Yesterday was Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. He was present in my thoughts throughout the day, and I was reminded of my own personal journey of yoga and self-awakening that he inspired.
When I was 21, I went to see a free showing of the movie Gandhi at the University of Delaware where I was enrolled. I didn't know who Gandhi was. I had never heard of yoga or civil disobedience or non-violence. I went to see the movie because it was free and a friend didn't want to go alone. I didn't know that it would be the single most important and pivotal moment in my life.
After the movie, the action of Gandhi bringing his palms together in front of his heart played itself over and over again in an entrancing loop. I had seen this same gesture many times in church, but seeing this powerful man bow so humbly awakened in me my own longing to feel connected in that way. I went home and cried. I couldn't stop crying because I recognized my own life's calling in that moment even though at the time I had no idea what form it would take.
Much later I learned about anjali mudra (prayer gesture). Anjali is a sanskrit word meaning "to honor," or in some instances "to offer." This joining together of the palms has been used by all spiritual practices throughout time. It's a representative symbol of all energies coming together at our heart's center. This mudra awakens our sacredness, where profound wisdom lies. In recognizing our own heart, our own wisdom and our own divine nature, we can then honor that same quality in others; we can then offer our heart to the world around us. Like Gandhi.
The movie inspired me to read his autobiography, which then led me to read everything that he was reading: Tolstoy, Thoreau and Emerson. That propelled me to take my first yoga class, after which I walked out feeling, as many of you have also felt, inspired, calm, energized, connected and alive. I knew instantly and without a doubt that this was my path.
What I know now is that every one of us has something we are passionate about, something that calls to us "like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- over and over announcing your place in the family of things." (Mary Oliver) That calling oftentimes scares us. We resist it. There are voices inside and outside of us that chant: You can't do that, you're not good enough, that's not for me, I'll look stupid, I'm not smart enough, pretty enough, wealthy enough, skilled enough, etc., etc., etc...
Your work in life is to connect with your calling, and then no matter what, dedicate your life to it without worrying about outcome, the possibility of failure or success, what others will think, or even death. Annie Dillard sums it up beautifully in the closing paragraph from her short story Living Like Weasels:
"I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you're going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, til your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles."