Bronze – Work and Enjoy
My first job was at a small local diner. It was my first step into the world of the “great unknown.” I was nervous, albeit shy and reserved, and working with the public was a leap outside my comfort zone.
After the first day, my confidence increased as I observed the other waitresses interacting with customers and learned the day-to-day routine.
Pleasing others was very important to me so I worked hard to earn the trust of my boss as well as the customers who visited daily. My job was to make sure their experience was pleasant and cordial.
As the years progressed and through various jobs, my attitude never changed but my maturity increased, and pleasing others lost importance, though working well with others was vital.
During the 90’s the small town we lived in didn’t offer much by way of employment. Most, unless they went to college, had to go through a temporary agency to retain permanent positions.
Factory work seemed the best option and after working at different places, sometimes six or eight months, business slowed down, and I’d have to leave.
It was frustrating and the learning curve was tremendous but so was the flexibility of learning how to interact with different people and situations.
One day I was sent to an automotive factory that made heating and cooling units. There’s always an orientation period of going over safety and the plant’s procedures.
Afterward, we were each sent to a different position or wherever they needed us. Usually, there’s a moment of introduction. “This is your trainer, so-and-so.”
This time, the HR person walked away quickly. I reached out to shake her hand and my trainer said, “I’m only going to say this once. If you don’t want to work, then you can get the hell off my line!”
I stood there in shock, unsure of how to respond to this level of antipathy. She barked, “Now, get over here and I’ll show you what I expect.”
We spoke little for the first few weeks, other than her answering my questions about plant procedures. As time passed, her hardened exterior softened and we learned to work well with one another.
As the months progressed, she found my work ethic was similar to hers and though I never enjoyed her company, it was far better than her initial “greeting.”
Most would have walked out the first day, but this experience taught me how to work with angry and unpleasant people and she wouldn’t be the last.
The success of a business and one’s level of happiness lies more on the ability to work well with others than the job itself. This isn’t easy when everyone is at a different level spiritually.
The ego is naturally antagonistic, but our powers of perception can overcome these obstacles inside, and we can generate joy no matter the task!
My most recent position was as a lead/machine set-up in the robotics department of a local factory. The most frustrating role as a leader was getting everyone to cooperate so we could get the product out the door.
Departments would posture against other departments or shift against shift. This was a typical day and the burden of it year after year wore me down.
Cooperation is the difference between knowing one’s job and doing it well. The power of perception is the awareness that our interactions are spiritual in nature, and then to respond appropriately.
Whatever religion we follow has little to do with venerability. Wisdom is learned as we progress through the chakras with life and multi-life experiences. We may not have memories of our past life, but the wisdom gained is always available if we take the time to search inside.
A new fellow, Tom, was hired in the maintenance department, and he was friendly, outgoing, and animated. After a few months, I noticed the other maintenance fellows avoided him.
One day, I put a work order in for maintenance to fix a machine, and shortly after, one of the fellows, Jeff, arrived. A half-hour later, Tom, too, arrived pushing his heavy toolbox.
Jeff said, “I got this one,” and turned back towards the machine. Tom stomped his feet flailing his arms screaming “Why didn’t you tell me before I pushed this heavy toolbox all the way over here?! Nobody ever tells me anything!”
This tirade lasted for about a minute and afterward, Jeff and I stood there in a state of shock. Spiritually, we both received a beating from the experience.
It was then that I learned Tom’s volatile mood swings were only one of many reasons why the others avoided him. He spent hours pacing from one end of the plant to the other or stood in his department, flipping through the apps on his phone.
If Tom had held himself to a higher work ethic, the others would have communicated instead of ignoring him.
We find our greatest joy in karma yoga when we learn to make ourselves useful to those around us. Those who shirk or avoid responsibility make work difficult for themselves and everyone else.
Have you ever heard your mother say, “Make yourself useful and take out the trash,” or some other chore around the house? Being useful to the task at hand is the same as being useful to others.
Many times, our department was forced to work ten-hour days so two of those hours involved working with a different shift. Wherever the need was the greatest, that’s where I wanted to go!
Working with a different shift wasn’t easy with the “shift against shift” mentality, so even when no one else appreciated my usefulness, it made my day flow with more productivity and inner joy.
There were times when the lead from the previous shift would argue about why I went “here,” to a certain machine and instead, that I should go “there,” to a different one. Her judgment was usually inaccurate, but I obliged.
The outside world doesn’t always appreciate a helping hand or applaud our efforts, but Brahman looks down and smiles when we cooperate at this level.
The Atman’s inner joy increases with the amount of effort we make to get along with others, and sometimes, even when their decisions aren’t the wisest.
This lead person was more difficult to work with because she secretly didn’t want me in her “space,” which made it too difficult for her to make wise decisions.
Her ego said, “This is mine, go over there,” by her behavior. If I had pointed out the real reason why she wanted me to “go over there,” her neck would have turned red after she vehemently denied it and then sought other passive-aggressive ways to attack me.
The company was big on the motto of, “claim ownership of your work,” but was never able to clarify it constructively. We should claim ownership of our attitudes and actions, always.
Ultimately, we should always be responsible for our own level of productivity. How that’s accomplished is not by taking ownership of “space,” but by tasks.
Sometimes, that might mean “rubbing shoulders” with others and that’s fine, too. It may be outside of the ego’s comfort zone, but the more we practice using this spiritual muscle, the easier it becomes.
Awareness is available through the spiritual perception that our decisions either help or hinder those around us, but we’re only aware if we watch and observe!
Like this lead, we can’t change a certain attitude or behavior if we’re not willing to honestly look inside at our motives. If she had, she would have made decisions that benefited everyone, instead of only choosing herself.
Who always wants to be the bad guy, throwing obstacles in the way and making everyone’s day difficult? The ego inside will if we don’t pay attention to our motives and the effect of our actions and decisions.
Here is a good “rule of thumb,” especially in a job that requires a team effort. Let’s say you take a vacation day. Upon returning, what do you hear, “How was your vacation?”
Does anyone say, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re back!” or jokingly, “You’re not allowed to take a vacation!” If not, then examine how you can add more benefit to your work environment and work harder in that area. The level of their sense of relief reveals how valuable you are!
My guard was up after this incident with Tom, and we spoke less often as I, too, avoided him due to this altercation.
One day, he came into the department inquiring about an old work order. A small lift had been ordered and he was to install it near one of the robots.
He started out friendly enough but quickly grew agitated as to why he was putting the lift in. I responded that the tooling was difficult and unwieldy. The lift would help secure the tooling until it was properly bolted down.
He taunted me about needing one. “Here, look at this.” He picked up the tooling like it was a piece of cardboard and set it back down on top of the machine. “That can’t weigh any more than ten pounds.”
I ignored the remark and as he turned around, the delivery box to the lift was blocking his path so he kicked it. “Ow!” He paced a little, grabbing his knee.
I said, “Are you okay? What happened?”
He said, “Oh, I have a bad knee,” as he attempted to walk it off. “Kicking outwards is fine, but I can’t kick sideways.” He continued by showing me his range of motion and where he felt the most pain.
I looked over at the box and then at his knee and said, “Well, you must have a bad knee. I don’t think that box weighs any more than three pounds.”
“Get out of here!” He screamed while holding his knee and I grinned as I walked away.
My response to his knee only reflected his belligerence about my needing a lift. He understood that, though it still made him angry.
Good sadhana may involve reflecting the behavior of others. I couldn’t walk into work every day happy as a lark or free as a bird, without repercussions. I protected myself by “not being happy.”
My first objective in a work environment is to get along with others and the ego gets angry to see other people genuinely happy. Don’t think so? Try it and you’ll see. Sadhana has hardly begun in the world, and this is where we currently are regarding karma yoga or daily work.
Our daily tasks are opportunities to uplift those around us through love and cooperation. Objectively, we don’t need to love or like anyone, and where we are spiritually is independent of whichever religion we follow.
We can assess where we are in karma yoga by the level of our willingness to cooperate and it also reveals just how much we love the Lord, regardless of the work situation. This says more to God than the Christians like “new guy,” who behave poorly and proselytize every day.
There was a fellow named Mike from the toolroom who approached me one day. His job was a much higher pay grade than mine, and less stressful.
Quietly he asked, “Will you help me with something?” I was very busy and stressed at the time but obliged. He asked, “What is the percentage of let’s say nine out of thirty-two?” He was working on a department productivity chart.
Now, my response could have gone one of two ways and Mike knew that. I could have said, “You’re in a much higher labor grade and you don’t know how to do percentages?” and poked at him for it. Instead, I quickly explained how to arrive at a percentage on the calculator and he was on his way.
My thinking afterwards was one of surprise that he didn’t need to use percentages for his day-to-day tasks and my joy came from knowing he trusted me enough to ask.
Mike didn’t approach the other fellows in the toolroom. He left the department and looked for me, because he trusted that I wouldn’t belittle him for it, and he was right!
Our power of perception is understanding when our words tear down or uplift others. Those who allow the ego to win belittle others needlessly when given the opportunity.
Our secret joy is in being strong enough to treat others as if their “shoes” were our own. That is something we can be proud to take ownership of!
This secret joy is ours because no one else can experience it. Our joy is our own! We don’t need to reveal it to the world, especially if we know they will trample it. Keep it right there inside and don’t respond in a way that gives others the opportunity to steal it!
If the atmosphere is generally negative, keep your eye on the prize of inner joy. Happiness may not show on your face, but wisdom will flow through your heart and through your decisions and actions.
There are so many benefits to be gained through karma yoga. We gain the trust and respect of our work associates, supervisors, and all those who are affected by our attitude and actions in striving daily.
We may be surprised one day to find our supervisors trusting us with more responsibility and maybe even a higher wage. (I wouldn’t necessarily count on the higher wage, but who knows?)
Goodness through karma yoga brings joy to others and raises the spiritual climate from cold to warm. Inwardly, we find our own happiness, well-being, and a sense of accomplishment that we gave our best every single day!
By generating Universal Love through karma yoga, we’ll find this inner well of living water that never runs dry long after the paycheck is gone. The richest folk in the world are those who use karma yoga to spiritually enrich their lives, thus the world.
Money comes and goes but wisdom gained through the daily perseverance of goodness is everlasting, and we can always rejoice in owning that!