Are you searching for your life’s purpose? Wondering what your ‘dharma’ is? You’re not alone. From life coaches to self help books, there’s a huge industry dedicated to helping people find their purpose. But what exactly does that mean? And where do you start looking?Humans are meaning-making creatures. From astrology to neuro-science, everything we do is a search for meaning. It’s a quest that can drive us to make major life changes in the hope of experiencing the depth of meaning we crave.
Enter the vision boards and life coaches. If you try hard enough to visualise the life you want, you can manifest the meaning and purpose you long for. So you set about improving your body, relationships, career and habits, and yet the meaning you crave is always just out of reach. Why is it so hard to figure out your purpose in life?
Are you looking in the wrong place?
Rumi tells the story of a man who is searching for his lost his house key under a street-light one night, when a passing neighbour offers to help look for it. After a thorough search, neither of them has found the key and the neighbour asks “Are you sure you lost it here?” The man replies “No, I lost it over there near the bushes”. The neighbour asks incredulously “Why are you looking for it over here?” to which the man replies “Because this is where the streetlight is, so it’s easier to see”.
Like the man in the story, if you’re struggling to find meaning and purpose in your life, you might be looking in the wrong place.
Whether it’s finding a satisfying relationship, meaningful work or a place to belong, efforts to find your purpose and meaning are often focused on the external environment. Perhaps you turn inwards as well, practicing yoga and meditation, but even after years of practice, your purpose may not have become clear. So where should you look?
The path to wholeness
The key to finding your purpose in the world is to discover who you really are. You might think you know the answer to that. In the age of social media, the stories of our lives and personalities are documented hourly through a cavalcade of images, video clips and updates. While you already know that you are a more complex being than the self you project in public, it’s easy to overlook just how many-layered you truly are. And this is the discovery that must be made in order to find meaning and purpose.
Your many layers
When I ask my students what the word ‘yoga’ means, most of them know that it translates as ‘union’. But what are we unifying and how do we do it? Yoga offers us a simple model that illustrates the layers of our being and how to create ‘union’ between them. It’s called the Panca Kosha, or the Five Sheaths.
The Panca Kosha
We are all made up of five interconnected layers, each of which influences all of the others. These layers are:
Annamaya – The physical body
Pranamaya – The energetic/breath body
Manomaya – The conscious mind
Vijnanamaya – The higher mind/intuition
Anandamaya – Love and joy
When you look in the mirror, or on social media, what you see is the Annamaya. It’s easy to confuse who we are with what we can see – the body. The body is simply one of five equally important layers and to privilege the body over the other layers is the path to confusion.
The path to wholeness – and meaning – is the integration of all five of these layers. If you look at the traditional Eight Limbs of yoga, they include practices that balance and integrate each of these layers.
The first two limbs, the Yama and Niyama, teach us ethical behaviour as a framework for all the other practices. Then we are taught to practice yoga postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), concentration and finally meditation (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana). When you diligently practice all of these teachings, you will experience Samadhi – a state in which you experience the love and joy of your true nature, Anandamaya,
Without integrating these five layers through mindful practice, you will continue to feel incomplete and keep searching for your life’s purpose. In truth, your purpose is to integrate all of the layers of your being so that you can experience yourself as you really are – a state of wholeness and love.
The reason why your life’s purpose is so elusive is that you’re looking in the wrong place. Your purpose isn’t somewhere out there waiting to be found. Your purpose is the journey towards wholeness and bliss - the joy of discovering who you really are.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.