(As published on Elephant Journal as a “Staff Pick” and featured in “Popular Lately”)
Ayurveda is often thought of as being an art of living. Our life is the canvas, and our thoughts and actions are like a palette, from which we can paint any picture we wish. It has been said that as we act, so we become. There is a popular expression from the ancient Indian spiritual text called the Upanishads, which beautifully reveals this truth:
“Sow a though, reap an action;
Sow an action, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character, reap a destiny.”
The Sanskrit word “Karma” literally means “action,” or “activity.” We perform so many Karmas every single day. These Karmas are of three types:
- Physical actions
Our thoughts become speech, and our speech and actions mold and shape our characters, which dictate our destinies. The seemingly small choices we make on a day-to-day basis, starting from the moment we rise in the morning, till the moment we rest in the evening, add up to make a huge difference in creating the quality of our lives. Our thoughts are ultimately what influence our actions, and in addition to waking up early, one of the best ways I’ve started to think more positively is by performing a beautiful spiritual practice I learned. The practice is called Kara Darshanam. “Kara” is a Sanskrit word that means “hands” and “Darshanam” means “to gaze,” in a reverential way.
As soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I first gaze at the palms of my hands. I cup my hands together as if I’m holding water in them. I look at my hands, and appreciate them for being a primary instrument that empowers me to take positive actions (Karmas) in my life. Having struggled with anorexia nervosa as a teenager, I can clearly recognize now how my insistence on filling my body with as little food as possible was a physical manifestation of a deep inner battle regarding personal control. Starving myself for long periods of time used to fill me with a sense of euphoria, because I felt I could control one of the most primal human needs: to eat. What felt like a spiritual quest for self-mastery to my ego at that time, in reality, only led to a wasting away of my bodily tissues. The true change needed to come from a deeper space, which studying Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta has helped me connect with, inside my own self, more than any other place.
Learning how to surrender to the presence of an all-pervading spiritual power that is greater than my own limited self (my ego) has brought about a great transformation in my life. Seeing my hands immediately upon waking up each morning has been a powerful affirmation of and way to strengthen my connection with the great Spirit that ultimately holds all beings and things, seen and unseen.
My personal transformation has been guided by the grace and blessings of many teachers, who have compassionately reached out and held my hand when needed. Now, when I gaze at my own hands every morning, I see not only the kindness-filled faces of my teachers, but also remind myself of the responsibility I have to reach out to hold the hands of others who may be in need, as I once was. I affirm to myself that in reaching out to hold others’ hands, I am also being held by the hand of that great Spirit, and that I am thus never alone in facing whatever difficulties may come my way. I cannot control what happens to me, but how I respond, rather than blindly react, to the hardships in my life has molded, and will continue to mold me into a stronger, wiser, and more compassionate person. I surrender my self into the hands of that benevolent, higher spiritual force each morning, so that the divine may ultimately direct my actions to become more and more wholesome, compassionate, and life-giving, leading myself and those I may touch, physically, or in spirit, towards true peace, health, and wellbeing.
I have been blessed to learn beautiful Sanskrit mantras to accompany my morning Kara Darshanam practice. One can offer any prayer from any religious or spiritual tradition to accompany this practice, however. The words are not nearly as important as the sacred intention of aligning our thoughts, speech, and actions with our best and highest possible self, and offering everything we think, speak and do to something greater than ourselves. In doing so, we affirm that our destinies truly lie within our own hands.