I used to think it was selfish of me to pursue a performing career. By practicing for an hour or more every day, I am taking time away from my family or my teaching career. I could be earning money or cleaning the house, spending quality time with my daughter, or doing any number of useful things that would serve others. I am pouring myself into this pursuit without any guarantee that it will result in more income for myself or my family. I don’t even know for sure that my voice actually affects others in any sort of positive way. So I feel guilty and ask myself, why am I still doing this? There is still a voice in my head that tells me that it’s selfish. The only difference now is that I can recognize that voice for what it is – a false belief arising from my ego. Perhaps that’s why I feel the need to write this blog post – to shout to the world, but mainly to myself, that I have a right to pursue a career doing what I love – sharing my voice!
When I think of the core reason that I must sing, and why it is not a selfish pursuit, I think of a beautiful Hindu saying: “Dharmo Rakshati Rakshita,” which means “Dharma will protect those who protect it.” So what is Dharma, exactly? That Sanskrit word has been translated many ways, most commonly translated to English as “duty.” Another translation that I’ve heard that resonates more with me is “the essential nature of a thing.” Thus, the dharma of the sun is to be hot and to shine. The dharma of a bell is to ring. So, what is your essential nature? It may not be simple, it may not be an easy answer, and it may take years to discover. But whatever it is, you will know when you are engaging in that activity and you are overcome by a feeling of “rightness.” When I sing, and especially when I sing with others in an operatic production, I feel a deep sense that this is what I’m meant to be doing, that I am aligned with my true nature. I also feel that “rightness” when I teach singing. The feeling is deeper than a thought, or even an emotion. It is a feeling of a bell being struck and ringing, not to impress others, but simply because that is its nature.
So then there is the question of how do we protect our dharma? And how will it protect us? And what does all this have to do with not being selfish? Well, imagine what the world would be like if we all were living in alignment with our dharma. Yes, serving others is important, and there are many of us that need to focus more on that than serving themselves. But if you are like me, the balance is tipped in the other direction, perhaps due to the way we were raised – put others before yourself, we were told. Not to blame our parents – this message was, and is, very prevalent throughout our culture. The problem with this message is we lose touch with our inner knowing, particularly the most important inner wisdom of all – what it is we are here to do. If we were all in touch with this wisdom and acting from it, the world would be a much better place. We can serve others much more effectively when our own vessel is full.
In my own life, this Sanskrit sloka reminds me daily to nourish that which nourishes me, and thus will nourish and serve the world – in my case, that is singing, teaching, and being the best mom I can be. I protect my dharma by committing myself to my daily practices and putting myself out there and speaking my truth every day, even (especially!) when it is scary. I am a much better mom, teacher, wife, and community member when I give myself time every day to sing.
Then comes the hard part – trust. We must trust that by committing ourselves to the practices associated with our dharma (that is how we protect it), that it will protect us. The practices themselves will transform our lives and help us feel more stability, strength, and personal power. Simply by doing yoga and singing every day, I am led to the next right step in my life, and then the next. We must not attach ourselves to what we think it will look like once dharma is protecting us… it will always be different from what we expect! But we must trust that wherever we are led, we are protected by our own higher nature.
So even if your dharma is not singing, a practice like singing or yoga can help you to get in touch with your dharma and further align with it. We all have voices, we all have bodies… by aligning them, we grow in self-awareness and are better able to speak our truth and stand in our power. And there’s nothing selfish about that!