Taking a walk with my husband and making plans together for the family, I am “Wife.” Feeding my kids snack and taking them to sports practice, I am “Mom.” Calling customers and taking their orders, I am “Businessperson.” The list of roles goes on… daughter, student, teacher, volunteer, friend, sister…
Together these various roles make up a person's dharma. In this context, the Sanskrit word 'dharma' refers to the the the specific duties we each have to perform in life through ethical means.
Depending on the situation, the hat I wear has to change. When I am teaching a room full of high schoolers about healthy food, I am not acting like a daughter. When I am a student learning from my Guru, I am not acting as a businessperson.
Inside of any day we cycle through different roles. Inside of an hour, a minute, even a moment, different roles shift and move from background to foreground and back again. This rapid cycling of expectations can make us dizzy. As the situations around me change, if I try to keep redefining myself and “who I am” by the roles I have to play, then my head will spin trying to keep up with those changes and I start to feel exhausted, overwhelmed and confused.
Now picture a collection of colored lenses. When light is shone through them, they each cast a unique color of light. That light evokes a certain mood, sets a certain tone, conveys a certain feeling. Change out the color lens and a whole new stage is set.
Our various dharma roles are like these colored slides. In one context we need to shine our light through a 'mother' filter - to wash scraped knees, shop for groceries, correct homework. At work we beam through our 'employee' slide - to make powerpoint presentations, take criticism from our boss in stride, work in a team to meet deadlines. In our intimate relationships we shift again and let ourselves be vulnerable, practice loving acceptance of the other’s flaws, find meaningful ways to show we care.
In some instances, we have to carry on more than one role at once, creating a nuanced and blended response to a situation. We layer up the roles of our colored dharma slides that are constantly shifting in rank of momentary importance, but if we lose sight of the big picture, the whole thing will start to look muddy. Confusion and overwhelm take us over when we submerge ourselves in the blend of colors and can’t pull apart what are the individual roles at play and which should be given more or less importance. We stop being able to tell which role to act from at the moment.
You are the Light. Not the Dharma Role.
We fall into the well of this kaleidoscope when we forget one important thing: Who we really are is the shining light illuminating the whole set and not the colored films of our dharma roles.
The more we view our various dharmic roles as simply colored frames that have to be mindfully shuffled to artfully respond to life’s demands, the less disorienting the juggling seems since we are rooted in the part of us that is not changing.
It is our still, pure consciousness that is enlivening these roles, not the other way around. The roles do not give us meaning. Our awareness gives a platform for the roles.
Remembering that our dharma roles will always change but there is also a part of us that is constant brings some breathing room and allows us a little space to see the whole of our responsibilities from a detached perspective.
Let’s perch in the rafters and direct the play, rather than stay on the stage, blinded by the colors covering us.