Your Dharma May Not Be Practical

By Marcia Miller

Several times this month I have heard myself say that living your dharma is not always “practical,” at least in the sense of what we normally think of as safe and reasonable. This thought came up as several people talked with me about deeply held dreams or longings that were arising in their lives. “Dharma” is a Sanskrit word rich in meaning. As Doug Keller reminded us earlier this year when he taught at Yoga on High, it comes from the root “dhar,” which means to fasten, to support or to hold. As is true with most Sanskrit words, it has many meanings, and some of them have changed over the years as the Indian or American culture has changed. Originally the word meant duty—an individual’s duty that, when performed, ensured the smooth running of the entire community. Now the word has come to mean living life to its highest purpose, honoring one’s natural gifts and learning the specific personal lessons that are to be learned in life. So when someone says to me that their life’s dream is to be an artist we both know it may not be practical—it is vitally important to feed and house ourselves and our family after all. I think they are really seeking my permission or encouragement to nourish a part of themselves that doesn’t always make sense in a world view often measured only in dollars and cents. The question is really, “How can I nourish this part of me that is longing to make art when it won’t feed my family?” “How can you not,” I answer. Your longing is giving you an important message that gives you clues to your real job here on earth—the job of fulfilling your dharma. This well known quote from the dancer Martha Graham gives a poetic voice to this concept. I have kept this posted by my desk for years and I still get goose bumps every time I read it.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

This quote also beautifully expresses the meaning of “pranava”—Om—the sound of prana. Prana is the life energy that moves us all—infused in everything. So the idea of dharma is that while we all have this same life energy, it moves differently through each of us through our talents, longings and challenges.

I have been musing about this lately as I prepare for the arrival of my friend, Jill Benioff, the Vedic Astrologer who is coming in October for a Vedic Astrology workshop and private sessions. I met her at Esalen Institute on Big Sur last spring when I assisted my meditation teachers in a workshop. I was immediately drawn to her gentle nature and the depth of attention she brought to all the practices we were doing. We made a date for lunch to get to know each other; I was especially eager since I had never met a Vedic Astrologer before and was curious about her work.

After talking together through lunch she offered to give me a reading to show me more directly what her sessions were like. I declined saying that I didn’t like someone else telling me predictive information about my life. I have always wanted to greet each moment afresh, without anticipation of how it might go (or how someone else thinks it might go.) And I have known people who come to rely on someone else’s advice and inner knowing rather than cultivating their own inner wisdom. Then she said something that changed my mind. She said that she didn’t generally do predictive astrology. Her gift was in offering people a deeper and clearer view of their dharma. She said people almost always feel a sense of familiarity with what she is saying because she is confirming what they already know, at least on some level. The benefit of her work is to highlight wise inner voices that may be soft and her work (in her words) “illuminates what is needed to promote greater authenticity in our lives.” This kind of clarity allow us to function at a high level of efficiency and joy—much like the difference between a soaker hose where the flow of water is slow and dribbles out in all directions and a regular hose where the flow of water is strong and directional.

As Jill explained to me what the chart said about my own birth, I felt like she had known me forever. It was all so conversational and friendly. She mentioned a number of my talents and I was amazed that so much of what felt intimate and personal about me seemed to be laid out on her computer screen in my chart. She encouraged me to step into these gifts even more fully. I have sensed what she was saying for years but some part of me had resisted allowing the best parts of me to grow fully—perhaps because of some fear of pride. If I allowed the fullness of who I could be to emerge might I become a person who lost all sense of humility and might that prevent the kind of connection with others that I yearn for? But as we talked there was something about hearing and seeing her information that seemed almost impersonal. I felt a shift in me that was a willingness to rest more fully in myself. This sense of deep intimacy along with a feeling of impersonality allowed me to understand that whatever I have been given is not really mine to be proud of, but mine to cultivate. There is more curiosity and less worry. Since then I have had several very powerful dreams related to my work with Jill—the first one during the night after our talk and the other one a few weeks ago. They continue to reaffirm the information she gave me, that I will have all the inner resources I need to live my life fully, even in times of great difficulty. The fear of pride is lessened because it seems natural and appropriate to live in alignment with the best of who I am.

This actually brings me back full circle to paraphrasing some words from Doug Keller. As we live our dharma more fully the unique gift of our presence (which includes all the light and the dark) is offered with all that we do. The clarity, the efficiency, the fullness and the originality of each one of us living our dharma may in fact, be more practical and sensible than we ever imagined.

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One Response to Your Dharma May Not Be Practical
  1. Susannah

    This is beautiful, Marcia. Thank you. 🙂 <3 Susannah