I like it when life is easy and straightforward.
The kind of straightforward where—
1 ¾ cups of gluten-free oat flour
½ cup of coconut sugar
⅓ cup coconut oil
¾ cup dark chocolate chips
—turn easily into lovely gluten-free cookies that make the house smell divine, once cooked for 12 minutes at 350 F.
My experience of life is everything but this easy. It’s messy. With depression at 19, burn-out at 28, divorce after 10 years of marriage, emigrating for love and returning when it all fell apart, involuntary childlessness for 10 years and recent struggles with auto-immunity, life has given me many opportunities to learn and grow from the nitty gritty stuff.
Equally, there has been so much beauty and love. I have amazing friends and family to share my life with and I was able to build a successful consultancy business, pouring my heart and soul into it. I found my soul mates. And on top of everything, I was so lucky to finally receive my beautiful daughter.
So there were many ups and downs. Many twisted bends. There were long beautiful stretches along the road, and then a big boulder came down and blocked the path. And there have been times when all I could be thankful for was that I was still alive and breathing.
And even though my current days bring quite a challenge with my health, I have come to see this:
It’s beautiful, this thing called life. Just the fact that we are here to experience it, all of it, is an amazing wonder. There are so many facets to our emotions, to what we feel in and with our bodies. There are so many thoughts, connections, places to explore. There is so much we can create. We are truly magnificent beings.
And I learned that there is a “recipe” for it. And not just to live any life, but to live The Life You Came Here For. To live your unique purpose, your Dharma. What better life is there?
This recipe is not new—it has been around for thousands of years. And it’s still as relevant as ever.
You can find it in the Bhagavad Gita. The teachings of Krishna, a personification of God from the Hindu tradition, give a rich map to work with.
The story begins before the start of a big war, when prince Arjuna is filled with doubt on the battlefield. He realises that his enemies are his own relatives, friends and teachers. And in that moment, he turns to his charioteer and guide, Krishna, for advice. And Krishna shares a lot of useful thoughts.
Here are four of them, that together, give that recipe for life.
Face your Dharma.
Dharma is, as Chameli Ardagh, my teacher, puts it: Your thread in the rich tapestry of life, with its unique colours and characteristics. Unique, but never separate from the rest of life.
It can be described in many ways. I like to think of it as to do what is right, for a particular person, or: to act in a way that aligns with what it true for you. When we do this while staying present, not just repeating the same old patterns everyone runs, we become vehicles of medicine for the world. We all carry our own unique blend of medicine.
Krishna tells Arjuna that not to act, is to act too—so that isn’t a way out. And he says that it is better to fail living his own Dharma, than to succeed living someone else’s Dharma. Because that is not real. It is plastic. And plastic doesn’t nourish us.
All this may sound esoteric, but it becomes real when you start thinking about your own life. Where do you feel real? Where are you just going through the motions?
For me, I was close for a long time, when I was facilitating corporate change processes with Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling. These tools meant the teams and companies had to do the work necessary for change themselves. I was merely guiding their attention and holding the frame they chose. Great work, great outcomes and results.
But something huge was missing: my spiritual life. For me, spiritual development is the essential nourishment for my soul. Helping others with it is my calling. But is was scary to acknowledge, and it took me a long time to face it. Even though somewhere, I’ve known it all along.
Living your Dharma is closer than you think, because it is inherently linked to you. It’s like your own scent, easy to overlook. It’s what happens when we get out of our own way. And living it is risky. It’s where we are vulnerable, because we are the ones making our own path. No one can live you except you!
Step into your Dharma with two feet.
It can be tempting to just dip your toe in the water when you start exploring your Dharma. The river of our Dharma is always present, always flowing with energy. We can choose to be part of it, to go for it, or to leave it lying by the wayside, safely staring at it from time to time.
The only way to live your Dharma fully, is to commit to it. Krishna said: “jump in with both feet.” And then you see where the river, the flow, takes you. There is no way of knowing beforehand.
This takes a lot of determination, because there are many things scaring us off, and diverting our attention. For me, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options, by all the different ways I could help others in living and expressing their spiritual paths. It’s even easier to think: “Who am I to do this?” or “Will I ever be good enough?”
Stepping in with both feet is a commitment to honour your essence and what it has to offer, without knowing yet what form it will take, without knowing exactly what and how. It happens when you decide: “I’m here, I’m willing. Please use me God(dess).”
My commitment reached a new level when Chameli likened it to that of a parent. You can be unhappy about your child’s behaviour, or challenged to the maximum of your abilities. It surely happens regularly for me. But we still love your children and are willing to go through fire for them. Nothing can change that.
That is the kind of commitment that means you honour your Dharma. And it brings enormous fuel to accomplish things that seem impossible. Step by step.
This is how I am building my life again, this time in illness.
Let go of the fruit.
It’s easy to get tripped up by worry about the future when you are embarking on your soul’s life journey. “Will it work?” “Will I succeed?” Krishna’s third teaching: to let go of the fruits of your actions, is the opposite of worrying about the outcome. Somehow, worrying seems like the responsible thing to do. But it isn’t. We need the energy we use to worry about the future, to create that future.
It’s also doesn’t mean to ignore what could go wrong and be flaky and irresponsible while being “spiritual.” No. Letting go of the fruits means bringing presence to what you are doing, to what is happening as a result. To acknowledge when you have insights about what is working and what isn’t. And to take action, to take leadership of the situation to the best of your abilities. To learn what you need to learn to make it work. That is how we stay close to the energy of our Dharma. And then we let go of the fruits. We don’t waste our energy in worry.
Honestly, this is the part I struggle most with. This is where my yogini practice is at its most alive. For me, this is what spiritual living is about. It’s not about reaching perfection, it is about staying close to my actual experience. To feel the feelings when something great happens in my life or business. To feel the feelings when something isn’t flowing. To stay present to all of it, without slipping into the drama of it—the highs or the lows. And to learn and take appropriate action.
That’s my practice. Every day.
Keep your eyes on me.
Krishna’s fourth teaching about living your Dharma is: Keep your eyes on me.
This means to hand everything you do over to that something much bigger than you. Whatever you call it. Essence, God.
Me, I’m serving the Goddess. That is why I do everything I do. If I choose to make it about me, it means that I can fail, and that feels like the end of me. It makes the little me, and all the feelings and thoughts and doubts so important. But when I make it about something so much bigger than myself, something so vastly more important, if something doesn’t work out, it just means I have to find another way.
It also stresses that we are not here to live our Dharma in isolation. On the contrary, we are all threads in that rich tapestry of life. We need each other to fulfill our Dharma, and to play a role in awakening this world and letting it become the best it can be.
This is what brings me the greatest joy. I’ve never felt so connected with life, and so much on purpose.
Cooking it up.
This recipe doesn’t stop life from being messy and changing. What it does is hand us road signs to make our life the very best it can be, the life we came here for. It helps us not to waste so much energy. It helps us to focus and to stay present to what really matters. And step by step, it helps us build the world we want to live in. Together.
Living your Dharma is an ongoing journey. It’s not about reaching a specific destination to be “enlightened” or “done.” It’s not one thing you have to “get” or “fix” or “reach.” There will be several destinations your journey will touch on. But I assure you, there will be many divine smelling and tasting cookies on the way.
Author: Annemiek van Helsdingen
Editor: Catherine Monkman