This is an excerpt from the book “Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi” ©2012 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission from New World Library.
I have since found that feeling good about my work is absolutely crucial to my happiness.
When I work a job that is out of line with my values, I become depressed, and when I am in dharma, following my heart, doing what I believe in and what feels right, I am filled with energy.
The Buddha called this “right livelihood.” He taught that one who seeks liberation cannot hope to find freedom on the backs of others. Right livelihood is critical to the spiritual path; often when people are out of line with their values they have to numb out or shut down, not only because they are bored and uninterested but also because the pain of being outside their morals or their heart’s call is too much to bear. Interestingly, yoga brings these issues to the surface. Many times I have seen students of yoga realize that their job is hurting them. Sometimes making a change is too much to face. In these cases, people usually stop practicing yoga, and the revelation fades.
One time I was in a new relationship and had moved far away from New Jersey to be with my girlfriend. I had been practicing yoga consistently for years, but without even noticing, I gave it up. A month later, browsing in a bookstore, I stumbled onto a quote from yoga teacher Dr. Jeff Migdow:
When people do yoga consistently they’re much more open to change. That’s the key: If I’m not open to making changes, then I won’t let myself be aware.
The quote was a slap in the face. As if waking from a daze, I realized that I had not done postures in a month. And I saw that I had avoided yoga because it sharpened my awareness and showed me that I was unhappy. But because I had been unwilling to make a change—to move and leave the relationship—I had stopped doing the thing that increased my awareness. In this way, yoga is a catalyst that demands truth.
This truth includes, but is also subtler than, simply doing what is right or wrong, ethical or moral. It means listening to your heart’s call.
I love to share this with my tutoring students. I remember a student, Aidan, was considering college majors and said, “I’d love to be an architect, but the world needs environmental activists, so that’s what I’ll do.”
Aidan is correct. We do need environmental activists. But I believe that even more, we need people who are passionate about what they do, living from their heart. I don’t think one can actually serve the world best by assessing what the world needs. I think, instead, we serve the world best by responding to our heart’s call. Not our ego’s call, mind you, but our heart’s.
As an environmental activist, Aidan might make a difference. That’s true. But as an architect, Aidan will be following his bliss. He’ll be fulfilled and happy. He’ll be lit up and creative. He’ll be a beacon of light and energy. And, I trust, his environmental concerns will still find a very effective, perhaps more effective, medium—maybe he’ll design green buildings or discover environmentally sustainable building materials.
Joseph Campbell told his students, “If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living…Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”
And so, in our spiritual Easter egg hunt for the Keys to Happiness, we come to key number two:
Follow your heart.
Notice what gives you a feeling of rightness, ignites your creativity and passion, and makes you feel most alive, and pursue that.
Before every major decision, ask yourself, “Which choice feels right, is in line with my values, ignites my creativity and passion, and is an expression of my true self?”
And by the way, following your bliss does not automatically mean giving up your nine-to-five job at the insurance company to dust off your old Fender Stratocaster and get the college funk band back together. Sometimes the boring job at the insurance company is just right. Your bliss might be the paycheck that feeds your family and allows you to spend happy evenings and weekends together. Or not.
Following your bliss only means tuning in to and following not your ego, not your mind, but your heart. Put another way, it means setting aside what you want and doing what God wants for you. And God, I believe, communicates through our hearts and through a feeling of passion, vitality, and rightness.
Brian Leaf, M.A. is the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. He draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. Visit him online at http://www.Misadventures-of-a-Yogi.com .
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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger