Are you currently asking yourself:
- "Why am I here?"
- "Am I on the right path?"
- "Is where I'm headed where I actually want to go?"
The exercise I'm about to share with you can help get you closer to an answer. [You can also download the free, 8 page workbook!]
Pay attention to what your 'gut' might already be telling you. Sometimes, we already know the answers to things we ask ourselves, but they are hard to face. Ask yourself if you might already know the next step deep down. Take that extra minute to be as honest and as vulnerable to yourself as you can. Acknowledge what that little voice tells you, and let it just be for awhile. No need to jump into things immediately.
Here's what you'll need:
Paper and Pen
A comfy space to sit and write.
About 1 hour of time.
Set aside an hour for this Purpose Path exercise I'm about to share with you.
As a bit of background, you should know that this exercise is very, very old. Hundreds of people have come before you in taking part in this exercise and it has been passed down for centuries. Most people first encounter this exercise in pursuit of Eastern-based systems of thought. Before we had things like psychologists and counselors to be a truly objective presence in our lives, we used tools like this. If something like this is completely new for you, give it a shot!
Or, download—for free—my Purpose Path PDF Workbook.
There are 4 desires we all have. All are equally important and valuable.
This is a Sanskrit word which means purpose, or the longing for purpose. We all want a reason to be here, to wake up, to do stuff. It has been described as our survival instinct—the will to live. In many Eastern traditions, Dharma is Duty. We have a duty to pay attention to the 'clues' we are presented with. We have a duty to find our path. However, Dharma is not your occupation. Dharma is not your career.
Here's what I mean by that:
Let's say you realize that your purpose in life is to support others.—you can be a physician and fulfill that dharma. You can be a manager at a corporation and fulfill that dharma. Dharma is not a job title.
This Sanskrit word refers to the 'stuff' you need to meet your dharma: money, food, physical health, shelter, etc. It's whatever you need to fulfill your dharma. Ghandi is often used an example for this (I've seen it in a number of texts) because he needed to fast as part of his artha requirement. Monks need to pray and meditate in order to fulfill their dharma. That's part of their artha. As each dharma is unique and different, so to are the requirements of artha!
This is pleasure! It's things like sex and also things like feeling emotionally connected to others. Lots of things bring pleasure: art, music, parties....it's an important part of the human condition. We need it to be balanced. And that balance is different for all of us. The ancient texts are really clear about this: if you are denying yourself pleasure in life, you will not fulfill your dharma.
This is the desire for true freedom. It's the longing we all have within us to be 'free.' Some might call it wanderlust. It's that thing that sometimes makes you drive and take the long way home just so you can get away from it all for even just a little bit. It's that thing that makes us NOT want to 'keep up with the Joneses.' The thing that makes us understand cars and clothes and fancy vacations are just things. It keeps us in check about what really matters in life: family, friends...people, animals, love. This is where religion comes into play....we wouldn't have religions if Moksha didn't exist. Most Americans and those in the Western world pursue moksha through attendance at church or involvement with spiritual organizations. Moments spent in prayer, or saying the rosary, can fulfill our need for moksha.
Path to Purpose Writing Exercise
Step One: Imagine This
Imagine it's the end of your life and you are having a party to celebrate your journey. People who have been a part of your life are all there: coworkers, childhood friends you might have lost touch with, family, parents, siblings, children, teachers, even people who don't like you, etc. They all don't have to be alive...it's about focusing on all those people that knew you at your best, at your worst and all the spots in between. Make a list of who shows up by writing names out.
Step Two: choose 4
From that list, pick 4 people. These 4 people are going to say something about you to help you identify your dharma. (You may choose someone you have never actually met in real life and that's OK too.)
Step Three: Assign each of the 4
Assign each of those 4 people to talk to you about the following:
- Dharma | Purpose, duty
- Artha | Food, physical health, shelter, money, clothes, 'things', things you did that kept you sane/happy.
- Kama | Pleasure (What brought pleasure to you?)
- Moksha | Spirituality, need for freedom, exploration of ideas and thoughts
Step Four: Write
- Set a timer for 15 minutes for EACH of the 4 people you chose.
- Start with Dharma first. Then do Artha, Kama and Moksha.
- You are now going to put pen to paper and write out what that person you chose would say about you and how you lived your life with regard to it. What difficult stuff happened to you? How did you handle it? When were you at your best? Your worst? They will talk about your big lessons in life. Your screw ups. Your qualities. How you changed and grew.
For example, the person you picked to talk about you and artha will talk about how you dealt with money, your house, all of that. They will talk about what you needed in your life in order for you to fulfill your dharma. Your kama person will talk about you + pleasure. What role did pleasure play for you? What did you spend your time doing? What gave you the most pleasure?
Allow yourself to write as that person you've chosen. Just let it flow and don't judge. Don't edit. Don't be afraid to scratch out....just keep writing. You can crumple up the papers and throw them away after the exercise!
- After you have written about yourself through the lenses of other people, take a break.
- Come back and read what you have written. What words stick out to you? Circle or highlight the passages that strike a chord with your gut.
- Sit back and read only what you have circled/highlighted. Do you see any common threads? Then, think about your life today and how you spend your time. Is your life—today—in alignment with those circled words and phrases?
- You may want to write those circled/highlighted words out into a list on a separate sheet of paper now. Only rewrite the ones that resonate the most with you. From this, you are going to take a stab at writing this into a one or two sentence description....what this will become is a better understanding of your dharma, or purpose.
For example, let's say someone pulls the following words/phrases out of what they wrote:
- Loved parties and made a party a true party no matter what.
- Celebrated his friends and their accomplishments no matter how small.
- Made everyone feel special. Made others see the specialness of everyone around them.
- He even made funerals fun.
He went through a few drafts until he got to this: I celebrate life.
This is the phrase that he felt really illustrated his purpose in life. He looked at his occupation, how he spent his free time, and the things he loved to celebrate. This statement helped bring clarity to his life and about his choices in a way nothing else had in the past. He felt at peace seeing those words on the paper, and like he had unlocked something within himself.
Download the Workbook version of this page below.
The key here
Where you end up might be longer, shorter, wordier, simpler....that doesn't matter. What does matter most, is that it should resonate with you. It should strike a chord in your gut and make you feel like that statement 'sees' you.
What you end up with is your Dharma.
Type it up, print it out, put it somewhere prominent. This is the guiding force in your life.
And, revisit this exercise anytime you feel a little lost, or not sure what to do next.