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Nadine McNeil – What is Karma, What is Dharma

On the second day of the BaliSpiritFestival, Nadine McNeil spent an hour in the center of a circle of yogi seekers, leading an interactive discussion about the meaning of dharma and karma and how they work in our lives.

Nadine defines karma in a unique way, different from how many people in today’s society define it – merely as doing something good often expecting something in return. Instead, Nadine asks what am I here to learn in this lifetime?

Through the practice and journey of yoga she continues to peel away the layers, to discover. As she awakens, she gets the opportunity to keep what she chooses and discards that which doesn’t serve the person that she strives to be. It is only through an appreciation and understanding of her karma, that she can then begin to discover her dharma.

Dharma is a term unfamiliar to many outside of the yoga world, and is not a mainstream concept like karma. In Nadine’s view, each one of us is brought here to the earth to do something specific. It is unique to who we are. We know it at a very early age yet through conditioning and life expectations, we move away from it. Until something in our lives happens to nudge us back towards it. It is something more than just a purpose, which is the conventional definition of the word dharma. It is the fire in the belly.

Nadine posed several questions to the audience to engage the group in a true dialogue about their potential. She questioned how many people felt that they are truly living their dharma. In response, only a couple of people raised their hands. When she asked, though, how many people have no idea what their dharma is or how to live it, only one person raised their hand. Which means, if people are not identifying themselves with one situation or the other, they must be somewhere in between, falling somewhere on a spectrum.

I, personally, am somewhere on that spectrum, recognizing that I am where I should be right now. But I know that I have not reached my full potential, to find the way to give all that I can give. I have yet to find my dharma. It was comforting to know that in a group of about fifty people, I am not alone.

Bex Tyrer, a teacher at the nearby Yoga Barn, recognized that at times she feels like she is in fact living her dharma. But then she receives another wakeup call, another moment which tells her that there is more work to be done. Bex wondered how many more times she needs that wakeup call. Often times the universe gives us that wake up call, or as Nadine says, that nudge. What is important is what you do with the nudge.

If we are somewhere on this spectrum, do we at least feel at though we are on the right path, going in the right direction? How do we know when we are on the right path? Some say it is when life is effortless. One fellow dharma seeker shared that, for him, his sleep pattern is what gives it away. He used to live his life for sleep, always wanting more of it, always wanting to stay in bed. Now, he does not want to waste his hours on the earth sleeping when there are other things he can be doing with his life, pursuing his dharma.

This resonated with me. I once felt like no amount of sleep was enough to sustain me. I spent each morning of my “prior life” hitting the snooze button, having no interest in getting up, and always wondering when the next time was that I could sleep in. I struggled to wake up by 8 am. Now, most mornings I wake without an alarm by 6:15, ready to enjoy the day. I wondered if this was a sign that perhaps I am on the right path, that my life has become slightly more effortless.

Nadine posed the question to each of us: “Can you imagine what you could do if you were truly following your passion?” In a seminar that raised more questions than answers, that encouraged some thought about where we are in our lives, and where we are going, Nadine offered a perfect prescription for a rainy day in Ubud. Don’t lose sight of the ability to wish and to dream. Find your dharma.

Written by : Amber Hoffman


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