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The growth of a flower is an amazing feat of science. Each seed contains pure potential and a DNA map of what it should be. We know that for a plant to flower, the outside conditions must be just right—the optimal combination of water, oxygen, light, and nutrients in the soil. But scientists also believe that a seed has the capacity to decide when to bloom. Cells near the tip of each seed acts as a tiny plant “brain” that determines the optimal time for the plant to germinate. It will stay dormant until it determines conditions are right.
Discovering concepts like this is one of my favorite parts of being an educator–especially when such discoveries also connect with my yoga practice. This research, for example, makes me think of sankalpa, an ancient concept and practice of cultivating a desire or purpose. It reminds me that “purpose” can be a potential that preexists in us and it can be something we can decide.
Sankalpa is more than setting an intention
Sankalpa is sometimes used synonymously with “intention.” But it’s more than just stating a wish or desire. It involves clearing internal and external energetic knots before planting or watering a fresh spiritual seed of change. I like to think of it as tilling soil and removing weeds from a garden before planting flowers.
In Hinduism, dharma is considered our moral path or duty. Karma is our divine action and contributions based on our free will. The seeds of potential may exist within us, perhaps from our ancestry or divine purpose. They may be wishes born from environmental influences. But if we intend for them to bear fruit, we take action to cultivate conditions for growth.
For example, if your intention is to heal a difficult relationship, you might intentionally practice yogasana (physical posture) and kriya (cleansing) breathing techniques to remove tensions and foster forgiveness. With a cleaner slate, a freshly planted metaphorical seed can take root and positively manifest in one’s physical experience. Sankalpa gives our intentions stronger roots of hope.
Defining and discovering purpose
As my first published picture book, Yoga Nidra Lullaby, is set to be released in November, I look back on this long and circuitous journey with a smile as I consider the concept of “purpose.”
Purpose may be defined differently depending on your spirituality, religion, or philosophy. For example, in Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, it is said that the potential for all things, experiences, sensations, even inventions, exists even before they manifest in our lives. Mindfulness teachings refer to this as “seeds” of potential, or bija. What actually happens depends on which seeds are nourished to bloom–and how.
I grew up in a small town in Florida and most days after school, I waited in our local public library for my working parents to pick me up. Day after day in the children’s section, I delighted in the colorful pages of children’s picture books. The feel of the paper and the sound of the turning pages thrilled me. Books were the window into new worlds. At home, I used cardboard, staples, paper, and crayons to craft homemade books of my own.
I wasn’t searching for purpose during those childhood days. I was simply combining two sources of happiness: creating art and writing. But somehow I deeply, unquestioningly knew that writing and illustrating books was something that I wanted—no, not just wanted—was meant to do.
Taking steps along the path to purpose
Perhaps this seed of desire was inherited from the legacy of my mother and the generations of teachers, avid readers, and writers on her side of the family. Maybe it evolved from the legacy of my father and the self-taught artists from his side. It could have come from being surrounded by those shelves of picture books at the library. Or perhaps, in a moment of childhood innocence and earnestness, I set an intention for it without realizing it.
I have also had various roles—as an educator, writer, artist, researcher, and yoga teacher—that have also influenced my path to this point. In fact, each small piece of my experience—my cultural upbringing, the yoga nidra we practiced when I was small, drafts of stories I wrote in notebooks over the years, teaching and reading to children, an audio story I recorded for my website years ago—was part of the path that lead me to becoming an author.
The results are not in your hands
We can set intentions and establish a sankalpa. But not everything is in our hands. When I think about living life with purpose, I’m often reminded of my father’s favorite verse in the Bhagavad Gita:
karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi:
“You have a right to perform prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your work. Never consider yourself the sole cause of the results of your actions, nor be inactive.”
If we identify a life purpose, it’s still up to us how we choose to follow (or not follow) it. We have free will. But there is no guarantee of path or outcome, so freedom from attachment to results is an important ingredient in the yoga of purpose.
Despite our best intentions, we don’t have total control of an outcome. We have to be mindful not to get weighed down by dependence on a result. When the success of a project takes over my emotions, I’m reminded to revisit yoga teachings to keep myself grounded: True purpose involves sincere acts of devotion, not the outcome. Much like a flower, our ability to bloom in life is only partially in our hands.
About our contributor :
Rina Deshpande is a writer, educator, yoga instructor, and frequent contributor to Yoga Journal. Yoga Nidra Lullaby is her first children’s picture book, inspired by her ancestry and family, her yoga research, and her ongoing work in education.
Yoga Nidra Lullaby by Rina Deshpande will be released on November 1, 2022 and is currently available for preorder at penguinrandomhouse.com and wherever books are sold.