I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of dharma recently, since it’s been a major theme in some of the readings for my yoga teacher training, like the Bhagavad Gita. Dharma is similar to the western concept of “love what you do; do what you love,” or the Christian concept of God’s plan (Jeremiah 29:11) or will for each individual. In simple terms, dharma is your life’s work or purpose; it is the answer to the questions, “Why am I here?” and “What’s the meaning of this life?” According to tradition, your dharma can change over time, and it does not need to be your profession, although this is why we ask people upon first meeting them, “What do you do?” Really we’re asking, “What are you about? What do you value in your life?”
My main question regarding dharma has to do with its relationship to success, because my first instinct in thinking about dharma is that, in order for something to be your life’s purpose, you should be successful at it. Obviously it’s more complicated than that, but how, exactly? I think about figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Paul Gauguin. King saw his ideas gain traction but didn’t see much concrete success in his own lifetime, and was actually murdered for his pursuit of equality. Gauguin’s paintings didn’t become widely known until after his death, and he didn’t start painting until after he’d begun working as a stockbroker. (He was later a salesman before painting full time, and this decision led, in part, to his divorce.)
So are we supposed to achieve some level of success, maybe during our lives or after our deaths? Or maybe just a sense that the work we’re doing is important, somehow? At what point do we interpret obstacles as a sign that we’re not on the right path rather than a sign that we should persevere?
A teacher once told me that I’d know if I’m a writer if I need to write. He suggested an experiment: stop writing for a while, a couple weeks, and see if the urge to write occurs, and inspect this urge. Are its motivations guilt, wistful longing, or necessity? I have tried this sort of thing off and on. There are certainly times where the only way I can think through something properly is to write it. There are other times where a phrase or image comes to mind and I think, how great that would be in a poem, or story! A week ago a friend told me about a little girl she knew who, in times of stress or discomfort, would imitate a cat. She’d respond to questions with, “Meow,” crawl on all fours, and lick herself. The girl’s father was at his wits’ end. Wouldn’t they make excellent characters in a novel or short story?
There are times too when I sit down to write, or just think about writing, and my mind becomes a blank and boring and clear as I wish it would when I try meditating. I waver between complete doubt, feeling as though I’ve lost any artistic ability I’ve ever had, and complete confusion and a sort of awe at what emerges (this was here all along?!?!). It’s something like staring at a kitchen counter covered with bags of flour and sugar and cocoa, proceeding to go into a trance and, an hour and a half later, staring in amazement at a fully formed, perfectly pleasant-looking cake on the very same counter. Who knows how it tastes, but hey! It’s a cake!
Did I need to write this? Maybe. But maybe someone needs to read it too. Love to all.