Is it Dharma? or Karma?
Just this morning I read an article Eknath Easwaran wrote, in which he summarized a passage from the Upanishads as follows: You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your deep, driving desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.
I have a deep, driving desire to experience freedom of thought, to wonder, to express, to have a voice. Often, my voice comes through writing. I have never thought of myself as a writer. Writers understand spelling and grammar and good sentence structure. I can never remember if "grammar" is spelled with a "...er" or "...ar". If it were up to me, "dead" would be spelled "ded". Y waste time with xtra leters, I say. Writers know how to create a story structure. I often have no clue about what I'm going to write until I see it on paper. There is no structure.
And yet, for some reason that I seem to want to ignore, people have been so bold as to call me, yes, "a writer". Some, those with the courage to withstand my quick and forceful denial, have called me a good writer. A good writer. I don't understand that. To be a good writer, one would have to proactively write, yes? I don't proactively write. I sit at the computer, put my hands on the keyboard, and stare into space. Sooner or later, I see stuff on the screen. And I feel good - awake, alert, alive, and spacey. I often find myself laughing. Sometimes, crying. I look out the window a lot.
I have been told that I should be a speechwriter. Some have gone so far as to tell me that I am funny. Others have sought me out to write corporate communications. A few have suggested that I write a sitcom. These are, clearly, the good-judgment-challenged among us.
None of that fits. "Hi, I'm Dan, I'm a funny speechwriter. Would you like me to write your corporate communications after I finish this sitcom episode?". Nope. It doesn't fit. See, my spell checker on my computer says there is something wrong with that last quote but its not telling me what. You can't see it if you are reading this on paper, but trust me, my computer knows. Am I not supposed to have a period after I end a sentence with a ?" I wonder. Well actually, see, I don't really wonder. I could care less about whether I need a period there or not. You'll see my point either way. And if you don't, then one of us needs help. So how can I be a writer if I don't care about writing? What is a writer anyway?
My task for this yoga essay is to explore writing - my writing, me being a writer - in relation to karma yoga. I was recently quite taken by some of the ideas presented in the book, "Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga", by Swami Vivekananda. The suggestion that we are not here to help the world or to save it, nor are we meant to find equilibrium, was quite freeing. The idea that trying to be happy is essentially a waste of time, was, to my surprise, freeing as well. Isn't that ironic! That we cannot add permanent happiness to the world is both sad and liberating.
My yoga teacher / mentor put forth the idea of imagining that my writing, and what I write, isn't mine. Maybe it is a gift to be shared with others. Maybe writing, for me, is or can be an act of selfless service.
A gift. Would it not be egotistical of me to think that I have a gift so great that it is my duty to share it with others? And yet, would it not be egotistical of me to allow my self-centered fear of rejection or looking stupid to discount the words of many who have suggested that I make my writing public?
Nice huh? Looks like I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. Talk about a yoga pretzel! Forget about being all bound and twisted physically - this is mental pretzelness. What if I just ignored this and didn't write at all? Well, I don't think that would happen. Somewhere, somehow, I would find something to write about and a way to do it, if only privately. I can't not write. I know that. It is my voice, my expression, my stance against oppression, my freedom. I soar when I write, even if the content is down in the dumps. And I'd miss looking out the window so much.
Actually, I have no idea what a yoga pretzel is. But this does feel like a twisted mental posture that I have been bound in for so long.
I'm stuck. I'm trying to make that leap from where I started this paper to the idea of writing being a gift and something I can do as a selfless act of service, and I'm stuck.
A week later....
What if I imagined that I was destined to write, that this was my dharma? The past few months of yoga teacher training, along with passage through a "mid-life crisis", have crystallized my sense of dharma. Teaching, writing, coaching and counseling return again and again as things that take so little psychic effort for me and create a sense of peace and alivement in me. The content may change - teaching business at a university, teaching yoga to adolescents, coaching for organizational development - but the feeling is the same. A few simple questions from the study guide bring it to light...
Do these roles improve my life, as well as others? Yes.
Do these roles allow me to harness my talents to express my inner virtue - compassion, love, forgiveness, humor, etc? Yes.
Do these roles purify my mind? Yes.
What is my purpose? I don't know. I'm not sure there has to be one actually, other than to just do what brings about the answers to the questions above - teach, write, and coach. Let those around me decide what the purpose of my actions are, for them.
Hmmm. Maybe that's what my yoga teacher was talking about when she suggested exploring the act of writing as a gift, an act of selfless service. It is not for me to figure out what my dharma means to others, just as it is not for me to save the planet. They all go on without me, as noted in the book, "Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga". Maybe the idea is that I am simply to do what brings about a pure mind for me and expresses my own inner virtue without needing to control how others use my service. Let them decide.
Karma yoga is often described in four steps: Acceptance, Concentration, Excellence, and Non-attachment.
As I wrote this sentence, "Maybe the idea is that I am simply to do what brings about a pure mind for me and expresses my own inner virtue without needing to control how others use my service", I couldn't help thinking that it boils down to simply accepting that there is a larger process going on, whether I understand it or not.
When I teach or write, I am somewhat aware of the world around me. Yet, my awareness is very much concentrated on the task at hand, the people involved, and the idea of listening to guidance that comes as I act. The more I listen, the less I am doing the teaching. Rather, somehow, guidance comes to me and I become a channel for expression more than an expresser - a seer more than the seen. My best work - the excellence in karmic service - comes when I release attachment to how I think things should go.
And of course, non-attachment. Fear, doubt and insecurity often yell loudly in my ear. Interestingly enough, they aren't so loud when I teach. But, the idea of writing and making it public? That makes me nervous - the rejection, the thought of not being liked. I become attached.
Why is writing different than teaching? Why is my ego so attached in this area, both to the question of "who am I to think this and how dare I think I am a good writer?" and, on the flipside, my ego-based fear of rejection and not being liked. Somehow, writing implies intelligence - something I have not held in my self-image. When I teach, I simply guide and reflect. But when I write, there is nobody else involved. I am alone. What I write is a reflection of me and only me. I am exposed, visible, vulnerable.
And therein may be my answer.