Still cold but past the hard frost time in southern Sweden, yet before the crocuses had sprung. Tommy and I dug and turned the black earth for the planting of stones. To build a stairway leading from the ashram's kitchen door down to the gardens. It was after breakfast, always after breakfast, which was a small glass of grain tea, with perhaps a third of a cup of parched grain resting in the bottom. We dug, we smoothed, we went to the rockpile and chose one slab after another. Together we lifted them into the wheelbarrow. Moved the first one to the top of the slope. Pushed and shoved it into the dirt. Pounded with mallets. Laid the next and pounded the earth between the stones. Some were thicker than flagstones, rounded or pointed on the bottom, needing to be settled. More digging. More pounding.
We nodded, shrugged, smiled, shook our heads, because we were building without speech. In silence. And there was Tommy. Not a common name for a Dane. One day during meditation Tommy started sobbing. I made up a story then. That he had an American father who had abandoned him. I knew the meditation had released some long-held sorrow. To be experienced, not expressed, Swamiji had said when he cried, and with that, Tommy calmed. I wondered if Tommy might be like me. Queer. Always with my antennae out. And him a sensitive boy.
A few days into the stairs, the karma yoga leader came by. Lanky, dressed in ashram orange, Kim said, "Harmonious." The work of karma yoga was seldom praised. Tommy and I looked at each other. Didn't try to hide that we were pleased. "Fortsætte," Kim said. Continue. We wouldn't be assigned to cleaning the yoga room, weeding parsnips, or digging out the new basement. Rare to be allowed to take a job from start to finish.
Tommy and I. We were harmonious. Made a harmonious set of stone steps together. The whole stairway. We did it harmoniously.
Years later I went back to Håå to take another course. I walked around to the kitchen door to see the steps. Gone. That is the way of karma yoga. The task is done for the sake of the task. Some tasks, like the basement we dug by hand one year, yield permanent results. Just as often, perhaps more often, the work teaches us to be in the present, that nothing is truly permanent. Teaches us to find harmony in that.
The word harmonious was brought to you by Corliss Kruis Mock, my double cousin. When she read my book, To Drink from the Silver Cup, she wasn't sure how she felt about the chapter that told some of the things I learned at the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School. She changed her mind after re-reading (props to her), so I hope she doesn't mind that this is the story that wouldn't give up when the word harmonious arrived.