I was at a dinner last week with some very smart people. If we had just recorded the evening, it would have made an incredible book or movie. One of the things we got to talking about was what is it that leads to true fulfillment, to ultimate fulfillment, to a feeling that you’re living the life you came to lead, and doing what you came to do.
Of the course this question, “Why are we here?” “What’s the meaning of life?” and “Who am I really?” have been parodied by Monty Python, Woody Allen and Saturday Night Live. It feels a bit clichéd to want to revisit them again.
But clichéd or not, I would say these are the really important questions, the questions that shift your life from automatic pilot to conscious and deliberate co-creation.
There is no shortage of ready-made answers to these questions. Some people would say it is all about the money. Judging by American television, magazines, and best-selling books, it seems like a lot of people think it is all about the money. But have you met people who make a lot of money? I’m talking about a few hundred thousand a year. Do they seem happier? More at peace? More contented?
A very old friend of mine, named Oliver James, wrote a brilliant book called Affluenza. It is published in England, and really worth the read if you can get a copy. In the book he points out that well-being and money operate together on a bell curve, with the peak of the bell at about US$74,000. Prior to that point, making more money actually contributes to greater well-being. James’s book refers to research about the other side of the curve. It seems that the more money you make over the $74K actually can be associated with more frustration, more discontent, and more greed.
Okay, so it’s probably not about the money. Another very significant group of people would say that it is all about sex. Judging by the business done on dating sites, porn sites, and the semi-naked bodies used in advertising, sex seems to be a pretty attractive carrot on the end of a stick. But then we can ask the same questions. Do you know people who have lots of sex, perhaps with the same partner, or perhaps with multiple partners? Sex does not seem to be the kind of desire that leads to peace. Rather like alcohol or cigarettes, it seems to be an addiction that only leads to wanting more.
There are many, many other formulas people have come up with for what it takes to be truly, deeply fulfilled, to be happy. Some would say perfect health, some would say compassion, some would say being powerful and in control.
Age-old traditions tell us that the secret to true fulfillment is to be found within, in states of deep meditation, transcending the confusion and craving of the human condition. That was probably true for Buddha and Lao Tzu, and countless nameless monks sitting in caves or monasteries, chanting and hovering on the edge silence.
Everything I have seen and heard and felt has led me to feel that this is not true for those of us born in the Western world. Maybe, just like me, you might know people who have been meditating, doing yoga, or going on retreat for decades. I get to take a peek at one in the bathroom mirror every time I brush my teeth. It is true that states of deep meditation may lead to incredible fulfillment while you are meditating. But we can ask ourselves, in a sober and detached way, how much that really spills over into the rest of life?
As you can probably tell, since you read this far, I do have my own answer to this question up my sleeve. From everything I have seen and heard and felt, from all the people I’ve met (including the guy in the bathroom mirror) I’d say there is something that leads to unshakable fulfillment, but I do not think we have the perfect word for that in the English language. I am going to use a word from Sanskrit spoken by a Krishna to another Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita at a time of great crisis.
Dharma is a beautiful word. It is multidimensional: the word conjures up a different way of seeing things, more than just one concept or idea. We can approximate in English by saying “purpose” or “unique gift” or “mission” but they have been too colored by other things. Dharma means to do what you came here to do, to give the gift you were born to give, but in a way that is really devoid of personal will-power, it’s more of a surrendering to destiny.
During more than 20 years of working with people as an awakening coach, I have come to feel that everybody has a Dharma. For some it may be written big and come to the attention of millions, like John Gray for example whose book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus initiated a shift in our collective understanding of gender. Or Eckhart Tolle, whose quiet and unassuming thoughts in The Power of Now brought millions and millions of people closer to a recognition of what it is to be awake in this moment. But everybody has their Dharma. For many, it is not written in neon lights for all to see, but just as important, and just as fulfilling. Your Dharma could be to plant a vegetable garden, and treat it with such care that that part of the earth becomes a sacred place. Your Dharma could be to raise your children in such a way that in their adult years they feel gratitude looking back. Your Dharma could be to create a beautiful home, where people feel welcome and relaxed.
It seems to me that everybody has their Dharma, but definitely not everybody gets to live it. When we are entangled in a mire of should’s and shouldn’ts, of fear, regret and addiction, Dharma gets buried. Then we just meekly buy what we have been told to, and believe what we have been told to believe.
It takes courage and commitment to live your Dharma, but when you do, everything else falls into place.
I will be sharing a free tele-seminar about Dharma this Thursday, January 17th at 6pm Pacific Time, where I will give you some tried and tested tips to recognize and live your Dharma. You can register here.
Now it is your turn to speak, tell me your thoughts in the comments area below.
P.S. Discovering a living your Dharma is the central theme of the Awakening Coaching Training. Come check it out here.