During the last month, I have been contemplating the concepts of dharma and dreams and how they collide, converge and diverge. I think it is an internal discussion in which most reflective and creative human beings engage. It's a puzzle, a conundrum, a dance...
As with many pivotal terms of ancient origin whose meanings have shifted and morphed through centuries of deep discussion, the Sanskrit word dharma has been interpreted and reinterpreted. It is variously used to indicate underlying governing principles or laws that uphold a state of justness, virtue, and sound functioning in keeping with (depending on the context) religious, ethical or personal rectitude. Its root, "dhri," means to uphold, bear, support, and the term is associated with one's duty and merit. On the battlefield in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna guides his charge, Arjuna, through the literal and metaphorical minefield of living one's dharma, encouraging him to act according to his warrior duty and describing the paths and methodologies of yoga that will enable him to do so.
Dreams are the images, sensations and ideas that formulate in the mind during sleep and sometimes seem to defy reason and governing laws. Dreams are also the desires and visions that one forms while awake: the deep secrets of the heart that beg for attention and manifestation. They can help form the motivation for setting goals, the trajectory for effective decisions and the impetus for action.
As human beings living in society and community, we are obliged to fulfil certain responsibilities, to follow our dharma, and being excellent parents, partners and citizens can lead to abiding contentment. But what happens when we want more, or when responsibility crowds out or even negates one's dreams? If it is our dharma to support ourselves and those we love, financially and emotionally, can it not also be our dharma as sentient beings to follow our deepest dreams? As embodiments of universal potential, isn't it our responsibility to be spiritually and creatively fulfilled individuals? Can we look to the mundanities of the householder's daily life and imbue them with greater meaning and satisfaction and also find time to set and pursue goals that take us beyond the mundane? There's so much we have to do; can we find time to dream?
It is difficult to uncover a dream that you've buried under fear or life's daily preoccupations. When you have turned so often towards that which you are obligated to do, it may take courage to pursue what you want to do. It can be uncomfortable. It may be complicated. Or we may feel selfish or greedy pursuing our heart's desires. Ideally, we would all want to reconcile outer reality with inner desires, to live the dream, so to speak. But that intention requires the most dogged determination, focus, persistence and hard work.
I recently read Paulo Coelho's books The Pilgrimmage and The Alchemist (see Recommended Readings, below) and have been inspired to identify my dreams my clearly. I've been trying to find time each day to nurture the sparks that ignited in childhood but have, sadly, been squelched by lack of confidence and courage, or by maturity, materialism, apathy or fear. Coelho once said that if you want to realize a dream, you must first wake up. (OK! I'm up!) You need to take risks and fight for that dream. He wrote, "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it." I hope he is right; but instead of sitting back and hoping, I am willing to push a little harder to find out.
As I reread these musings I have poured out here for you, I realize that there is no final resolution to the dharma-dream dance. Which one is leading and which one is following? It is, nevertheless, a dance in which I want to participate with greater awareness and enthusiasm. Please join me: find gratitude for and heaven in the necessary, material moments, and also challenge yourself to reach for and make manifest your dreams. It is in this dance that I think we live most fully.