Just before I started the Karma Yoga Program at the Expanding Light, I had a few days of dealing with a paralyzing fear.
At that point, I had only a month’s (beautiful, life-changing) experience of Ananda, at the Meditation Retreat in the foothills of the Sierra mountains. I was so new (and still am!).
And I was all of a sudden becoming afraid of one thing —
— what if once I became a Karma Yogi, I never stopped working?
You can laugh.
To give this thought a little perspective, let me explain that before I came to Ananda I was used to putting in 16-hour days at a small media start-up in San Francisco. I loved it, but the job became my whole life. It felt quite overwhelming.
Eventually I let the situation there get me quite burned out.
Now I was feeling a little gun-shy.
There must have been little red flags bouncing around in my brain like the robot from Lost in Space, “Danger, danger Will Robinson!”
But more importantly, after a month at the Retreat…
I was just starting to learn how to listen.
I mean, listen to that still small voice (Aum) that was coming to guide me more and more, if I would just become still and let it.
I was finding so much peace.
I guess at the heart of my fear of “work” was the fear of losing touch. With this beautiful thing, this listening, that was bringing me so much peace.
What if I started working and got caught up in washing floors, and lost the peace of meditation?
What if being around lots of people was difficult?
What if I lost everything I’d just begun to find?
My deep, abiding concern — retaining the pleasure of balance.
So I went down to Ananda Village from the Retreat with a degree of trepidation.
Giving Deepens the Experience of Bliss
Once I got into Karma Yoga and had an incredibly kind tour and introduction from Sundara, one of the leaders of the program, and once I’d served through a few shifts, I realized my worries had been unfounded.
In fact, the opposite of my fears was coming true – the more I served, and the more I followed the lead of the Karma Yoga program and offered all the actions of my service – from cleaning the tables, to mopping or vacuuming a floor, to folding sweet-scented clean laundry – the more I offered all of these actions as gifts of love to the universe, well…
The amazing started happening.
I found that I couldn’t go as deep in meditation if I hadn’t also been serving that day.
My days off were restful, but hardly ever did they bring the truly transformative moments. I felt much more joy when I was helping out around the Expanding Light than when I was trying to “do my own thing.”
It was humbling. I thought I had a sort of knowledge of how things worked, spiritually, and I was totally wrong. Giving my energy to help was much more effective at creating joy than just listening.
I felt like I had a secret.
Then, after two wonderful months, I returned to Canada – to allow my life to blossom here. Part of this process has been finding a job to save up and pay off some debts from investing in my start-up company.
And all of a sudden, I had no avenue of service.
No one was asking me to cook for them – I offered my roommate, but he looked askance at all the vegetables I was using.
No one needed me to come in and help out on an evening shift, listening to music as we merrily set the kitchen to rights after a day’s worth of yummy vegetarian meals.
(…I began to miss the sweet potato patties…)
No one needed me to do anything for them. Far from being on shift in the morning, I now had uninterrupted time to meditate as long as I wanted – learn to play the harmonium!
For a few days it was blessed and blissful seclusion.
And then I began to feel off-balance, and a sense of “something’s not quite as it should be” came up.
What is service, anyway? Even without being able to answer that question, I felt like I was missing something. Not because I was failing to meet some sort of quota in my mind, or because I wasn’t living up to my own expectations.
Just because I wasn’t feeling connected or able to share.
When I give to others, I find that’s when all the grace flows.
So I had to radically re-invent what it meant to me to do that.
Any Activity Can Be Giving
I decided to make job-searching into service.
“How can I give to this position, give to this role that someone needs filled?” I thought on viewing each new posting on the bulletin board.
I found that when I thought that way, it was much easier to write up a good resume.
Even talking to friends became service.
“How can I listen unconditionally, and try to be present – without any agenda or intentions for the conversation – to this friend?” I tried to think.
Some of the richest conversations of my life occurred. People – free from my needs – started sharing the great beauty and rareness of their own experiences. Each of them seemed like tapestries – infinitely complex, bright and beautiful and Spirit-woven. I found myself in awe.
Today came the biggest test yet.
I had a job interview, and while on the one hand I was running around town checking off my to-do list:
- purchase nylon stockings for the first time since seventh-grade prom
- are there different kinds of pinstripe? Find jacket to match trousers
- do something about the way these very professional-looking shoes are creating bleeding blisters on my feet
… I was finding it really hard to stay centered.
Having a job interview was one of those experiences I hadn’t had since I began meditating.
I don’t usually feel a lot of fear or trepidation.
Now I was feeling a little bit of both.
As I walked downtown to the tall office building, passing cross-town buses and harried-looking people on their lunch breaks, I began thinking,
“How can I make this, too, into giving?”
And I thought, I can send my interviewers light and love.
A beautiful affirmation came to mind, one that Diksha taught us in Yoga Teacher Training:
I am the divine light
Shining into everything that I undertake in life
Filling it with bliss and truth
So I began to imagine that every breath I took was warm, pure light filling me up completely, and that every exhalation let a beam of pure light and love shine out.
As I walked into the building and got a “Visitor” badge from the charming British security officer at the front desk.
As I met the tall young researcher interviewing me for the position.
As I sat down with three colleagues at a pale wood conference table with a view overlooking the city.
And something amazing began to happen.
As each of them spoke, I noticed how well we were all connecting. We soon began to laugh and share stories. I wasn’t in a “what can I get, how can I impress” interview mode, but everything seemed to flow.
At the end of an interview that lasted nearly an hour and a half, we were all laughing and they almost forgot to ask me for my references.
As I left the building, it may sound hard to believe, but somehow in the energy of the afternoon I had stopped thinking in terms of getting the job.
Instead I felt deeply that to every moment in my life, I am meant just to be present, to respond with as much love and understanding as I can.
I feel I met some great souls at that interview — young and so passionate about what they’re accomplishing at the company, so eager to find someone good and true and capable to help them.
Somehow in the process of trying to serve them, I became filled with such bliss… a wave of high energy and joy was washing over me.
I hadn’t felt anything like it since mopping floors in Karma Yoga.
Walking down the grey city street with a light rain beginning to fall overhead, I felt almost enraptured.
I think the experience of giving changes everything… much more than we can know.