I have always been a people pleaser, a mother hen, a do-gooder, a fixer. I set myself high standards to meet in order to feel good about myself – if I have enough money for that handbag then I’ll be as cool as that person, or if I achieve that job title then I’ve made it, if I can run this mile faster then I’ll feel fit. I would base my feelings of myself on what other people thought and worry myself silly if I thought people didn’t like me or appreciate me, particularly male superiors in the workplace (which unsurprisingly comes down to Daddy issues – how clichéd).
Over the years and in addition to a demanding full time job as a Solicitor, I was on the social committee, I started a staff forum. I had voluntary roles as a school governor, a Special Educational Needs Tribunal representative, and a Girl Guides volunteer. I trained and ran half marathons and I played netball (a highlight of which was boozing by the bottle after a game with my teammates). I dabbled with online dating seeking to impress strangers, and spread myself thin racing across London to catch up with all my wonderful friends. And this was normal run-of-the mill life. It’s what you just do.
It was no surprise looking back that sooner or later all these spinning plates would come crashing down.
I always thought to myself that it was good that I did all this stuff. That it made me interesting, that I was a good person as I volunteered and did ‘good’ for others. I was getting good karma right? How often do you think to yourself after you’ve done something good for someone else, or for something else: “well, that’ll give me some good karma”? I did. I also joked about karma as the Universe’s justice system coming back to bite people who did things to annoy me and I often signed things away as ‘fate’ without really understanding what it was that I meant.
What is Karma? Well, traditionally there are 4 paths of Yoga and I’m not talking about hot yoga, cat yoga, acro yoga and all the weird and wonderful types of yoga we in the West have created!
- Bhakti Yoga involves devotional practices such as lighting a candle, or using a particular mantra to connect with the Universe/the Divine.
- Jnana Yoga is the studying part -reading and learning from scriptures and meditating on the yoga sutras.
- Raja Yoga was the first codified system of yoga incorporating the postures, pranayama, meditation etc. This is what yoga classes stem from.
- Finally, there is Karma Yoga – this is where you perform a service for its own sake. Not for gain or results, not for good feeling within or approval from others in order to boost your own ‘karma’. This can include voluntary work (not done to flourish your own CV or build ‘contacts’) but also more simply something like cleaning the sink and doing so mindfully with all your best effort to be in that moment.
Rumi says “do not give from the depths of your well but from its overflow”. It is not Karma Yoga if you are using up your depleted energy to do something to help others. It is not Karma Yoga if you are doing all these things to keep yourself busy, stopping yourself from slowing down and sitting with your true Self.
Over those years in London, I didn’t really think about what I needed for me and that after downing copious amounts of cheap vino, or running 8 miles, that my body may need a rest. Never mind my soul! We all have patterns of behaviour which keep us busy, keep us distracted. Looking back I have often dated men who needed ‘fixing’ (not sure they ever knew that!). I practically raised one long term boyfriend, teaching him to cook, encouraging him to reach for things he wanted, building up his self-belief that he was more capable than he had appreciated. I did such a good job that he later dumped me. Hari Om! When I reflect on my past relationships I can see a pattern, and that each dear boy was a lesson I needed to learn – good and bad. Each relationship has always consumed my energy, my focus, with endless overthinking – does he like me? When will he text me? Will he text me? Maybe he thought I was fat? The key here is not blaming them for this but acknowledging that I chose these situations to keep myself busy and distracted from dealing with my Self, from focussing on my imbalances – emotionally, physically, energetically and spiritually.
Slowing down isn’t easy. I had to break figuratively and literally (left fibula – June 2013) in order to start listening to my body. It isn’t selfish to take time for yourself, to rest, to say no, to look at what you need first. Even now I can find myself making excuses not to do things which are good for me – I’ll negotiate with myself how long I ‘have’ to sit in mediation during my morning yoga practice! And I hear others do it too. Even with a Partner, an important job and status, or kids, it’s important to put yourself first and do things for yourself which nourish you, like taking a hot bath, relaxing, putting down Facebook, spending time outdoors, and perhaps doing yoga (works for me).
Once you start spending time with yourself and figuring out how you can become more settled within, more peaceful, and happier, you will become less stressed and have more time in your life to tick off the endless ‘to do’ list. You will also become a nicer person to be around, find you are less irritated and irritable, and feel more compassion for yourself and others. And that is the greatest gift we can share with each other. That’s good karma.