Living Your Dharma
As spirituality goes mainstream, there is much talk about “living your dharma”. But what does that really mean?
René Guénon, in Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines defines dharma as “the essential nature of a being, comprising the sum of its particular qualities or characteristics, and determining, by virtue of the tendencies or dispositions it implies, the manner in which this being will conduct itself, either in a general way or in relation to each particular circumstance.”
This definition suggests that there is a ‘right way of living’ or ‘path of righteousness’ that is specific to each individual. It is through listening to and cultivating our unique characteristics that our dharma (the actual work) and our dharma path (the way it expresses) unfold.
The Challenge: A Midlife Crisis
In The Great Work of Your Life, a modern-day rendering of The Bhagavad Gita, Stephen Cope suggests that our gifts – the things that light us up as children – point to our dharma. He also suggests that dharma refines itself over time; what started as a gift for music, may develop into a love of conducting and later a desire to compose.
If the gift is not cultivated in early life, it becomes overlooked, maybe even dormant, in the face of the need to “make a living”. Suddenly, in midlife, we may find that we have created a life that appears to work on the outside, but inside, we are left wondering, “Is this all there is?”
Hence, the mid-life crisis: an opportunity to integrate the callings of our soul, our dharma, with our outer lives. Midlife (35-65) is a time when our soul makes a bid for control, demanding that we live our purpose, express our unique gifts, and step onto our individual dharma path. We ignore the soul’s call at our own peril; as it says in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, “If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you.”
Whether we are out of integrity in our career, our primary relationships, or our health, the journey to integration and living an authentic life may be wrought with fear, doubt and uncertainty. But this is not uncharted territory. Countless people have moved through these transitions and come out the other side to live more satisfied, fulfilling, happy lives. The key is knowing the terrain and using intuition to navigate it.
p.s. This post was first published on the blog for Southwestern College.