A year like 2020 has left many of us asking bigger questions than we ever have before. What is our purpose? Why are we here? And how can we live a life in alignment with our gifts? This is where dharma shows up.
The word “dharma” is a Sanskrit term with over 16 different meanings, but the one I’ll be referring to is “your soul’s purpose.” Your dharma is your big why, the reason you’re here with all these thoughts, needs, and desires.
We were each born with a unique purpose. The human experience is about remembering ours. Everyone’s journey to discover and embody their dharma will be different, according to the unique curriculum of remembering our soul needed to experience.
I have interviewed hundreds of people on their journey toward discovering their dharma for my Highest Self podcast, and found a common thread. Everyone goes through what I call the “Dharma Discovery Journey”—a five-stage process of discovering their dharma.
Stage 1: Self-awareness
In this stage, you realize there has to be more to this life than what you’ve been living. You know that you have a purpose, but you have no idea what it is. Frankly, you don’t even know where to start. It feels like you’ve been placed in this life with no choice and simply can’t go on living this way. You know you need a radical change. Through pain or numbness, you are called to take action and transform your life. This is where the seed of dharma is planted.
For some people this stage can come with feelings of anxiety, depression, or panic. For others, it can feel like a general sense that things feel “off” or an itch to wonder what else is out there for you.
Stage 2: Self-improvement
After self-awareness comes self-improvement, the stage where you make it your mission to better yourself. You may begin practicing yoga, following inspirational people on social media, reading self-help books, listening to motivational speakers, or using a meditation app. Through your committed daily practices, you begin changing habits that are no longer serving you. This stage is focused on the physical and mental level, more than the soul level—in other words you might meditate for the sake of easing anxiety as opposed to knowing your soul. This is where the seed of dharma is watered.
When you’re in this stage you may be obsessed with fitness, nutrition, personal development, motivational speakers, brain hacks, biohacking or yoga for its physical and mental benefits. Take the time to address any imbalances happening in your body and mind in order to allow for the natural transition to the next phase.
Stage 3: Awakening
In this phase, your interest will shift from improving yourself to knowing yourself. You begin to realize that you are not your body or your mind, but rather a soul living in a body with a mind. You become hungry to learn about spiritual topics such as yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, ecstatic dance, shamanism, astrology, crystals, past lives, kundalini, Tantra, and energy healing.
You may be overcome with the urge to embark on some solo travel to spiritual destinations such as Bali, India, or Peru. Your entire worldview will shift as you begin to do healing work and become aware of the limiting beliefs passed down both culturally and intergenerationally, such as feelings of unworthiness or trauma. My own journey caused me to look at the imprints that war, patriarchy, revolution, and immigration had on my lineage.
During this phase your family and friends may say things like they don’t recognize you anymore. This may be a difficult phase where you face loneliness, but know that you are making these important shifts to come in alignment with your truth. You begin to realize that there is a whole world of possibilities you haven’t been aware of before. This is when the seed of dharma begins to sprout.
Stage 4: Higher consciousness
When you step into your higher consciousness, you are out of the spiritual closet so to speak. You will no longer feel the need to hide your beliefs to be taken seriously. You’ll have found the practices that resonate with you and begin sharing them, perhaps on social media or with your family, friends, and colleagues. By this time, you’ll generally know that you have a dharma, but you may not be exactly sure what it is yet. You might still be in the dabbling stages. This could look like taking classes, signing up for workshops, or joining a teacher training program.
In this stage, it may be becoming increasingly obvious to you that your current job is not in full alignment with who you are. As you continue your spiritual growth through methods such as shadow work, ancestral healing, plant medicine and/or past life regression, you’ll realize that you’re no longer operating from victim consciousness (the feeling that life is happening to you) and have instead realized that life is happening for you. You have emerged as an entirely new you and people begin asking you how you did it. This is when the dharma sprout begins to grow.
Stage 5: Stepping into your dharma
Through embodying who you are, you’ll realize your deeper purpose of why you are here. You’ll look around and realize that you are in complete alignment with who you are and how you are meant to show up in the world. Your worldview will transitions from me to we, so you’ll start to think about how to heal humanity, instead of just yourself.
During this phase, your spiritual practice becomes about something so much greater than you; it becomes the foundation from which you help to heal humanity. Fueled by the cosmos, you’ll be tapped into universal life force streaming through you. You realize that your dharma is to be of greater service to the highest good and that you are the conduit of the divine’s wisdom. You feel energy, kriya, effortless flow, and a natural propelling from the universe to carry you in the direction of your dharma without as much striving and shift.
You’ll be able to recognize and transform any part of your life that is not in utmost alignment aware of how it was holding you back from your mission. By now you’ve realized that you are here on Earth to be of service, and through following your highest joy, you serve the world. You may begin to share your healing gifts, your teaching abilities, or your compassionate heart. This is the space in which you truly embody your dharma and the truth of who you are.
Where are you on your journey? Learn more and receive support, guidance and inspiration in my book Discover Your Dharma: A Vedic Guide To Finding Your Purpose.