“The biggest threat to our well-being is the absence of moral clarity and purpose.” — Rich Sherman
Have you ever noticed how much happier and grounded you feel when you have a sense of purpose; when something you have said or done has had meaning behind it, and possibly had a positive effect on yourself or something/someone else?
Life seems so much brighter when it is more than simply eat, sleep, wake up, get things done, rinse and repeat.
This is because purpose guides our life decisions, influences our behaviour, shapes our goals, offers a sense of direction, and creates meaning to our lives.
For some of us, purpose is connected to vocation--meaningful, satisfying work. This is definitely the case for me. I teach yoga and offer massage therapy because I love to utilise my passion for something, turn it in to a skill, and then transfer it on to others in the hopes that it will make them feel good about themselves. It is why I set intentions and write blogs most weeks. The hard work and fear over sharing some of my most personal insights, feel worth it when I realise that I have managed to resonate with even just one other person that day/week/month.
For others, purpose lies in responsibilities to family or friends, or through spirituality/religious beliefs. Some people may find their purpose clearly expressed in all of these aspects of life.
Your purpose will be unique from everyone else’s; what you identify as your path may be different from others. Moreover, your purpose will actually shift and change throughout life in response to the evolving priorities and fluctuations of your own experiences.
Ultimately for all of us though, our life’s purpose is the message we wish to drive forward in the world during our time on Earth.
Nobody wants to live in chaos, and without focusing on our life’s purpose, we are bound to feel lost, depressed, anxious, and feel a sense of meaninglessness. A lot of psychological literature clearly states that there is a link between feeling like we have a purpose and our psychological well-being. Having a meaningful pursuit in your life acts as a buffer against stress, negative emotion, and makes you more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviours. It even helps you sleep better at night! Therefore, to have a goal, a purpose, is to organize the world around you, and to move through time in a meaningful way, carving your way through the chaos of life!
Taking the time to discover your purpose means that you are passionate about living your best, most conscious life. This does not mean that all of your problems disappear; it simply means that with a clear purpose, you can then set the right goals and plans, and take the right daily steps to create your most meaningful life.
Think about my blog post on making decisions a couple of weeks ago. Understanding what our purpose is in life, will help us to make better decisions about our actions and behaviours, which will ultimately lead to more desirable outcomes and manifest a more meaningful, positive life for ourselves. As with decision-making though, when trying to figure out our purpose, we need to differentiate between the important and unimportant, so that we can cut through the cr*p and get right to the things that matter!
When we begin to direct our focus to the really important things, life becomes filled with direction and meaning, instead of wasting time on inconsequential stuff. For example; as opposed to wasting time in a job you do not love, you can now work toward a career that better fits your purpose; as opposed to being around toxic people who are incompatible with you, you can now find people who share the same values to build your highest life; as opposed to living a random existence, you can now create your life of the highest meaning.
Thus it is important to identify what you truly care about, and then direct your energy to making this a reality.
When we find what our purpose is, we will naturally want to devote our life to pursue it because we care about it, it gives us the most fulfilment, and we will naturally get better at it because the time we spend on it will give us the experience and skills to succeed.
So where does Yoga fit in to all of this?
We already know that traditionally yoga was practiced and developed to open the body and clear the mind, so that one can sit and meditate without dwelling on a stiff back or congestion in the process of thought. More often than not we practice yoga simply for its physical benefits of having toned muscles, flexibility, and mental clarity.
But what about the philosophical side of this wonderful ancient practice?
Practicing Yoga and meditation enables us to be free and clear to focus our attention on the deeper imperative questions of life like 'who am I?', 'what is my purpose?', 'why do I exist?'; and to seek out the answers.
Our sense of purpose often arises from this curiosity about our own life. What obstacles have we encountered? What strengths helped us to overcome them? How did other people help? How did our strengths help make life better for others? Our yoga and meditation practice allows us to cultivate a deeper sense of who we are, and fill any gap in our lives, giving us a true sense of completeness.
On another note, ancient Yoga is derived from Indian Philosophy and religion, of which the concept of “Dharma” is of central importance.
Dharma has multiple meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, so it is therefore difficult to provide a single concise definition of the word - it has a long and varied history, and straddles a complex set of meanings and interpretations. There is no equivalent single-word synonym for dharma in western languages, and numerous, conflicting attempts have been made to translate ancient Sanskrit literature with the word dharma into German, English and French.
There are over twenty different translations for dharma, including meanings such as statute, law, practice, custom, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, ethics, religion, religious merit, good works, nature, character, quality and property. Yet, each of these definitions is incomplete, while the combination of these translations does not convey the total sense of the word.
In common parlance, dharma means "right way of living" and "path of rightness".
In the context of Hinduism (which heavily influences the practice and teachings of Yoga), dharma designates human behaviours, rituals, rules that govern society, and ethics considered necessary for the order of things in the universe - principles that prevent chaos in the world.
Hindu dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviours that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.
Living out one’s dharma can therefore be synonymous with living out one’s purpose in life; contributing to the peaceful and orderly running of society. Finding our purpose is to pursue and execute our individual true nature and calling, thus playing one's role in the cosmic concert. For example; it is the dharma of the bee to make honey; of cow to give milk; of sun to radiate sunshine; of river to flow.
In terms of humanity, dharma is the need for, the effect and essence of service and interconnectedness of all life. Each individual carrying out their dharma, their purpose, acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe.
So how can Yoga help us to find our purpose?
Remember the Yoga sutras of Petenjali? Our dharma (purpose) is played out in the first and second limbs of the eight-limbed path of yoga – the yamas and niyamas (external and internal moral codes) that we live by. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes yoga as “the progressive quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.” Thus through dedicated practice and the cultivation of detachment, we will stop identifying with the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that can cause us so much emotional pain—and we will open to an experience of our true self. As Patanjali and so many other wisdom teachers have taught, who we really are goes beyond the labels and titles we often use to define ourselves.
Therefore, practicing yoga and meditation can help us to discover our true purpose in life, instead of simply attaching labels and stories to ourselves and believing that to be our purpose.
However, finding our purpose is not just an intellectual pursuit, it is something we need to feel. Yoga also helps us to cultivate within ourselves certain emotions and behaviours that promote health and well-being, which in turn foster a sense of purpose. Gratitude and altruism for example, can drive us to make a positive impact on the world, and these two qualities work together to generate meaning and purpose in our lives. In the face of one’s own or others’ suffering, if we are able to count our blessings and still give thanks, we are much more likely to contribute to the world beyond ourselves. And there is little question that helping others is associated with a more meaningful, purposeful life. People who engage in more altruistic behaviours, like volunteering or donating money, tend to have a greater sense of purpose in their lives.
Yoga embodies this type of behaviour.
You can also find purpose in what people thank you for. Appreciation from others will fuel your passion and therefore your work. People thanking me for my classes and massages and telling me how much of an impact I have had on them, keeps me going. It encourages me to want to learn and develop more, so that I am better able to help others and continue to fulfil my life’s purpose.
We can also often find our sense of purpose in the people around us, and we all know that Yoga brings people together.
This links in with the concept of dharma. If each individual is able to find their true calling and foster their own sense of purpose, then humanity is more likely to accomplish big things by working together peacefully. Purpose is adaptive in an evolutionary sense, and therefore helps both individuals and the species to survive. Purpose does not simply arise from your own special gifts and what sets you apart from other people, it also grows from our connection to others.
So we need to recognize our own gifts, but use them to contribute to the world; whether those gifts are playing beautiful music for others to enjoy, helping friends solve problems, or simply bringing more joy into the lives of those around you.
If you are having trouble remembering your purpose, take a look at the people around you. What do you have in common with them? What are they trying to be? What impact do you see them having on the world? Is that impact a positive one? Can you join with them in making that impact? What do they need? Can you give it them? If the answers to those questions do not inspire you, then you might need to find a new community—and with that, a new purpose may come.
When your authentic purpose becomes clear, you will be able to share it with the whole world, and to live this way is deeply meaningful.