the end of my career when I had more experience and had found what I excelled at. One of PwC's value is excellence in terms of quality as well as doing the right thing from an ethical standpoint so this made things easier. I simply focused on delivering the best service without thinking on the "what's in it for me" kind of result and good things kept happening. I had great projects, great team members, the best partners to work with and hot clients. But working worrying about a promotion, a bonus, a salary raise, recognition, etc. only brings worry as the results are unexpected. It compromises the quality of the action and takes us farther away from our consciousness.

horse and emma
One last piece of wisdom I learned in India and which really put things into perspective for me as to why we need to focus on quality action in our short life: By being born, I have already fulfilled my life's purpose. I have no other purpose in life according to the yoga philosophy. In accordance with the law of nature my purpose was to be born, grow, reproduce and die. I cannot take anything or anyone with me when I die. I am here to experience life, not to achieve anything. There is no purpose other than to experience life. In everyday, I need to experience life, I can control my actions but the result of that action is unexpected. Expect that the unexpected will happen. We cannot put hopes in such results but we can put our heart and our mind in the action. Therefore how we choose to live our short life, what to do in it, is essential, and to know what that is, we must get closer to our consciousness, know who we are and that is what yoga helps us with.

I'll let you meditate on all of this... I know it is a lot!
Feel free to share your thoughts with me and start a conversation below!

Love from Rishikesh,