Definition of DHARMA (according to Merriam-Webster)
1. Hinduism : an individual’s duty fulfilled by observance of custom or law
2. Hinduism & Buddhism
a : the basic principles of cosmic or individual existence : divine law
b : conformity to one’s duty and nature
Oh, how I hate this definition. For me, it doesn’t capture the beautiful essence of what dharma is. I get hung up on a word used twice: “duty.” The connotation of that word implies a hardship, action that may lack passion, even a potential dislike for what you’re doing. I’m sure the word doesn’t resonate with everyone in this way. Unfortunately, my maternal grandparents, who were always characterized as “duty-driven” by my own parents, never seemed happy. And dharma, to me, is a positive mission. Therein lies my perspective thanks to childhood conditioning. So it goes.
A definition that I do love comes from Aadil Palkhivala, a respected master teacher with oodles of yogi accolades. In his book “Fire of Love,” he says dharma is “my unique mission, the intention of my individual spirit, my soul’s purpose for choosing my body.”
A much lovelier descriptive, no?
Tonight I attended a talk given by Aadil. I didn’t go expecting to find any answers to help me immediately unlock my own dharma; it was pure curiosity coupled with an open heart. The same poetic prose found in that book, I witnessed in person with its author. Aadil is a stocky bald man with a gentle demeanor and lovely Indian accent. He didn’t sport crimson robes, wear mala beads or project an arrogant, holier-than-thou attitude. He wore a button-down shirt, slacks and a smile. He chose his words thoughtfully. And in true yogi form, he opened and closed the talk with three AUMs. I love the immediately calming effect of that ritual.
The talk drifted into esoteric territory at times — that, or I didn’t consume enough caffeine to keep me alert after a long day at work. However, when the subject matter is “dharma,” it’s not going to be as mindlessly straightforward as an US Weekly story.
Of everything that was discussed, my biggest take-away was Aadil’s guidance on decisions — and how to choose the “right” decision suited to your dharma. When at a crossroad, his instructions are simple: 1) Find a quiet place to meditate; 2) Spend time with the fingers of your right hand at the heart center; and 3) Go inside yourself, hush the brain and ask the Question. When you feel an opening and expansion in the heart based on a choice being considered, that is the direction you take. When a possible choice causes your heart to contract and close, that is not the right decision.
In short: Follow your heart.
How often have I heard this! From my parents, in movies, on Hallmark cards. It’s such a simple piece of advice, yet so hard to take — and sometimes difficult to reveal, given the often-times deafening chatter of the brain. Trying to answer the question “What is your heart’s desire?” can be complicated by pragmatism, societal norms and expectations, family conditioning, guilt, fear. Too much thinking, in other words.
Follow the heart. Duh.
I liken this advice to following your first instinct. Does something make you immediately cringe with disgust or fear or (negative) anxiety? Or, does it make your heart sing? Make you feel energized? At least for me, my first instinct is usually “right” — even though I inevitably will draw out the decision-making process by listing the pros/cons and weighing every conceivable, possible, hypothetical angle. (It’s tough to completely let go of the Type A. I’m working at it. Baby steps!) Ironically, I do recognize the practical nature of that first instinct. When a friend of mine was considering a job shift recently, I asked him: “What was your first reaction to the offer?” He paused and made a face. Before he could verbalize an answer, I told him that I saw the answer in his body language.
Listen to your heart.
I vow to hush the mind and do that more often. After all, decisions made with the heart, not necessarily the mind, have led me to amazing life milestones …