Dharma has many meanings, among them: to see things just as they are; duty; reality; our essential nature; the law or destiny; and it is also simply referred to as “the way.” Dharma means we finally understand, through direct experience, the nature of life, consciousness, and love.
All of the paths of yoga are concerned with dharma. As the Bhagavad Gita mentions in 3:33, “It is better to live our own life, even if poorly, than to imitate someone else’s path.” Human beings, through the gift (and sometimes burden) of choice, are the only species confused about who we are and what our purpose is. Even the tiniest of flowers will bloom in the spring without apology and say, “here I am, I am yellow, and I smell lovely, and this is who I am and all this is my gift to you.”
Dharma is an expression of both our deepest longings as well as what we receive from our circumstances. It is our duty to find our dharma, our path with heart. The practices are meant to help us find it. It is said that there is no amount of money, fame, or success that can make us happy. The only path to happiness is to live our life with authenticity and to give our gifts to the world without sabotaging ourselves constantly.
What comes to mind is the idea of “living out loud.”
Many students experience confusion with regard to finding one’s purpose, or dharma. Somehow, finding one’s purpose has become mixed up with the New Age philosophy of “following your bliss and all else will follow.” Unfortunately, this approach does not work. Even when you are deeply ensconced in your dharma, your work will sometimes be hard, tedious, boring, and filled with obstacles of all kind. It is not always bliss. But underneath all of it is a faith, a commitment, and a dedication that will guide you through all of the obstacles. At the end of the day, we know it is all worth it.
There was a time when doing my yoga practice really hurt my body. People suggested that I stop practicing. But I knew that I could not quit! I knew that there was more to it, and that I had chosen the right path for me but not yet the skillful approach. This deep faith eventually led me to the right teachers, who could really help me.
Two clues to finding dharma
There are two important clues that can help you to find your dharma.
The first clue is to pay attention to your natural talents and all the things that are easy and effortless for you to do. You are naturally drawn to those things and when you are engaged with them, time passes fast. Initially, you may not value this trait. If you are not sure about your natural talents, you can ask your friends about them, as they may be aware of the gifts you have. For example, if you are a good listener you may not think that this is special, but there are plenty of jobs where being a good listener serves as the foundation of doing a good job, such as being a therapist.
The second clue is the exact opposite of what is easy for you. To identify this, you must look deeply into your core wounds.
I was sick as a child and struggled for survival for many years. Being incarnated in a body and being healthy is obviously a theme of struggle for me. Working through this challenge led me to yoga and to my dharma.
Another example of how your core wound can help you find your dharma is illustrated by this story from a fellow yoga teacher:
Many years ago this teacher had the desire to give back to society and began to teach at a local women’s shelter. She was excited about offering her service to girls and women who had been abused and she expected her weekly class to be fun and easy. What she did not expect was how difficult this task turned out to be; the young women would challenge her on every level and resist her in every way; but she did not give up. Eventually, this work forced her to face the abuse she suffered earlier in her life.
Eventually her teachings began to help the women and girls and in doing so, she also helped herself. Today, she is one of the most prominent and outspoken yogi/activists of our time.We could call this evolved state of being “the wounded healer.”
(Excerpt from Yoga & Dharma Manual, soon to be released)