Karma, Karma, Karma Chameleon

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.

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Dear Diary…

“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.”  This is what first springs to mind whenever I think of journaling (the grown up mindful version of writing a diary – thanks Judy Blume).

I remember when I was a teenager I sang to my Boyzone posters, drew on heavy black eyeliner and practised dance routines to Steps (still know a couple. I am not ashamed). What I didn’t do as I ‘came of age’ was keep a diary. I had one friend who did, well one friend who admitted she did, and I recall snottily thinking how indulgent, how narcissistic. I mean how interesting can one find themselves?

Fast forward 17 years later and I’m packing up The Beast (my beloved backpack) and heading to Heathrow Airport for the adventure of my life. Packed in there amongst my essentials (door stop alarm (never used), mammoth first aid kit (never used, despite being in a road traffic accident), and my body weight in insect repellent (used, smothered, basted and still munched) was a ‘Journal’. Blank pages. Ready to fill.

Everyone who had been ‘backpacking’ in their gap yah at the appropriate time to travel and find themselves (or find the cheapest local beer) recommended taking a journal so I could document my trip and therefore save moments and memories forever.  They were right. My Journal quickly became my most treasured possession, well, after the insect repellent.

I started my trip at Anand Prakash Ashram (Rishikesh, India) where unknown to me I would return three months later to complete my Yoga Teacher Training qualification. You can visit the Ashram independently and stay there in a shared room, three meals a day, two yoga classes per day for £8 a day. It’s quiet, basic, limited wifi, and the food is amazing – it’s all sattvic – yogic clean, pure and vegetarian and delicious.

The first entry in my diary was on Thursday 11/06/2015:

“Arrived at Ashram – taxi was late (Indian time) but everyone at Dehra Dun airport was pleasant and very helpful. The Ashram itself is very basic but not uncomfortable. It’s 3pm and stinking hot though – not sure how doing yoga in this heat is going to work out. The thought of being here until 28/06/2015 is a little overwhelming but we shall see how it goes…. I am trying to reassure myself that the whole point of this trip is to be outside of my comfort zone and that handling this will give me more perspective generally.”

Yes, I know thrilling. And I’m sure to win literary awards with such gripping and creative prose. This entry makes me laugh though (which was and is the point) as the Ashram was a palace compared to some of the dumps I later stayed in!

I returned to the Ashram in late September for Yoga Teacher Training. During the four week course, we were encouraged to journal and in one philosophy class we had to sit and meditate on the ‘longing of the heart’ – Yoga Sutra 1.39 (To find a calm and still mind by meditating on the longing of the heart) and then journal our experience of that meditation. My Journal informs me that it was a short meditation and I used the words “longing of the heart” as a mantra to try and still my mind but then I got distracted by contemplating why I didn’t fancy the nice boys in my life failing to find an answer, to both.

Each night I would try and keep my own journaling up – if only to document the exhaustion and rollercoaster ride of each day of training. Sometimes I would read back to see where I was this time last month, or week and when I re-read my Journal a few days later I stumbled across this passage: “I’m feeling very blessed to have had this time already. I really am changing for the better and slowing down and I really do feel a longing to be back with my family.”

I had answered the question in my own time, subconsciously or unconsciously perhaps.

Journaling is form of contemplation, of meditation, of yoga. It absorbs your focus and gives you time to explore your intuition on a deeper level, to expel past frustrations and worries and it helps you become aware of your thoughts. It can help reduce stress by providing you with an outlet and it can boost your own creativity, just for you, to keep it flowing, which is all that matters.

So whilst I don’t keep a day to day Journal now I am back in Blighty, I do keep writing blogs like this primarily for my enjoyment and then for yours (hopefully). I encourage you to write. But perhaps not to God asking for bigger boobs. Like Margaret.