You can also view this post on Elephant Journal at: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/12/woody-allen–dharma–chetana-panwar/
Lately I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about the concept of dharma: how we use our time, what activities and ways of contributing to our society are very intuitive for us, and the importance of embracing our strengths while honouring those of others.
This reminded me of a line from Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita that has always intrigued me. Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda translated it as “it is better to do your own duty, however imperfectly, than to assume the duties of another person, however successfully”. Even if something comes up again and again in our lives as a way that we are particularly called to serve, even if it is very intuitive for us, that does not mean it is necessarily easy. Sometimes out of fear, and a feeling of inadequacy, we try to become meticulous at other duties, rather than embrace a potential calling. I would say this is the case for me with writing.
Recently I enrolled in a creative writing course, after many years of wanting to do so. I have published some poetry in the past, and other pieces of writing in many forms. And yet, in the first few weeks of the writing course, and while doing the homework, I struggled with overwhelming feelings of resistance. One of them was the feeling that I was wasting my time, and that I should be doing something more useful and productive with my time – serving the community. I even convinced myself that I should write a yoga fable, or an inspiring yoga-related story, a feel-good story with a particular message. Then I stopped. Wait a minute? Why was I trying to engineer my writing to a particular theme? Did I not believe in the value of stories of all kinds, and diverse explorations of human experience, suffering, search, conflict, epiphany etc.? I believe in writing, painting, music, dance, cooking and various other arts. I believe that they are worthwhile and add something very important to life. Further, I could feel the momentum of the story I was already working on - that this is the writing I’m meant to be doing right now. It was very identifiably ‘my voice’, as we say.
Funnily, I just happened to see a clip of the 1980 Woody Allen film Stardust Memories in which Woody has a conversation with luminous beings. He asks, “Why am I bothering to make films?…The human condition is so discouraging… Shouldn’t I do something that counts like become a missionary or something?” The luminous being responds, “You’re not the missionary type. You’re a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.” This is a quintessentially Woody Allen exploration of dharma. Do what you’re meant to do. Let go of the guilt, and explore!
Of course we are multi-facetted being, and of course we contribute to our families and communities in many ways. That said, sometimes we may over manage ourselves and neglect to make time for our richest gifts to flourish. In my previous post Yoga is like a Good Masala, I mentioned the liberation of seeing yoga as a process, and a way of being while doing any activity. And here, another twist: rather than find ways to consciously insert yoga into my creative writing, I can simply understand my writing as my dharma.