Perhaps the most puzzling question in my life has been “What am I here to do?”
I have tried a multitude of approaches to life, at first being eager and enthusiastic about my new approach, and then finding yet another path to pursue. I was always hoping to find something that would feel like home, to find something that could bring out a relaxed sigh – this is it.
But no. I can’t even call it a midlife crisis as I’ve had it for so long. Somehow most of the things I tried were not satisfactory. No work, no relationship, no path, no success was truly fulfilling. And at the same time, I began befriending a growing feeling of wanting to dive ever deeper, to dedicate my life to something. Something greater, a greater cause. Finding meaning and purpose in life.
Yet another consequence of this lack of meaning is that I have never been able to get into the real depths of any specific spiritual teaching. I feel like I have always stayed at the beginners level. I think you could call it spiritual window shopping. I would not be surprised if this is the very point when many give up and forget about spiritual aspiration. This is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog, to understand and assimilate things while I continue walking the path.
The current idea of the purpose of life in the Western world seems to be to create as much pleasure as possible while keeping away the things we don’t like. To create a dream life. And while doing that, anything is possible. Just pick and choose whatever you like. Create the best version of you, be productive and successful, optimize your life.
To some extent I had lived this out in my life, until I came to realize that even if all is possible, it’s not possible to do everything. And so began the simplifying process: letting go of everything that does not support my goal.
But, my ultimate goal was not clear, so how could I figure out what to leave behind and what to keep…? Which direction should I take on my path? My ex-boss, an eager freetime sailor, once said, “There’s no good wind for those who don’t know where they’re going.”
I think I had found several creative ways to compensate for this emptiness, this lack of a goal. I wanted this and that, to do things, to experience, to achieve, to be successful. I filled my life with various duties, I participated. Always something more. Until it all started to feel overwhelming.
Of course, I did not notice that overwhelmingness by myself – until recently. Things started to feel too heavy, it became difficult to make decisions, and I started to forget things.
Then, I let go. I simplified. Perhaps sometimes even struggling on the verge of a burnout, but still standing on my own feet.
Now, though, I had a new struggle. What happens when the busyness of life is peeled away and left behind? There’s space. But what to do with all that space? Get anxious and frustrated?
What is Dharma?
Dharma. Even the word itself has been captivating my attention. The idea of Dharma is difficult to grasp fully. There’s no translation of the word which could convey its broad and complex meaning.
In my understanding now, Dharma means that we – our entire being, not just our constructed self – are in alignment with the harmonious and continuous flow of the Universe. That everything we do is in tune with all of life. That all our actions support our deeper calling.
Wikipedia gives a few nice examples on Dharma: it’s the Dharma of the bee to make honey, of the cow to give milk, of the sun to radiate sunshine, and of the river to flow. One of the characteristics of Dharma seems to be interconnectedness, that all actions are to the benefit of all. Which sounds like it could be very different from pursuing our own, personal goals.
Recently, I was reading more about Dharma in a book The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope. The book revolves around the concept of Dharma described through inspiring stories from the lives of people like Beethoven, Gandhi, and Thoreau. The author uses the spiritual classic book, The Bhagavad Gita, as a backbone.
Quite late in the book one of the exemplars mentioned that developing the self is too small of a goal, so it can never be truly fulfilling. This really struck me – wake up!!
As I have let go and simplified my life, I also have made it smaller. Maybe even too small, too narrow and self-centered. A personal goal of self-improvement can become a prison. We need to expand beyond ourselves, serve, and share.
And even let go of the expected benefits or the outcome of the work we do.
Finding the Center
I recently enjoyed a blog post by Christopher “Hareesh” Wallis, where he does not directly mention Dharma, but to me it sounds very much related. The post is a part of series, where Christopher is shedding light on some of the popular modern spiritual tenets. This quote is from “Listen to your Heart”:
The intuitive wisdom that arises from the Heart, the Core, the Center, is called pratibhā in Tantrik thought. It’s a kind of deep inner knowing, a sensing of which way the wind is blowing (or wants to blow), of which way the current of Life wants to take you. … This inner wisdom inclines in one direction or another for the benefit of all beings, which is one key way it is different from the desires of the heart-mind, which usually only wants what is personally beneficial. So the inner wisdom won’t necessarily lead you towards what you most like on a superficial level.
A spiritual practice such as tantric yoga can help us to become more in touch with the Center Christopher mentions above. We can get glimpses of the infinite and of the bliss that is our true nature. Perhaps at first just a glimpse. Then a glimpse every day when you do your practice. And then perhaps you can get in touch with it in some other situation – you realize we are all connected, or you feel you are in the flow. Learning to let go of mental and physical contractions in all situations, learning to let go of the conditioning that rules our life.
Dharma is something we are destined to do with a deeper meaning, a strong but perhaps silent pull towards something greater than ourselves. I guess it’s also possible that following Dharma is not the easiest or most pleasant path to walk on, as we are not able to see the entire picture of our lives unfolding. We can’t know what is the best and most harmonious course of actions for us in this world, at this time.
Dharma is something we all have, but it may take a lifetime (or more) to really find it. Or rather, if we are persistent enough, Dharma may reveal itself to us. And the magic happens when you finally find it. Someone described it as “falling in love with life.”
I have not gotten there (yet).