I'm writing this blog in response to one of my most frequently asked questions: What should I DO?
Many people ask me what they should do with their time besides watch television, flip through magazines, surf the internet, and shop. They're eager to start some kind of hobby, or, even better, revamp their career so that it's in tune with their true inner nature, but they're not sure where to start. We've all heard masters and spiritual teachers say again and again, "follow your excitement," and "follow your bliss!" But when it comes to applying that advice in life practically, how can we discern what our excitement and bliss actually is?
In a world gone commercial, where we're encouraged to watch the latest movies and lust after the most popular consumer products, it's hard to discern a passion unrelated to societal peer pressure. We're indoctrinated into thinking that our excitement should revolve around the latest trends, but when we try to keep up to date wearing the latest fashions, buying the newest gadgets, and watching the most popular television shows, we often feel overwhelmed and empty, because none of these things are truly related to our own genuine inner space; they are borrowed desires, not natural ones. Even when outwardly it seems a person is "keeping up" with the pop culture world, a part of them knows, inwardly, that something about it feels wrong. The inner alarm bells go off, and he or she experiences an intense urge to start doing what's actually right. Thus begins the quest to discern life's calling.
A calling is a unique knowing of what must be done in life in order to feel fulfilled. For example, some people excel and enjoy living their lives as writers, counsellors, teachers, doctors, engineers, architects, dancers, choreographers, nuns and priests, sannyasis and sannyasinis, paramedics, musicians, gardeners, chefs, mothers, fathers and more! We can tell that this is their calling by the joy with which they describe their professions. Likewise, many enjoy hobbies like gardening, flower arranging, origami, dog training, quilting, colouring, baking... Hobbies, too, can be a part of a person's calling, and often, hobbies can become lucrative pastimes, often eventually replacing the "job" once worked to support the hobby.
And yet, many people fall into a slump of frustration at the thought of the work they do because they're not expressing the joy of their passion, nor even sharing their understanding, but instead, are jumping through hoops laid out by others with whom they don't even agree just to pay bills. A block has been built up in the minds of many that when people grow up, they must stop doing what's fun, and instead, start working for a living. When they're not working, instead of enjoying fulfilling hobbies, many people exhaustedly flop onto the couch and watch television or read magazines, or play video games, because they simply lack the motivation to do anything else, and besides that, feel mentally and emotionally exhausted after a day at a much maligned job. Some people have asked me, "does everyone necessarily even have a passion?" because they can't seem to find anything that really drives their inspiration. The answer, of course, is "yes!" Everyone has a passion; everyone has something they love to do and that excites them to share with others. Simply, we, as a society, have forgotten that because it's we have been conditioned into thinking distraction is better than living; that watching characters interact on a screen is better than living our lives. That picking outfits from the pages of glossy magazines is better than sewing our own and developing a creative style. That hobbies and pastimes are reserved for children and the retired, and even then, only to those lucky souls who "find" their creativity and excitement.
How does one overcome this conditioning and live his or her true excitement in life? How does one discern the hobbies, jobs and expressions that form the prarabdha karma (the portion of one's soul's storehouse of karma meant to be completed in this very lifetime) we're really meant to live?
As the title of this blog suggests, the truth of who we are, what we love, and what we're called to do, can be found by thinking back clearly on our childhood!
Right now, even before reading further, take a moment to look within yourself and answer these questions:
(Writing them down on a piece of paper will help you put them into practice later, and also makes a great little bookmark or note-to-self to carry around as a reminder!)
- As a child, did you love to play outside? Draw, paint, colour, model with clay and play dough? Cut paper snowflakes and make crafts?
- As a child, did you like to play music, learn instruments, sing, dance, tap your fingers, hum, whistle and listen to songs?
- As a child, did you enjoy going to church or temple, praying, listen to stories from the Scriptures, contemplate God or meditate on the mysteries of life?
- As a child, did you enjoy writing stories or poems, did you keep a journal, read books, have others read to you?
- Did you love to go to theatre, or act in plays? Did you eagerly await a solo in the school Christmas Concert or other pageants?
- As a child, did you love animals? Did you wish to care for them and help them?
- As a child, did you love other children, and look forward to taking care of those littler than you?
- As a child, were you very social? Did you love playing with friends, visiting family, going to parties, telling stories, presenting things in Show and Tell?
- As a child, did you love to explore nature? To go on walks, play in fields, look at bugs and plants under a magnifying glass, watch the clouds, catch butterflies, hold ladybugs and blow the seeds old dandelions?
- As a child, did you build forts with cushions, make paper airplanes, build structures in lego, make snow forts or makeshift tents out of sticks?
- As a child, were you curious about the human body? Did you love to learn about which foods are nutritious, which exercises help which muscles health, why water and fresh air refresh the body, and how the inner organs work?
- As a child, were you very introverted? Did you like to spend time by yourself, thinking, looking at the stars, gazing out the window, wondering about the world?
- Were you extroverted, socializing and talking to whoever wanted to listen?
- Did you have a unique childhood passion (unrelated to television, video games and purchased toys, of course!) that I didn't list? If so, what was it?
For a few moments, contemplate on all this, and write down the interests that captivated you most. Let this list you've made not be finite, but continue to add to it as wonderful memories of the things you used to love to do come back to you! And, of course, if you're not doing any of those things now, start to creatively figure out how they can be immediately applied to your life once again!
Let me give a few examples:
If as a child, you used to build forts in your living room, and design structures out of lego, you have a clear calling and passion for architecture, engineering, model-making, repair work and building, and hands-on projects. If you're in an office job but yearn to be "making" things, start right now to build in your spare time! This could mean anything from refurbishing furniture for your home, to making toys for little ones whom you know, to even signing up for classes more in line with the field of work you're more passionate about doing!
If as a child you loved stories and books, and you kept a journal, but now, you're working as a salesperson, start writing again! Either journal, write poems, or even start a blog where others can peruse the things you're keen to share. Thanks to the internet, everybody can be a writer now, and have interaction with readers! (I can tell you from my own first-hand experience even with this blog here, it's a very fulfilling feeling to share something, and later discover that others have benefited from it!)
If as a child, you were passionate about health and the workings of the human body, yet now you're job is in law or something totally unrelated, it may prove exciting and inspiring for you to look into medical hobbies once again! Research more about nutrition, exercise, and put to practice what you learn. As with the suggestion to those engineers-to-be, you may even consider going back to school and learning a form of healing practice, whether it be medicine, Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, or even massage therapy, herbal treatments, colour therapy, aromatherapy, etc.
Basically, my point in this writing and advice to you is this: if you feel like you're not doing what you're meant to do, and wish to start living more in tune with your true self, know that you can really find and live your calling. You can reconnect with yourself and with your passions. With the right effort and belief in yourself, anything you loved doing as a child, and dreamed of doing "when you grow up," you can start doing now. Begin as a hobby, and let it evolve!
In this list you make of things you loved doing most as a little one, before the pressure to get graded and pass in school, or earn money to pay your way in the life as an adult, were imposed upon you and started to drive your motivation, you can find the key to your life! By expressing your genuine passions, you will discover what it is to be yourself, and to contribute something unique to the world!
When in doubt, and if you're having trouble remembering clearly what you loved doing as a little one, go through an old family photo album! Ask your parents to share with you what they remember you doing, and consider how it can be applied now.
Also, I'm not just saying all this as a hypothesis. Truly, I know that the passions people have in their youth evolve into and represent the path they are meant to live in life. In these photos taken by my dear mother, you can clearly see the parallel between my childhood passions and my life's work: