Finding Your Dharma and Forging Your Path

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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.


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Karma’s Not a Bitch

Your karma is leaking

Do you ever hear people say “Karma’s a bitch,” or “That’s good/bad karma,” and think they sound like self-righteous pseudo-hippies? I do. Sorry, but it’s a pet peeve of mine, and I want to straighten this out.

People seem awfully fond of invoking karma was a way of saying “Don’t be a jerk” or “You’re gonna get what you deserve one day!” Trouble is, sometimes people don’t get what we think they deserve, leaving us hippies and yoga types looking pretty dumb.

Karma is not a tit-for-tat contract with the universe. (By the way, it’s also not generated by voting on Reddit, no matter how much fun that might be.) Karma doesn’t mean if you kill someone you’ll get killed or if you steal, someone will steal back from you. That would be very convenient, but it’s not true. We wouldn’t need a justice system if we could trust that every thief would be punished by the magic of karma.

Karma is also not pixie dust. Sorry, Tinkerbell.

Karma is what you’ve got to work with. It’s your genetics, your physical body, and the circumstances you’re born into. I was born a healthy baby in a good family in a prosperous country. That’s a set of circumstances that (as far as I know) I did nothing to deserve. That’s my karma.

Now, sometimes people get thrown off an frustrated by the idea of reincarnation, but you don’t even really need to buy that in order to grasp the concept of karma. If you believe in reincarnation, you might believe that the situation you’re born into is a result of your previous lives — maybe you believe you did something to “deserve” your current circumstances (but I hate the concept of “deserving” because it often leads to victim blaming, which is not cool). Or you might believe this life is somehow the natural result of whatever you did before, a next chapter if you will. If you don’t believe in reincarnation, just think of karma as your current set of circumstances.

Anyway, you can also create karma. You create new circumstances in your life with every decision you make. If you lie about something, you’ve given yourself the circumstance of having to hide something, of being dishonest. What does that reap? Well it depends on the person and all his/her other circumstances or karmas. If you lie and you feel like you have to hide it, then that impacts your personal relationships and your self image. It makes sustaining relationships more difficult, which plays out in a multitude of ways. Maybe you never get caught, and you appear to be quite happy and successful, but inside you have this nasty feeling of having to hide something. So that’s karma. It can show up in big or small ways, but it’s essentially the understanding that our decisions have real effects in our lives.

Bad Karma
Hint: If stealing is bad karma, breaking fingers probably is, too.

It works the other way too, of course. That’s why we like things like practicing gratitude and visualizing positive things. The act of thinking positive thoughts does not cause positive things to happen. Rather, it creates a mindset in which you are more motivated to do positive things. People talk about the law of attraction or positive thinking, but what they’re really describing is just shorthand for this chain of events. I want to be very clear that we’re not talking about magical thinking, here. If you’re thinking “I want a Corvette,” over and over again while doing absolutely nothing, you’re not likely to get a Corvette, unless you are suddenly struck with the inspiration to steal one. I advise against that.

Wanna create good karma? Here’s how it works: Do good things. Be nice to yourself, and be nice to others.

Say you make an effort to do good for people in your life. You go volunteer at a homeless shelter, perhaps. How does this create good karma? Does it make you more deserving of good things than anyone else in the world? No. But you have this experience of serving. You connect with the people around you. You get a sense of doing something positive for your community, which serves both you and others at the same time. That can multiply out to plenty of positive effects depending on who you are. It may not lead to fame and fortune, but you can see how doing good creates positive things in your life.

So, those are the basics of how karma works. It’s really not that mysterious after all, is it?

Ta-da! It’s like magic. Except that it’s not.

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