Being a Spiritual Light while Working

Karnam at work

Karnam at work
In the beginning of 2007 I started working in a close friend’s New Age store in Winston-Salem. After having been semi-retired for the previous four years without working outside our home, I realized I needed more interaction with others. My desire coincided with their need for someone to run the store while they were traveling to India for pilgrimage. They had a need, and I had a need. I expressed it to them, and then we could see Krishna behind this perfect arrangement.

This reminds me of an important truth I have learned: when we remain on the fence regarding a certain decision then nothing happens. We have to make a determination, and then go forward in faith, knowing that even what appears to be a wrong decision can be a steppingstone to our correct course. Although most of us dread to make mistakes, they are called experience! If we can learn from them then they are very valuable, and even time well spent.

How different working was then, compared to when I first moved out of the Temples as a 34 year old, after living in that environment for 14 years. Making the transition from “Temple devotee” to working devotee was very hard for me. In general that was a difficult time in the Krishna Movement (1984). In addition there were no elders to help me make this transition. Thus I struggled for years to find my way. As I soon turn 60, the traditional age of an ‘elder’, I hope to share my experiences with others. My wife and I do that in our counseling for new couples, in workshops and retreats, and I hope to also do this through writing books.

For those of us who work in the world, our morning sadhana (spiritual practice) is especially essential since we have to deal with the material energy all day long. For me this consists of rising before dawn to chant my Hare Krishna mantra—“japa”—on beads, read scripture, exercise my aging body, and worship my Govardhan and Shalagram Shilas (sacred stones) which includes the breakfast offering for all our home Deities (forms of God described in the Vedic scriptures).

Having a good morning of focused “sadhana” means feeling connected to my gurus— Shila Prabhupada and my instructing gurus, our Guru-parampara (line of predecessor teachers), Shri Chaitanya (the incarnation who brought the holy name and kirtana as the means of self realization in this age, and Radha Krishna, the ultimate Deity for Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Then, by their grace, I will be able to deal with whatever comes up during the day in good consciousness.

Here is a sample of my typical day of work during that time: At 10 AM I leave the house and make the 50 minute drive into Winston-Salem. I use that time to listen to lecture CDs and think about my day ahead. Arriving at the store I park the car, unlock the store’s back door, turn off the alarm, and turn the lights on.

I have tried my best to spend the morning preparing my consciousness, and my test will be to keep a prayerful, spiritual perspective all day. I love to offer prayers, so the first thing after entering the store, I offer my “dandavat (lying flat on the ground) pranam (respects)” prayers to my gurus, the Supreme Lord and his other agents the Deva’s that are present in the store, that I may have an attitude of giving and service throughout the day. Then I prepare the store for the day getting the cash register ready, putting on soothing music, unlocking the front door and putting a store sign on the street.

It is a 7 hour day, and besides remembering Krishna, I have to keep my energy up in order to effectively interact with the customers. The store has powerful and peaceful energy with the many Deities, spiritual pictures and crystals. Never the less, it takes a lot of psychic energy for me to attend to our customers. This forces me to remember Krishna, the source of all power and energy. I sincerely smile at everyone, give greetings, and do my best to communicate my interest in them. Being trained in Reiki and other energy healing methods I partially view my job there as a healer, to give positive, useful energy and advise.

Each person is an eternal soul forgetful of their spiritual identity who has a unique life story and conditioned identity. In the course of providing them products (many of which are spiritually based), I get to have a glimpse of their life’s history, by relating to them very personally and asking them questions.

People are fascinating, and I see a whole range of varieties and types, many who are seekers, but others just wander in, and some are street people. The very calming, spiritual energy in the store, and the incense and candles with their unique and pleasing fragrance, enable people to relax and open up. Many people say this is their favorite store.

As such, many people in addition to looking for useful items, come to experience the store atmosphere, which they find a soothing balm from their often hectic lives. The personal qualities of the store staff are essential for helping create that atmosphere. Much of the stores success comes from this, and the owners of the store really provide it. I am challenged to come up to that level of concern, caring and knowledge of the products.

Here are a few customers I have met:

A young lady in her 20’s who is a college student is studying to be a therapist—I relate well to her chosen profession. I forget how it came up, but she attended one the lectures by a sannyasi at the store owners home. She liked it, but said she was turned off by all the “absolute views”.

I asked her, “How should one present what they view as truth? Should they present it very tentatively and softly?” She wasn’t really sure. I said it is possible to present one’s view of the truth while respecting other perspectives, which I thought the speaker had. She seemed to agree.

I then asked her if she thought there was an ultimate or absolute truth, and she thought there was, though she didn’t like people who professed that they knew what it was, and tried to make you feel guilty if you didn’t accept their views. Then she told me that she was brought up in very overbearing Southern Baptist family where they preached in a very fanatical way. Thus she was very sensitive to anything that resembled that. It is always interesting how people’s conditioning can be a detriment or asset in their spiritual life. I have found many people who are turned off from religion due to overzealous, fanatically religious parents.

A mother came in with her four daughters, two of which were twins being pushed in strollers by her and her older daughter. She was rather stressed, and I did my best to be upbeat about her situation as a mother. Still she was a bit overwhelmed by it, and I felt sorry for the girls who were just being normal kids, but were pushing their moms buttons. Kids are expert at that, and actually that is one of their jobs, which is meant to help us develop more tolerance, kindness and patience— if we are able to step back from the intensity of the moment. We want our children to “behave” and they have their own agendas!! I informed her about an excellent book and DVD called ‘123 Magic’ which could help here in dealing with her kids that were to her out of control.

I am very tuned into how parents treat their children since I grew up in a abusive alcoholic family. Being a parent is such an important job, but one in which people are the least prepared!! As such parents do the best they can, and we all have to come to peace and forgiveness for our parent’s shortcomings. That is part of preparing for dealing with our own life and children, so we don’t repeat the poor parenting cycle (including the cycle of birth and death in having to complete unfinished business in the next life with our current family members—we can be bound to others though possessive love or hate and resentment!).

Dealing with the public shows me how deficient I am as a Krishna devotee and challenges me to become our Krishna conscious ideal. To really help others in the highest way I must come the spiritual platform and not be attracted or repulsed on the basis of the body. To help others as fully as possible I must be a truly compassionate, loving, caring person, who is also spiritually wise, and can understand others psychology. I have some of that through “sadhana” and mainly grace, yet the more the better.

People are suffering so much and I pray to be of service and help to them. (That will be good for me, and good for them.) The more purified and spiritual I am, the more they will be benefited, and the more I can give them spiritual life in a way they can handle and practically apply. That is an art.

Who I am in truth speaks volumes. I often recall Emerson’s words: ‘Who you are is screaming so loudly, that I can’t here what you are saying.’