Although I’m a dedicated student of yogic teachings, I’ve never paid much attention to my chakras. Even the word “chakra” has seemed too esoteric for my practical approach to spirituality.
After years of following the path of Self-realization, I’ve become more comfortable with the fact that the chakras (energy centers in the astral spine) are integral to the techniques I practice and are also keys to understanding the soul’s journey. Nonetheless, for me they have remained in the background of the teachings, not subjects for daily consideration — until I went to work for Home Depot.
Jumping into a fast-moving current
Life changed dramatically for me a year ago when, after six years of working for Ananda in Portland, Oregon, I found myself back in the job market. I was a fifty-six-year-old minister, mother and wife, with experience as a teacher and writer – and no clear direction. I spread applications around and asked God and my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, to show me my next step. I interviewed at a few places and, after four months, received only one offer: a part-time seasonal position at Home Depot in the garden department. It was clear: there was my next step.
The Home Depot is a home improvement store located in a huge warehouse building, over 100,000 square feet, or about 2.5 acres. The garden department is a huge department in a huge store. It was June and I received some brief, intense training and found myself out on the floor helping customers before I felt ready to be of help to anyone.
It was like jumping into a fast moving current. I walked miles every day, and those first weeks my body ached and my mind buzzed with new information. Every customer had a project and every aisle had hundreds of helpful products to offer. But I soon discovered that I enjoyed the creative flow of this home-improvement mecca.
An important revelation
Hoping to keep my energy and consciousness from sinking, I had added a challenging exercise program to my routine when I was unemployed. I lost excess weight and gained a new awareness of the energy flows in my body — an awareness which only intensified with the physical demands of my new position.
I soon became aware that the experience of energy was different as I moved from one area of the store to another. I was lifting bags of mulch when I had a revelation.
Why did I like being surrounded by the soil and stacks of stone and enjoy the physical effort required to move them? I pondered what I knew about the spiritual qualities of the earth element as I gripped the heavy bag of mulch and realized that here was the perfect opportunity to tune into the first chakra, represented by the earth element.
In a flash of insight, I saw all the elements and all the chakras represented at Home Depot in the aisles I was walking every day. I decided to experiment and pay attention to the inward energies as I worked.
Finding my sense of security
The large heavy bags of mulch and garden soil are stacked on pallets on the floor. Since I don’t have powerful arms like those of my male coworkers, I had to use the strength of my lower body to move the bags safely. The paving stones and retaining wall blocks were a challenge, but I found deep satisfaction in the awareness that I was growing stronger. I could sense incredible power locked in the stones and I looked for opportunities to help customers in that area.
The first chakra holds the positive qualities of loyalty, steadfastness, and unshakable dedication to truth. Those qualities are held strongly in my own consciousness, and I could feel the harmonious resonance with the rock and soil. The first chakra also holds our sense of security, and I was aware that I had felt emotionally insecure for a long time. My life had been shaken up and the daily contact with the earth energy helped me remember, deep within my spine, that my security lay with God alone.
Opening to the grace of Divine Mother
The second chakra holds the water element and the qualities of creativity, flexibility, discrimination and intuition. At work I spent hours watering flowers; as the water nourished the parched soil, I felt the energy revive my spirit. I’m certain the time spent with water also helped my ability to adapt to new circumstances and to open to the grace that flows constantly from our Divine Mother.
At the Portland Ananda community where I live, the community pool offered the perfect place to cool off after those hot summer work days. I focused with deep concentration on creative, flexible energy while moving through the fluid environment. My tired aching body could move gracefully in the water and I savored the sense of freedom.
As I continued experimenting and paying attention, I became aware that I was avoiding certain areas in the store. The fire element of the third chakra was reflected in the metal barbeques, lawn mowers and chain saws, and the transformative power within them. If a customer was hovering around the chain saws, I conveniently found someone else to help. My mind rationalized: “I know little about these things and I’m new at this. Better to go where I can actually do some good.”
Standing up for truth
I know myself well enough to see that I need more courage and self-confidence. I had allowed people in my life to treat me with ongoing disrespect, even harsh abuse. At the time I had convinced myself that it was more spiritual to keep quiet then to stand up for truth.
My lesson was to recognize my self-worth and to express truth with firm conviction, if necessary. If I could not speak up to people who were basically good, what would I do if faced with real evil? History is full of examples of evil being allowed to flourish because people lacked the inner strength to speak the truth. I had repeatedly failed to stand up for truth. When I tried, I would lose courage and often cry. I was unable to tap into my inner power, the power of the soul.
Power is one of the eight aspects of God. I had lessons to learn about power and self-assertion, and my Guru had put me in Home Depot to help me develop this quality. That fiery power was right in front of me and I watched myself avoid it.
Once I realized this, I deliberately faced my fears. I made myself approach customers who probably knew more than I did. I called on my coworkers for help. I did research and learned more about the equipment I needed to sell and gradually gained confidence. The energy of the third chakra is still a big challenge for me, but as I practice using will power, determination and self-control in all areas of my life, I can feel the fire energy within me grow stronger.
A hurt and confused heart
Half of the garden department is outside and I can look up into the sky and feel the soaring energy. The air element of the fourth chakra is all around. The breezes flow through and often become a strong wind. Birds nest in the hanging flower baskets.
The fourth chakra is the heart energy. My heart was so deeply hurt and confused it had developed an arrhythmia – a confused beat that would wake me up at night. At Home Depot, I focused on serving others and forgetting about my confused heart. I approached every customer like a dear friend and walked through the store with my heart leading the way. I asked my Guru to bless every person I saw, and I let the breezes of grace blow through me.
Gradually, my heart began to heal and my love for God and Guru replaced the self -concern and confusion I had lived with too long. Customers and co-workers spontaneously hugged me and thanked me. One co-worker gave me a big smile of gratitude and said, “I don’t know what it is, but something shines out of you. I feel it!”
The fifth chakra is the ether element, more subtle even than air. It has the qualities of calmness and expansion. The energy of this chakra helps us transcend any commitment to separateness and to realize our unity with all life. As I let go of my fears and gained more confidence, I helped customers in every area of the store. I saw every person as a child of God, and I understood that serving at Home Depot was no different from serving at the Ananda Portland temple.
A huge step forward spiritually
Focusing our energy at the spiritual eye, the sixth chakra, is something Yogananda suggested we do all the time. Since coming onto this spiritual path 35 years ago, I’ve practiced interacting with people while focusing at the spiritual eye. However, during the period preceding my job at Home Depot, self-doubt and discouragement had pulled my energy down and made it difficult to focus there.
These same challenges followed me into meditation. Focusing at the spiritual eye became so hard I often gave up. But I’m meditating more now, and more effectively. It is strange that moving out of a spiritual environment and into an ordinary job in the world would be such a huge step forward in my spiritual growth.
At Home Depot, I greet people all day and I focus at both their eyes and their spiritual eye. I sometimes think of Swami Kriyananda and the countless people he greeted with the highest possible consciousness and I try to emulate his example. At the end of a busy day, I feel uplifted and stronger, not depleted.
Every chakra has a positive and negative pole, a potential for energy to move upward towards expansion and God, or downward toward worldly desires. I still have less than perfect joy and negative habits to overcome, but this is a time of increased joy, expansion and balance for me. I feel stronger, more balanced, and closer to my Guru than ever.