It matters not what we do, but the glory of endeavor lies in how we do it. – Swami Chinmayananda
Have you ever taken great pains to prepare for an important project, meeting or event, only to forget some important things at the crucial moment? Well, that’s exactly what I did last week.
I took part in two club level speech contests on the same day at my Feel Good Toastmasters* club. One was an inspirational speech contest, and the other was an evaluation contest.
Through my performances in both these contests, I learnt what happens when I act in the spirit of karma yoga and when I don’t. Karma yoga is the art of doing our daily actions so as to grow spiritually.
Karma yoga is not new to me. I have written a couple of posts on karma yoga**, explained it in my book,So you’re a spiritual being— now what? and even have a seminar on it. I have been studying and practicing doing my daily actions in the karma yoga spirit for a few years. You would think that I would be a true karma yogi by now. But the truth is, I’m still working on it.
The crux of performing actions in the karma yoga spirit is to focus on the task at hand and, let go of any attachments and anxieties to the results. When delivering my inspirational speech, I became nervous and forgot a few important guidelines Naturally, I didn’t do my best.
The funny thing is, there really was no reason to be nervous. I was the only contestant and the default winner of the contest! (Others were not able to make it for some reason or the other).
In the Evaluation contest. I was competing against three others. In this contest, we heard a guest speaker speak and then, we were judged on our three-minute evaluations of her speech.
Because we didn’t have to prepare anything ahead of time and I honestly didn’t expect to win, I was my usual relaxed self. I did the right things, spoke and used the stage confidently. I had no expectations of myself nor did I have any anxiety to win. Much to my surprise, I actually won the second contest too!
You would think I was happy with the outcome of the day. But, I wasn’t. I didn’t take part in the contests to win. I signed up so I could improve my speaking and listening skills. What really bothered me was that I forgot to perform my actions in the spirit of karma yoga.
Karma Yoga Principles
The principles of karma yoga are:
- See yourself as an instrument of the Divine or God and dedicate all your actions to Him.
- Release your anxiety for gaining specific results of your actions.
- Simply do your best and leave the rest.
I gave myself no check marks for successfully applying these three principles in the first contest. I forgot to dedicate my actions to God; I had anxiety to do well and be seen as having done well in the eyes of the audience and, I hadn’t put in my best effort to prepare my speech.
On the other hand, I did much better in the evaluation contest because I followed the second and third principles of karma yoga. I took part in the contest for the fun of it. I had no expectations (anxiety for specific results) and so, had nothing to lose. I gave it my best shot and forgot about everything else. But, even though I applied two of the principles of karma yoga, I did not follow them consciously.
What I learned
My experience as a Toastmaster reminded me to intensify my focus to apply the principles of karma yoga in ordinary situations. This way, I will not forget to apply myself when facing challenging situations.
My Guru, Swami Chinmayananda used to say that spirituality is not to be practiced in caves and other solitary places, but amidst “the din and roar of the marketplace”. This is where our growth and knowledge is tested.
I gained some valuable lessons from my experience. Mistakes give us opportunities to grow. After all, Our greatest glory lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.-Swami Chinmayananda
** Read my previous articles on Karma Yoga: How to use your work to grow spiritually
Detach from outcome and be happy now
*Toastmasters International is an organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.
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