I stood in front of the painting, every cell in my body buzzing. It was as if the painting was transmitting light. Each time I stand in front of a Renoir I have the same visceral experience. Enjoying the opening of The Barnes Foundation’s Philadelphia location with a few friends, I finally could ask someone who actually knew about art how the painter was able to make the light so palpable. He told me a bunch of stuff about white canvases and translucent oil layered in a way that allows light to reflect through it, creating the glowing effect, and while he was very knowledgeable about the technical aspects, I found myself thinking, prana, Renoir definitely found a way to put prana into his paintings. As a yogini I see prana at the root of everything these days.
Maybe the glow of the painting is somehow related. When you are doing exactly what you are meant to do, it has a positive effect on everyone around you. People feel it. Almost 100 years later I am looking at a painting and feeling the light and energy that surrounded the person who created it because he was living his dharma—his purpose in life. And living your dharma is living in the light. Immediately I thought of my teacher, Rod Stryker and his book The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom, which walks readers through an experiential process to help them fulfill the soul’s four desires, one of which is dharma. I wondered if the light that seemed to be coming through the painting and surrounding my heart through the gateway of my eyes was the ripple effect of Renoir living his dharma.
That begs the question, how am I living my dharma and inspiring others to live theirs? Because knowing why we are here and living into our purpose does have ripple effects, far reaching effects, some of which we can see and some that we can’t. This painting allowed me to experience one of the great themes of The Four Desires, “When you serve your highest purpose, you serve the wellbeing of everything.” Since that day at the Barnes I have been sitting with the question, How can I be my very own Renoir? How can I live my life in a way that fills me with light the way his paintings do? It probably goes without saying that we can’t all become art masters. But there is a force in all of us, as Stryker puts it, that is, “a drive to be and to become.” Living your dharma is living into that drive in a way that honors your own personal ray of shining and is accessible to you right now. It’s something that, when you look back across the years of your life, you have always done and probably always will do. With the right process, you can make your expression of that personal ray purposeful.
The crossing guard on the corner of the street that I drive down on my way to work is a great example. When he is not safely shepherding children across the street, he is either holding up a peace sign, or blowing kisses to each and every driver who goes by. He is being his very own Renoir. There are days when I have been in a bad mood and then I’ve driven by him, received a kiss, and felt my heart energized, my mood changed, and my perspective shifted, as I moved through the day a little bit easier because it is nice to know there is someone out there putting such love into the world. The crossing guard is serving his own highest good by being the lovebug that he is, and by living into that, the ripple effect is huge. I imagine he makes the day of every person who drives by that corner.
By using The Four Desires process I believe I have landed on my reason for being here. And since putting that into words, the tone of my life has changed for the better. I was talking to a friend about it, and she said she was scared to ask herself, what is my purpose? Such a loaded question. And yet, there is a process, outlined in the book, by which you arrive at your own answer, along with an online book club for support. Even if she didn’t want to read the book, I told her, there is a community of seekers in your group of friends, family, in yoga classes, in meet-up groups, and in online communitiesthat are all asking these questions, and in that way we’re all supported.
Having found what I think is my purpose, living into it a few degrees more didn’t require a complete overhaul of my life. One part of living into my purpose is speaking the truth fearlessly. I’ve always been a writer, but for five years, I hadn’t written a word. Getting in touch with my dharma allowed me to see that a part of my life I’d let go of was actually an integral part of me showing up in the world in the way that only I can. And when you are fulfilling your purpose, doors open. Creativity flows. The universe conspires to help you. I wake up in the morning already writing in my mind and it feels like a part of me has been returned to myself.
It’s so important to direct our gaze inward and get still so we can see and hear the signs that will lead us to our purpose.
Yoga asana, meditation, bike riding, gardening—anything that stills the mind is a great way to get quiet enough to start to discern our own unique reason for being here. It’s important to park on the uniqueness of it. We don’t all have the same dharma and we can’t arrive at our own by paying attention to someone else’s. To illustrate: One time I thought I would try to pay forward the crossing guard’s sweetness. I was driving down the street and I thought, I want to make someone’s day the way he makes mine. There were some construction guys diverting traffic, and my heart started beating so fast, but I thought, don’t be scared, just take the chance to put some love out there. When I got up to the sign guy, who I imagined would be an old, grandfatherly type like the crossing guard, I closed my eyes and blew him a kiss, but when I opened them he was young, very good looking, and nodding his head suggestively.
I sped off totally embarrassed and cackling with laughter at my blunder. This is what happens when you try to be a Cezanne when you are a Renoir. The crossing guard lives his purpose in the way that is best for him, and I need to stick to my personal version of it. It was a great experience of how important it is to live my own dharma and no one else’s,even if their version looks good to me.
Your body has answers as well. As I write this, my whole body is buzzing, much as it did as I gazed at the painting. It is helpful to remember to tune into the body, since it, too, gives us a ton of valuable information. Tune into sensation as you work to discover your dharma. Notice as you move through your day, what are you doing when you feel the most plugged in? How are you interacting when you feel the most connection to Spirit? Perhaps there is some information to be gained there.
The Four Desires book really set me on my path. Perhaps you’ve heard of other books or processes that lead you to your purpose, and if so we would love to hear about them. Whatever method you choose, I hope you are spending some time each day moving toward being your own Renoir.
How are you exploring your purpose for living? Do you use yoga, meditation, or another method to create space to explore your dharma?