Sit for a moment. Yes, you, the reader of this ﬁrst edition of Sutra Journal. Close your eyes for a moment, before you read the rest of this article or turn the page. Take a few deep breaths… feel back into the heart and ask yourself the question, “How is my heart feeling in this moment?” Listen for the honest response, and if it feels right, continue, “What will bring my heart into harmony?”
The Sanskrit word ‘sankalpa’ is often translated in the West as “intention.” On a deeper level, your sankalpa is, “that which brings you into harmony.” The Vedas deﬁne ‘sankalpa’ as “the will that precedes all actions.” It’s the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. No, not the forced kind of will power when the alarm clock goes off and you begrudgingly drag yourself to the shower. It is the natural will, the one that feels like the authentic expression of your thoughts, your words and your actions. Your sankalpa is a guidepost, a touchstone. It is the point on the horizon that keeps your ship headed in the right direction.
I remember the ﬁrst time I felt my sankalpa. I was studying at the Sivananda Ashram in India preparing to return to the U.S. after nearly two years of traveling, volunteering and studying yoga and meditation. I had ﬁrst arrived in Asia after leaving my career in investment banking and surviving a near-death car accident in Manhattan in which my cab driver was killed.
While much of the trauma from that accident was healed sitting in meditation, a tremendous amount of healing also happened serving those who were living in profound suffering - the people who were dying by the thousand in the Thar Desert because they lacked the most basic human need - water; the sex slaves in Thailand getting sold for less than the price of a Coca-Cola; the orphans with missing limbs in Cambodia. Sometimes I wasn’t sure how they could have lost more than they already had.
As I meditated on the totality of the experience, my sankalpa arrived like a lightening bolt, “I want to help alleviate the deepest suffering on Earth.” I wanted to serve the people who were out of chances and choices. I had absolutely no idea what that would look like, but the sankalpa was clear.
YOUR DHARMA FINDS YOU
What I experienced next is what happens when sankalpa blooms into dharma. While dharma does not have one deﬁnition, the term is used to represent one’s duty. It is not a job. It is the thing that lives through you for a higher purpose. Dharma is what sustains you and allows you to learn your lessons so that you can move onto your next stage of evolution. Symbolically, it also represents the role we play in life that, in our own personal way, sustains the universe. Not everyone lives their dharma, but you know it when you feel it. You don’t ‘ﬁnd’ your dharma. Your dharma ﬁnds you.
Shortly after returning from India, my dharma began unfolding in an unexpected way. A doctor friend asked if I would volunteer to teach a yoga class each week at the Miami VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) Hospital. Initially, I felt the irony of teaching yoga in the military. We soon discovered that yoga and meditation were powerful tools for healing the physical, mental and spiritual wounds of war. I would have never guessed that ten years later, I would have taught thousands of soldiers and veterans yoga and meditation; conducted clinical research with the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense and Harvard University; or that I would be the co-founder of Warriors at Ease, a nonproﬁt organization that has trained and ‘deployed’ more than 575 teachers into military communities, serving more than 100,000 veterans at more than 60 bases and VAs and 10 foreign militaries. I have never felt like I was ‘doing’ this work. It still feels like it is living me.
Survivors of all kinds of trauma are discovering that as Swami Sivananda said, “Within our biggest weakness resides our greatest strength.”
We are empowering survivors now, not just to heal their traumas, but also to step into the reality that they themselves are the healers and changemakers of the world.
This dharma is evolving now to include survivors of human trafﬁcking and domestic abuse, prisoners, kids in inner-city schools and so many more. Survivors of all kinds of trauma are discovering that as Swami Sivananda said, “Within our biggest weakness resides our greatest strength.” We are empowering survivors now, not just to heal their traumas, but also to step into the reality that they themselves are the healers and change-makers of the world. Don’t believe me? Take a look at any person you admire- perhaps a family member or friend, perhaps one of the greats like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama or Martin Luther King. They became great not because their lives were easy. They became great because they suffered tremendously and they used their adversity to ﬁnd wisdom, truth and love.
It is not enough to study yoga. It is not enough to ‘practice’ yoga. The teachings have to be lived. Dharma is what brings the yogic teachings to life in the world, not as a theory, but as practical change that transforms suffering into meaning.
Trauma in many ways prepares us for the experience of dharma. Our traumas are deﬁned by a loss of control, a shattering of our former paradigm. It is this shattering of our former existence that breaks us open to ﬁnd our authentic self. Likewise, there is a letting go of control when dharma starts to happen.
It is not enough to study yoga. It is not enough to ‘practice’ yoga. The teachings have to be lived. Dharma is what brings the yogic teachings to life in the world, not as a theory, but as practical change that transforms suffering into meaning. We are each a vessel for the teachings of yoga to take life in the world. These teachings are valuable to the degree in which we live them. We have to let the teachings of yoga become us. When we do, we become the change-makers and the architects of a more humane destiny for all sentient beings.
So take a moment, again. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths and then listen. What is the song of your heart that wants to play itself out through you? Just listen. The answer wants to be heard.