When I turned 18, I got two tattoos, one on each wrist. Both in Hindi script, one wrist- Karma, and the other- Dharma. It is only now, a few years later, that I am beginning to comprehend the weight of these words. What were once just spiritual aesthetic words, now hold so much meaning and serve as a reminder of the two guiding principles of my life.
In the last couple of years I have learned some powerful lessons on Karma. And now my lessons in Dharma begin.
Dharma means your sacred duty, inspired action, the work of your life, your blessed talents. Living at the center of your dharma means to live in a way that is aligned with your sacred duty. It is the act of living in alignment with your true calling in life.
Recently, the concept of Dharma has become very important to me. It was something I have not contemplated deeply before, but now I am filled with an inner yearning to plant my feet firmly in the earth of my life, to stand tall and live from the center of my divine order. To live a life saturated in my dharma, my purpose.
My friend Arlene gifted me with an extraordinary book; The Great Work of your life by Stephen Cope. She did not know that questions of my own quest for my dharma had been swimming in my own mind for some time now. The book she gave me helped answer questions and bought clarity to the hazy cloud of dharma that had been hanging low in my thoughts.
I share with you the notes of my research, my findings, my lessons, my spiritual to-do list. If this is a topic that interests you, I would recommend reading the book by Stephen Cope as a good introduction to getting acquainted with your life’s work.
Your Dharma: Your greatest gift to the world
A few weeks ago, I met Arlene for coffee at the bookstore. She had one question for me, she asked me “Malavika, what do you feel is your greatest gift to the world?”
The answer to this question is deep and connected to my Dharma and how you answer this question is connected to yours.
When we think of our “gift” we sort of unintentionally gravitate towards our “talents”. There are of course, the trademark talents of the world, things like; playing an instrument, painting, dancing, singing, acting etc.
And while these are wonderful, there are more that we should not forget about. What about the people who are not musicians, artists, dancers, singers, actors and actresses? Does that mean that they are talentless? Absolutely not. There is an understated level of talent and gifts that are also important and must be nurtured. These may be more hidden, too shy to proclaim itself as a “gift”, yet that is exactly what they are.
It is where your inner joy lies. It could be in taking care of living beings, or a love for animals, it may be in honourably defending the weak, the poor, the hungry, it may be in charity work; a giving soul, it may be in enabling beautiful and wonderful things to happen in this world, it may be in connecting with nature, it may be in teaching, educating and sharing knowledge.
Your talents: a finger pointing to your dharma
We are born with certain gifts and talents. And I believe that they are there for a purpose. They are not within us for our own pleasure and amusement, but rather they are there to be shared with the world so that it may bring goodness into the world. I believe that our gifts and talents are our responsibility to develop and nurture.
A talent can have a number of effects on those it shared with, it can:
– Bring joy and happiness
– Nurture and heal
– Give relief from suffering
– Elevate and expand the consciousness
– Allow someone to appreciate beauty
– Give knowledge and enrich someones experience and/or understanding of life.
“The gift is not itself your dharma. It is only a finger pointing to the dharma” Stephen Cope
So ask yourself this: what are my talents? What is my gift?
If that question is difficult to answer, ask yourself: Where does my joy live? What makes me happy, blissful? What do I love to do? What am I good at? What do I long to become good at?
Consider the subtle talents too.
Your gift is a finger pointing to your true purpose and your true purpose can be lived through the vessel of your talent.
Whatever you come up with, realize this – this world needs you. There is a space in this world that only you can fill. And you can only fill this if you start living in alignment with your true calling and start engaging in the great work of your life. If we do not step up, for whatever reason we may come up with, we will always be left feeling unfulfilled.
An important lesson I learned is that uncovering your dharma is not about being anyone you want to be. It is not about creating a “new self” and projecting that into the world. It is about truly discovering who YOU are. There is great, immeasurable value in being who YOU are.
Uncovering your dharma is a journey of self reflection, self discovery, self acceptance, self realization. It is a celebration of self. If all living beings can celebrate themselves, not with the the purpose of glorifying themselves, but with the humble aspiration of doing GOOD in this world and living to their full potential in order to elevate the consciousness of the planet – then world will surely come alive.
So, we begin the beautiful, but at times testing journey of knowing deeply who we are.
There is no reinventing. Only remembering.
DHARMA OF THE RIGHT SIZE
A key concept introduced in the book was that we must fit into our dharma of the right size.
It is a common misconception that in order to live a life worth living, we must have fame. We must live on a grand scale. But we need not be BIG to be GREAT.
To desire to be “big” also comes the desire for fame, recognition, to desire to have and be more than what we are and have at this present moment.
To desire to be “great” is possible right now. You can be great in this moment. You can fulfil your dharma greatly right now.
And the funny thing is, we cannot truly be great until we lose interest in being great. When we pay too much attention on fame and success, we actively take steps out of our center, our peace and our stability.
To be big is quantity. To be great is intensity and quality.
We cannot do small things in a big way. We can only do small things in a small way. But we can do small things in a great way.
All we need to do is live in such a way that we provide ourselves with just enough of a stretch to help us grow. This means to step out of our comfort zone, to do things that light a fire within us. This means taking acts of courage, no matter how small they may be.
To know your dharma of the right size means living in a balance between stretching yourself a little bit more than necessary, and also giving yourself fully into the present moment. When this balance is achieved, your life will explode with energy. It is with this energy that we suddenly start to live great lives.
CREATE THE RIGHT CONDITIONS
Once you have done some introspection to see where your joy lies, we can begin the next step. The next step is to begin to create the right conditions to nurture your joy.
What kind of life do you need to live to allow your gift to grow and magnify? What feeds your gift? How does your day need to be organized so that this is possible?
Do you need to travel more? Travel less? Do you need more quiet, solitude – a quiet, contemplative life? Or do you need to be around people more – a stimulating life of momentum? What kind of atmosphere do you need in your day to allow your gift, your joy to flourish?
Now it is time to make some commitments. Dharma is responsibility. And we cannot live according to our dharma without taking responsibility of our life. The simple act of committing creates an unseen force in our life that will push us towards living in alignment.
You have to commit to your gift, your joy.
You have to commit to creating the right conditions for it to flourish.
You have to commit to developing good qualities within yourself.
You have to commit to the happiness of others.
You have to commit to acts of courage.
You have to commit to your spiritual practice and development.
You have to commit to living your life in a certain, full way – no matter what happens.
ORGANIZE YOUR LIFE ENERGIES
Here, we must begin to orient our life around our dharma, we must start organizing our life energies around our dharma.
The unification process means focusing in on your purpose. Unification means ensuring that your thoughts, words and actions are in alignment with our highest calling, our values, our purpose, our intention in this world.
When we function with an undivided, unified mind, we can FEEL the difference. We suddenly know exactly what we have to do, and we do it passion. We live with a sense of magic. Every thing we do has an inner pulse of energy that propels us into the next moment.
Have a look at your life. Are your thoughts, words and actions focused on your life’s work? Now that you have created the environment for your gift to flourish, and committed to a life serving your purpose, you must now now make sure that your energies are focused in on manifesting your purpose into reality!
A LABOUR OF LOVE; THE PRACTICE AND DISCIPLINE
Now comes the thickest part of your dharma – which is to actually DO it. To engage with your dharma. All dharma has an active component, and now is the time to engage in it.
Doing your dharma is a labour of love. It can come with a sweet struggle, but there is ease in the sweetness.
Name your practice. Orient your life around it. Step into it. Claim it as your own. Every day, suit up and show up – however that may look for you. Know your practice inside out, know exactly what it requires of you, and feed it just that.
What must differentiate your dharma work from the normal grind that we are all used to is that – when we live our dharma practice, we must be do it deliberately. We must be concerned with the quality and depth of our practice. When we engage in our dharma, we must do so with the aim of trying to understand it at a deeper level and to improve our work.
The practice is a type of deliberate, sustained engagement with where our joy lives. Your dharma’s life expectancy is life long, so this is not about reaching the finish line. It is simply about living at the center of your dharma, working every day within your purpose.
It is also important to spend time within the “domain of your gift”. That means even in your “inactive” periods, try to engage with your dharma in some way. Read about it, talk about it with others who are also within the same domain, think about it.
Make sure you give yourself “recovery time” – just open spaces, pockets of time that allow yourself to fill yourself up with inspiration again. And when the inspiration comes, make sure you are ready, committed – to following through.
Does this mean that doing your dharma, the work of your life will always be “easy” and inspired? No. In fact, at times it can be very difficult. And at times your inspiration will be running low on fuel. But there is a subtle type of “ease” that exists, even in the most difficult moments. A deep, inner voice that whispers to you “This may be difficult, but this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing.”
Your dharma is made of inspired action, action that is taken for the greater good. The inspiration comes from a power much greater than us. We simply act as vessels allowing it to come through. We can only work on becoming better vessels, clearer, stronger, purer, receptive.
Poetry (/writing in general) is something that lives within the domain of my dharma. And I have always felt that my poems write themselves. The only effort is the sweet struggle of letting it come through.
Mastery of your dharma comes with years of sustained effort and discipline that allows you to know your dharma, at a deep, intimate and profound level.
The master doesn’t glitter like a jewel, but is as rugged and common as a stone.
One of the most profound teachings from Stephen Cope’s book was in shedding light that the goal of deliberate practice of your gift is not to be able to “DO” it better, but rather to “KNOW” it better.
At the beginning of our practice, we will naturally be focused on “doing” better. On performing better. On achieving better results. But as time progresses and our practice deepens, we will find that true success and mastery lies in “knowing” better, in knowing the essence of your gift.
Once we are able to know the essence of our art, our work, we will be given the gift of clarity – clearer vision. We will be able to notice subtleties that we were before, invisible to us. We will see a different dimension of dharma. We will unlock the secret door that enables us to reach heights and climb mountains that had never even appeared on our horizon before.
Once we know our dharma deeper, we develop a certain kind of intensity in all our actions that we would have not known before. Living a life at the center of our dharma is about intensity, not volume.
Deliberate practice will deepen our experience of our dharma, our gift, and enable us to magnify it into the world. As our inner life becomes more complex and intricate, our outer life becomes simpler – saturated in humility. This is what Lao Tzu meant by the quote “The master doesn’t glitter like a jewel, but is as rugged and common as a stone.”
THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOUR AND THE DIVIDED MIND
Quite possibly, one of the most challenging lessons of dharma is in the understanding that we must learn to release our attachment to the results, the fruits of our labour.
I feel like so much of life these days is about reaching the end goal. Perhaps I speak for myself here, but sometimes I feel that there are so few things that I do just for the act of doing them, for the process. Books are read to be completed, we work out to lose weight, we work to make a certain amount of money so that we can relax. But there is magic in the process. We must learn to not work for the reward, nor should we long to be lazy.
Our dharma will develop an energy of it’s own and will speak for itself. As soon as we are doing “the work” we do not need to worry about how it will be expressed in the world, we only need to do the work. In this way, we can forget our “self” and practice not taking things personally.
Once we can let go to our obsession with the “reward” we can learn to be both alike in both success and defeat. If our goal is to be rewarded for the work we do, our mind will be constantly evaluating the progress we make, steps forward, steps backwards. A constantly evaluating mind is a divided mind. When our mind is divided we cannot focus our energies on attaining peace.
Don’t worry. You will be taken care of. Just give yourself. Detach from the outcome.
This is the way to live at ease, to be completely absorbed in what we are doing.
ARE YOU LIVING AT YOUR FULL POTENTIAL?
This is a question I often ask myself. Sometimes I feel that I am living at 40%. Imagine that? Cruising through life at a mere 40%?
How about you? What percent do you live at?
For a moment, imagine what life would be like if you started living at 80%, 90% or even 100%? There would be significant changes, with much deeper and more enriching experience of life. Life would open up for you. In fact, I believe that with every 5% you increase, life opens up, and with every 5% you drop, you close yourself off from your true self.
But does “living at your potential” really mean?
It means engaging with your dharma. Making it your life.
It means recognizing and saying YES to opportunities. And yes, we are presented with opportunities every single day of our life; some are big, some are small.
It means recognizing and saying NO to the things that erode your soul.
It means being the person God intended you to be.
It means discovering your true nature.
It means allowing your most golden, noble and highest qualities and virtues take precedence in all your day to day activities and interactions.
It means learning to master your internal environment.
It means letting your talents and gifts shine.
It means being productive. It means doing what you need to do. It means prioritizing. It means managing your time because you understand that time is precious and your resources and ideas are sacred.
It means embodying respect and bringing respect into your world. This means respecting yourself and respecting all others.
It means an inner understanding of your own self worth and the worth of every living being.
It means beings a valuable human being.
It means forgiveness.
It means endurance.
It means loving every other human being. Discovering you have the capacity to love and accept all living beings without judgement.
It means invoking a pleasantness in yourself and a pleasantness in the environment around you.
It means being committed to your life and creating goodness.
It means living in complete integrity.
It means the perfect alignment of your thoughts, words and deeds.
It means deepening all your relationships. It means unconditional loving, selfless caring. It means listening and giving others your undivided attention and love without pre-requisites. It means being totally present in your relationships and engagements.
It means JOY.
It means making all aspects of your life sacred.
My love to you all.