Karma-yoga and the struggle as a woman

Karma-yoga and the struggle as a woman August 12, 2011

Karma-yoga is the yoga of action. It is the main form of yoga advocated in the Bhagavad Gita. There is no such thing as inaction, as everything is in process. Even when we choose not to act, we are acting; even when we sit still and meditate our bodies are continuing to act by breathing, digesting, blood flowing, etc. Until recently I never had any interest in this form of yoga, but I’m finding this to be the key to my reconciling my new life as a stay-at-home-mother. It also raises some issues as seen through a feminist lens.

Karma-yoga feels a little Buddhist to me – its thrust is non-attachment, performing one’s duties without hoping for egoic rewards, regardless of the outcome. This seems like the perfect yoga for the householder, soldier or businessperson. I have little time or space for extensive meditation or asana or deep philosophical study, but I can approach my duties with love and non-attachment. It’s about being present in the moment, accepting where I’m at right now at this stage in life or in my day and doing each task the best I can without expectations. I can see the mundane task of doing dishes as an offering to my family and to the Gods, as an act of love. I can set aside my grand desires of Holiness and deep meditation for the time being and focus – actually focus – on my children and my family.

You may be able to see the possible problems here.

As a woman, I am already expected to put my desires second, to put my family’s needs before mine. The culture surrounding stay-at-home-mothers (SAHMs) is already full of self-sacrifice and putting lives/careers/hobbies/etc on hold. How is karma-yoga not just another way to tell oppressed people* that their oppression is holy? I worry about this. As a woman who was modeled self-sacrifice as a bitter, depressing and inevitable part of being female, am I even able to recognize positive self-sacrifice when I see it? Can I discern between the false, self-abnegating form of duty and the positive, life-giving form of selfless duty? I’m not entirely sure I can, to be honest.

But I know that I chose to have these babies and I choose to stay home and parent the way my partner and I parent. Of course, one can debate the level to which I even have a choice, but that’s just way too meta for my purposes here. To follow through on the parenting values that my husband and I have chosen requires a burden that only I can take up at this time. It is both a burden and a joy. The joy most often diminishes the burdens, but it is not either/or, it is both/and.

So, for the foreseeable future, karma-yoga seems to be a good form of yoga to practice. Alright, enough pontificating – I’ve got to go snuggle my baby.

*Is it fair to jump from discussing SAHMs straight into oppression? Am I oppressed? On the surface, most definitely not. I am choosing to be a SAHM, my partner makes enough that I don’t have to work, I am white and highly educated – these are all forms of privilege I hold. But I am a woman and if we dig deeper it is not a big leap to say that the patriarchy, which most definitely runs this world, hates women. Not a topic for this blog – other blogs tackle this subject much better than I could.

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