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Follow Your Bliss

As you toil through your working day have you ever wondered what your purpose is? How you might find work that will make you happier? There is a concept in yoga known as dharma, which can help unlock the mystery of your life’s purpose. “We are all here to bring a unique gift into this life,” says Stephan Kahlert, meditation instructor and psychologist at Byron Yoga Centre. “This is what we call ‘living the dharma’.”

The strict meaning of dharma is duty, or living in accordance with the divine will. Swami Muktananda writes, “The highest dharma is to recognise the truth in one’s own heart.” Dharma could be more loosely translated as your calling, or your bliss. This expression was famously coined by the writer and mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who said, “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.”

Uncovering the clues

But how do you know if you’ve already discovered your dharma? How do you find out what your unique gift is? Start by asking yourself, what is it I’m passionate about? Look at activities that give you joy and elicit a feeling of ease and “flow”. Kahlert says that to uncover our dharma we need to let go of social pressures and expectations. “It doesn’t have to be something magnificent and life-changing, and well-known,” he explains. “It could be something unnoticed by society. For example, your dharma could be to be a really great gardener, to have a green thumb.”

The main thing is that the activity excites and inspires you. You’ll know you’re on the right track when success in this activity starts to flow to you easily, as you apply yourself whole-heartedly over time. In the ancient spiritual text, The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna counsels that we should not to be attached to the fruits of our actions. “Though the unwise cling to their actions, watching for results, the wise are free of attachments and act for the wellbeing of the whole world.”

This very much reflects the inherent qualities of living the dharma. Author of Zen and the Art of Making a Living, Laurence Boldt, describes the dharma as “love in action”. “When we are in love, we feel boundless life. We touch the timeless,” he writes. “Work is simply the forms into which we pour this living substance of love.”

It is a love that is unconditional and for which we are prepared to make some sacrifices. It is an embodiment of karma yoga, in which we are fulfilled by finding a purpose that makes us feel useful and contributes to the world around us. “This is the art of creative living,” writes Boldt. “While engaged in life’s work, we can be said to be practising artists — motivated not by external rewards, but by the intrinsic joys of self-expression and service to humanity.”

Author and writing teacher, Sarah Armstrong, left behind a successful career in television journalism in Sydney to move to northern New South Wales and pursue her great love, writing. This tree-change and down-shifting of her career initially involved greater financial hardship than she could ever have imagined. But Sarah says she has no regrets.

“I love my life. I feel so lucky in this beautiful place in a great community,” she enthuses. “I love my job. I teach in my studio in my backyard and sometimes I feel I’m just having tea with friends!” Sarah says that when she is writing regularly it gives her a sense of purpose in the world. “I think, what would it be like if you didn’t have that? That sense of something that gives meaning and satisfaction,” she reflects.

Boldt says, “Your calling is your natural way of being useful.” Kahlert agrees that when you’re in your dharma, you enjoy a greater connection. “It’s a joy and ease, a no-mind state, yoga in action.”

Sky Blue runs Picante Latin Dance, a successful dance school in Sydney. She finds ongoing fulfilment and purpose in sharing her love of dance and the Latin culture with her students. “When I’m teaching I feel joyous. When I’m with the students I feel a sort of a satisfaction when they get it and they’re moving forward,” Blue says. “I like the feeling of giving and seeing how they grow.”

Another clue that you’re following your path is an overriding quality of being rather than doing. When you are engaged in the activity that is your passion, it’s said that you may experience the sensation of time standing still, of being in the zone. “Bliss, the sages tell us, is not a thing to be acquired, conquered or possessed by outer means,” writes Boldt. “Rather, it is an ongoing experience to relax into. Bliss simply is.”

For Sky Blue, dancing is a kind of spiritual connection. “When I’m on the dance floor, it’s a personal release. I feel very free,” she says. Armstrong thinks, however, that idea can sometimes be a little romantic when applied to the craft of writing. “It is hard work, but incredibly satisfying. Quite often, it’s difficult. Occasionally, once a year, I get that feeling that time stands still,” she says.

Once you’re on the path

Once you’ve isolated what it is you love to do and you embark on that path with clear intention, another big clue that you’re on the right track, according to Kahlert, is that obstacles seem to fade away. “Your life becomes much smoother. If you love the thing, it follows that you become good at it and then people will notice,” he says. Once you’re doing what you should be doing, opportunities will arise. It’s then up to you whether you take advantage of these opportunities.

However, let’s not get too carried away! It pays to be aware that success in your chosen life’s work may take time. If you are indeed carrying out your calling, you’ll find that you have the necessary faith to stay on track through some hard times. “Once you’ve found your dharma, there is no time frame,” assures Kahlert. “Move towards it, but don’t stop doing it. If it is in your dharma, there will be your time.”

Blue concurs that you have to believe in yourself. “You’ve got to be able to trust if you follow through and keep going with it, that there’s going to be a good outcome.” In Blue’s case it wasn’t till after the first three years of the establishment phase of her business that she started to see some financial rewards for all her hard work.

Armstrong also finds that the work she has put into designing and implementing her writing classes is reaping rewards for her, with many of her students now coming through word-of-mouth. “I don’t have to advertise a lot for my classes,” she says. She finds it almost uncanny how things flow effortlessly for her. “I think of a date for the next course and, before I even put an ad in the paper, the class starts to fill up!”

As much as it would be the ultimate fantasy for many people to throw in their nine-to-five job to follow their dream, Kahlert counsels not to drop everything. While he says it’s important to employ your intuitive, lateral mind in discovering what your dharma actually is, he warns that the rational mind needs to come back into play in the implementation of a practical plan to help you fulfil this life’s purpose. Do your research about your chosen field, says Kahlert, and go slowly, patiently and with intelligence. This is a good time to pick the brains of people who already work in your chosen area and to seek feedback from a trusted friend or career counsellor.

Take advantage of social and professional networks and remember that your dharma needs to unfold at the right pace for you and your circumstances. Often, practising your dharma as a hobby takes the pressure and potential failure away from trying to make your entire living from it. This allows time for your life to blossom organically towards your aspirations. “When you find your dharma, it doesn’t mean that you will be a financial success at that,” clarifies Kahlert. “It only means that when you’re doing it, you’re in tune with your life’s purpose.”

Can you have more than one dharma?

Over a lifetime, you may find that your dharma shifts and changes with the passing of time. For example, you may be enjoying a successful career in your chosen field in your 20s and then find in your 30s that becoming a parent becomes your next dharmic stepping-stone. Some people have several dharmas running concurrently. Sky Blue, for example, has amalgamated her three passions of dancing, teaching and design into one fulfilling career in the shape of her business, in which she gets to teach dance classes, perform her own dance numbers and even design the costumes. The possibilities are endless, limited only by your imagination.

For those who are courageous enough to follow their bliss, the rewards speak for themselves. For a happy and fulfilled life, you have no other choice but to surrender to your calling, whatever that may be. You can then take comfort in these lines from The Bhagavad Gita, which speak of living your own, authentic life: “It is better to do your own duty badly than to perfectly do another’s; you are safe from harm when you do what you should be doing.”

What’s your calling?

Six ways to find your dharma

  • Be still and listen. If you have no idea what your life’s calling is, Kahlert suggests sitting and meditating, and putting the question to your subconscious. After your meditation, write down what came up for you. It may take some time for clarity to arise, as you need to be open to a lateral answer. “The rational mind can destroy everything!” warns Kahlert. “Struggling and straining to find your calling is a good way to miss it. It’s natural, after all,” confirms Boldt.
  • Get in touch with your longing. According to Kahlert, you find your dharma by becoming aware of what it is you long for. On a more concrete level, ask yourself, what activity is it that you love to do, think about, read about, talk about?
  • Eliminate the things that make you unhappy. Many people discover their purpose through a process of elimination. Sky Blue says, “I’ve always tried something, and if I’m in the process and I’m not enjoying it, I start thinking, what else I can do?” In short, she recommends we just do those things that make us happy! Our biggest obstacle to finding and acting on our dharma is, as Boldt puts it, that most of us are too busy “running down approval alley”. Do something because it gives you joy, not just because it’s perceived to be the right thing to do.
  • Do it because you’ve just gotta do it! What is it that you love to do so much that you do without any thought of financial or social rewards? In other words, is there something in your life that you just couldn’t not do?
  • Find a spiritual friend. Seek out the feedback of an objective friend or mentor who understands your search for your dharma, with whom you can bounce off your ideas for re-crafting your life.
  • Find your sangha. “We are not living on an island,” says Kahlert. He recommends you join with like-minded friends. Spend time with your community in order to gather information and receive inspiration and support.
  • Ana Davis is a yoga teacher and writer who feels blessed to have found her dharma. E: ana@byronyoga.com

    The WellBeing Team

    The WellBeing Team

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