Dharma DinnerPosted: February 17, 2011
After a yoga immersion weekend last month, I went out to dinner with my friends Miriam, Denise, Rachel and Dari. We were all blissed out from a great day of discussion and asana, so of course we made straight for the local Mexican restaurant and a pitcher of margaritas. After we settled in and agreed all over again about the awesomeness of our teacher, Emma, and even gossiped a little (I’ll never tell), the subject turned to dharma.
We’re reading the Bhagavad Gita, an epic poem and important yoga text that’s part of the larger Indian national epic, the Mahabharata. The first word of the Sanskrit text is “dharma” — and first words in yoga texts are crucial. Dharma means many things, among them righteousness, virtue, honor, and duty. It can refer to concepts as large as cosmic laws (like gravity) or cultural ones (like systems of law). But it’s also a personal attribute: your duty, your role, what you’re meant to be or do. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your profession, and it may not even be something you particularly like. For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, the dharma of the hero, Arjuna, a talented warrior, is to go to battle against pretty much everyone he loves, respects, and has grown up with — something he decidedly does not want to do.
According to Emma: “Dharma is the intersection of your gifts and the circumstances you’re in, of being good at something and people wanting you to do it.”
As part of class, we’d all written about what we thought our dharma might be. I had no real idea — I babbled on about how I’m a writer and what might be next for me with that. Then we each talked it through with a friend. Miriam was mine. I told her I didn’t really know what my dharma was, and she said, “I do. When we decided we were going out to dinner at the end of the weekend, you emailed us all and said we should decide where to go before the end of class, when we’d probably be too chillaxed to make a decision. [Not sure she actually used the word ‘chillaxed.’] You were thinking about all of us. Your dharma is bringing people together.”
I hadn’t really thought about it quite like that before, but when she said it, I knew she was right. Writing and editing are fairly solitary occupations, and I’ve always been good at working independently. But more and more, as I get older and better acquainted with myself, I realize that my desire to connect with people has always been served through my writing, and now that I’m coming at relationships from a more authentic place and not a place of need, I do love to introduce people and put them at ease. A few years ago I created a new book group — I chose smart, well-read women with whom I love to spend time, who were fun and enjoyed a glass of wine but who would also want to intelligently discuss a book of quality. Even from the first meeting I could tell it was a fantastic combination. At Kate’s school, I helped out with kindergarten orientation playdates last summer, and I’ll do the same this year — getting the new families together at a park so the kids and parents can meet, have some fun and get familiar before school officially begins.
I loved that Miriam was able to so clearly see my dharma, even though I wasn’t quite clear on it, or at least couldn’t articulate it. It’s a good way to see what your role is, to find it — ask the people around you what they think about you. Not in a fishing-for-compliments way, but in a genuinely interested, “what do you think my strengths are?” way. I’m not sure yet what’s next for me, but bringing people together is something I’m pretty sure I can joyously embrace in just about every area of my life.
So my dear friends and I started a new tradition. Hopefully Dharma Dinner will become a monthly event. Over our drinks, we laughed and chatted and talked about our dharmas. We gave each other loving praise and feedback, as friends and fellow yogis. Because, as Emma also said, where dharma is the “why,” yoga is the “how.”