In the yoga tradition, the word dharma refers to an individual’s unique path in life. In the past, it meant living the prescribed lifestyle for your caste. Since humanity has evolved beyond the caste system (go us!) we now use the term in a more individualized way that means living in accordance with your own nature and values.
On the day I taught my first online yoga class, I had the clearest sense of my dharma that I’ve had in a long time. After teaching, I felt overwhelmed with joy. I was able to share something I really love, plus people paid me even though they didn’t have to, and they registered for future classes. I felt so lucky and grateful. I have always wanted to find work that felt this joyful, and having found it feels so good it’s almost unreal.
As a kid, I saw my dad doing work that was 100% right for him. He’s a doctor, and he loves his work. He cares deeply for his patients and feels satisfied knowing he’s helping people. I didn’t know that was called living your dharma back then, but I knew I wanted to do it. My mom’s work is different, but she too seems perfectly suited to her life. She raised four kids and helped run the medical office, and of course managed all the business of our home. The type of work I saw my parents doing wasn’t exactly what I saw for myself as an adult — I didn’t want to be a doctor or a mother of four — but I had hopes that I could find work that was really fulfilling for me personally.
I entered the professional world only to find that I felt out of place and dissatisfied with every job I did. I knew I liked to write, but I couldn’t figure out how to get anyone to pay me just for liking to write. My heart wasn’t in journalism, no matter how much I loved the newsroom, and I wasn’t a very good copy editor. But this combination of teaching yoga and writing is surprisingly perfect for me. I write about what I love the most, I teach what I love the most, and I still get the indulgence of writing to my heart’s content. Furthermore, I never feel like I’m selling bullshit. I never feel like I’m doing a meaningless job. I know that when I teach yoga or or write about yoga, I’m doing my best to give other people something very valuable. Even if I don’t always accomplish what I want, the work still feels worthwhile.
I do occasionally feel like I have a thankless job. Very rarely, I have a class and no one shows up, or I don’t get paid on time or enough (it happens). Once in a blue moon, a student is acts like a jerk. But those times are extremely minor compared to the sense of fulfillment I get from doing the work that’s meaningful to me.
But that day after teaching that first online yoga class, I felt this sense of “Ah-hah! That’s what dharma’s supposed to feel like!”
If your life feels like wearing someone else’s clothing or driving someone else’s car, you need to get in touch with your dharma. If you’ve been telling yourself “I’m only in this job for another year…” then you might have lost touch with your dharma. The good news is, you can bring your life back into alignment with what matters most to you, and it starts with a simple intention or sankalpa.
Try this on for size: I live my life fully, joyfully, and in tune with my true values.
Say that to yourself a few times each day. Set it as your intention when you get up in the morning, and think it right before you go to sleep. In between repetitions, do your best to make your decisions in tune with that statement. This is the beginning of your evolution.