Work, Stress, and Karma Yoga (Part 3): What is work?
Audio version of blog (10/6/19):
Are you driven by passion and purpose? Does the thought of waking up for work in the morning invigorate you? If it does, my sincere congratulations. If not, I strongly recommend reading what follows. This is not a pep talk about finding your passion and quitting your day job. It’s quite the opposite.
Passion and Purpose
Our modern American culture has strong romantic tendencies. We love to fantasize about finding the lover of our dreams, or one day quitting our day job to work on our passion project. Some of us do that. For others, we seem to have painted ourselves into a corner and feel trapped in our current situation — there’s no escape! Feeling trapped is pretty awful.
Seeking your passion and purpose in work is indeed something to strive for. But, let me point out a particular fallacy we all have that I’ve been particularly focused on. Credit goes to Robert Cabeca for the insight.
We deny ourselves our inherent sense of self-worth through the use of if-then conditions:
- If I can find my romantic partner, then I’ll be happy
- If I can work on my passion projects, then I’ll feel excited about life
- If I can make $100k per year, then I’ll feel worthy of other people’s respect and love
Perhaps surprisingly, modern research has pointed out that being happy is often the cause of success. Now, the hard part is figuring out how to make ourselves content and happy in the first place. So let me continue to walk with you down the path of karma yoga and continue to explore the philosophies and practices that help us cultivate peace and contentment in life. As I mentioned in the previous post, karma yoga is just one way to get there.
The Rings of Dharma: Inside-Out & Outside-In
Take a look at the following picture. It’s basic, but I couldn’t find anything like it and thought why not have some fun practicing my graphic design and handwriting so I can better explain myself. This comes from one of my teacher training weekends back in 2018. This one lesson has had quite an impact on my life.
What you see above are four concentric circles that form a telescopic view. Working from the inside to the outside we see the relational rings of self, family, work, and community. So let’s walk through each one.
Without the self, there’s nothing to do or experience. The self must be the foundation of everything else and all our experiences. This is not just an eastern, mystic idea. It is also prevalent in western philosophy. You might read from famous philosophers like DesCartes, Immanual Kant, or Bertrand Russell to be convinced of this.
Relationally, our family is the nearest circle which the self impacts and vice versa. Our families comprise the people that support us and those we support in return. Without a family, we struggle to survive.
Work, or our job, comes next as it brings in more people and experiences into our lives and the lives of our family.
Lastly, there’s our community. This comprises everyone we know or who have some significant influence in our lives. Let’s say this includes local politicians even though we may never meet them. The unbound space outside the ring of community can be viewed as the rest of the world or everybody else you’ll never know.
This image is meant to convey many things, but there are two major points to make relate to karma yoga and work.
Major Point #1
If we fail to correctly align and prioritize these realms, we will likely create imbalance. This imbalance leads to some kind of suffering in our lives.
Take a moment to reflect on how you currently prioritize these interconnected realms.
The yogic way to prioritize is to work from the inside out. Since everything ripples out from the center and since we have more influence the closer we are to the center, we gain huge leverage and efficiency by starting with ourselves in mind. This is the good kind of selfish.
To neglect ourselves in favor of our family, work, or community is not wise because it creates a negative feedback effect (the output or result diminishes the input). I’m sure you’ve heard stories of caregivers who neglect their own health in favor of caring for loved ones and then can no longer provide that care or at least quality care.
When we work from the inside out, we create positive feedback. Today’s results and output allow us to create more momentum and produce greater results. We can care for our family best when we are healthy and happy. We can do our work better when we’re not worried about our family. And we can serve our community greatly by providing quality, valuable services in our work.
You might begin to see that thinking this way breaks down the dichotomy of selfish versus selfless ways of being.
Major Point #2
If you have trouble working from the inside to the outside, don’t worry. There’s tremendous inspiration and motivation to be found searching in the outer rings and asking, “How can I serve this ring while I serve the next inner ring and eventually serve myself?”
If you keep searching and thinking about serving from the outside in, you’ll eventually hit on a vein of pure inspiration and motivation. The purposefulness that you find in this search has the potential to uplift you and fill you with a passion for everything you do. You might even call it your Dharmic purpose.
Yoga defines dharma as one’s duty or life purpose. The questions “why am I here?” and “what’s the purpose of life?” are answered when you discover your dharma. If you’ve read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, then you might recall his insight about how we are meaning making machines.
If you don’t have meaning or purpose right now, then your actual duty is do some self discovery. Meaning and purpose are not explicitly given to you, but are something you search and create for yourself.
Now, before we decide to drop everything and set off on a journey to find ourselves and our purpose, let’s get practical.
You Don’t Have to Leave Work to Fulfill Your Dharmic Purpose
The stories we hear in the news about people quitting their day jobs to work on their passion projects get us excited. But there’s several issues with these stories. Firstly, they are subject to the principle of survivorship bias. Only those who are successful report their story. All the others who fail and return back to another day job are never heard. Second, we abridge and fantasize the story about entrepreneurial ventures. Most overnight success stories are actually decade-long ones. It’s hard to stay motivated by passion alone over decades of work. Additionally, if you listen and read widely enough, you can find many stories of entrepreneurs who spurn their health, their family and friends, and years of their lives in pursuit of their passion.
What many fail to realize is that there is ample opportunity to find fulfillment exactly where they are right now. If you’re one of a hundred employees in a large office, you might feel small and insignificant. But if you take stock of the issues you and your coworkers or clients face regularly, you’ll find countless chances to put on your entrepreneurial hat and uplift everyone around you. Take another look at the Rings of Dharma drawing above. Ask yourself “How can I serve each ring while serving and fulfilling myself?”
Service of others and simultaneously the self can be a very fulfilling part of your life. You can find fulfillment in an everyday job, in communal organizations, or in your family. Moreover, as you fulfill this dharmic purpose you will become the kind of person who is very capable of starting new entrepreneurial ventures. That is because when we connect with a dharmic purpose, we find the power and ability to do things that are uncomfortable. These moments will makes us grow as human beings. This is part of the enlightening, self-actualization process. This is karma yoga.
What Is Work?
Stay right where you are and look around. Imagine how you might make better, more sincere connections with your coworkers. Figure out how to make certain processes and systems better so you can be more joyfully productive. Take pride in everything you produce and find satisfaction in the endless journey to perfect your craft or skill. Make yourself into the kind of person who can uplift others around them.
Taking this kind of action is work in the most wholesome, integrated, and truest sense. Once you understand this, then your next step is to figure out how to best do this work.
A good first answer is to return to the previous blog post about the four steps of karma yoga. But, there is a lot more depth and insight to be gained through the other practices and philosophies found in the study of yoga. There are practices that help us gain clarity and see reality without the distortions of our own thoughts and emotions. There are many practices that help us take care of the body, the mind, and the intellect. There are even practices that help us create strong bonds with our coworkers, friends, and family.
Yoga at Work?
Most people think of yoga as exercise. But, as you can see, movement is just one part of yoga. Find Your Yoga is here to offer businesses and individuals a very approachable, work-appropriate way to integrate yoga practices into their lives.
We take the plain clothes approach – that means no fancy equipment, no yoga mat, no learning the names of poses in another language. Our classes fit with your schedule in a timely manner that lets everyone get back to work feeling lighter and energized.
I hope you’ll join our company on its mission to help transform the way our community of businesses think and work. We know the practices of yoga are effective. Are you and your business willing to give it a try?