I think most of us are aware that confirmation bias is a guiding force in our lives. You know what I mean, right? Research shows that we are all biased and constantly looking for evidence that reinforces our most deeply established beliefs. So, it should come as no surprise to you (any more than it did to me) when I discovered in a current book that dharma and rightsizing share a lot in common. So, if you’re a fan like me, then consider the following five ways I think that if you are on the rightsizing path, you are likely close to living your dharma. Also feel free to let me know if you believe my bias has led me astray.
First, if you are fairly new to rightsizing it might be helpful for me to share a brief description. Rightsizing is a word I came up with that describes a life that fits you perfectly in a way that brings out the very best you. It asks each of us to explore and identify those qualities and items that add value to your world and get rid of anything that detracts. It sounds easy, but it requires commitment and discipline. This concept applies to the work you do, the home you live in, the people you live with and your own body and health—everything! While simplifying and getting down to the basics of a quality life are important, there is no one right way to do it—only the way that resonates most deeply with each individual.
So, what is dharma? According to The Great Work of Your Life—A Guide For The Journey To Your True Calling by Stephen Cope, dharma is the path to your “vocation,” or “sacred duty.” But, as Cope goes on to say, “It means, most of all—and in all cases—truth.” In other words, “Our greatest responsibility in life is to this inner possibility—this dharma—and they (yogis) believe that every human being’s duty is to utterly, fully, and completely embody his own idiosyncratic dharma.” To me, that sounds a lot like embracing your own unique and rightsized Self.
Several months ago, I wrote about many of the great ideas in this book in a post called “Why Wait Until Retirement To Live A Rewarding, Meaningful & Purposeful Life?” There I found fascinating the many stories about famous and regular individuals that Cope shares as well as how each person exemplifies the path to finding and living their dharma. But most interesting to me was the chapter on Henry David Thoreau. It is in his discussion of Thoreau that Cope actually uses the word rightsizing. Here then are five ways that Cope believes that Thoreau came to find and fully express his dharma by rightsizing.
1) The path of dharma and rightsizing is to find meaning, fulfillment and living our own unique truth. Dharma is explained and highlighted in an ancient teaching called the Bhagavad Gita. At the core of that story is the understanding that the human life is one of action. It is not about escaping life or denying it, but honing down and eliminating all that keeps us from profound engagement and deep meaning in the experience of our lives. (Rightsizing in action!) A key principle in both is that the inner journey precedes the outer journey of life. In other words, it matters less about the size of our house, how much stuff we have and our actual job. What’s important is that we know and embrace who we truly are before we can experience that fully in the world.
2) Beware the lure of grandiosity. Cope explains that at the beginning of Thoreau’s writing career he wanted what many people want—fame and fortune. He moved to New York City to establish himself as a great writer. There Thoreau tried to copy what all the other famous writers were doing and failed miserably. Only then did his disgrace force him to begin to ask many rightsizing questions like, “Who am I? What is important to me? What do I have to add to the world?” That’s when Thoreau realized that he wanted to live deeply in nature and write about that as an experiment in living well. According to Cope, “Thoreau’s failure in New York was a life lesson. Be who you are. Do what you love. Follow your own distant drummer. ‘A man’s own calling ought not to be forsaken!’”
3) Don’t devalue your life or gifts—it doesn’t have to impress anyone! Opposite of the lure of grandiosity is another admonition from Cope saying we need to beware of the tendency to downgrade our dharma—and thereby avoid living it. It happens with rightsizing when we compare our rightsized life to how others are doing and figure there is no way we can compare. We look at the fame others have or the stuff they own and believe we ought to do the same. Instead, Cope explains that when Thoreau returned to Waldon Pond he took up residence in a small (and extremely humble) cabin owned by a friend. He didn’t even pay rent. He lived close enough that his mother brought him sandwiches and cookies on a regular basis. It was well known that his daily life, even while writing his masterpieces, consisted of sleeping late, reading, and taking long “sauntering” walks that lasted for hours—and supplementing that with thoughtful prose.
Yet, in spite of his simple and modest living arrangements, in 24 months Thoreau produced some of his most profound writings. His work has influenced millions of people including notables like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. More importantly, those writings have inspired generations to be themselves. At its core, Cope writes, “It was his resolute embrace of a right-sized self that becomes for him the doorway into a full life.”
4) Rightsizing and dharma ask us to be resolutely and faithfully who we are. According to Cope, Thoreau was a student of the Bhagavad Gita. He studied it and carried it with him during his 2+ years at Waldon Pond. Thoreau believed that “A man tracks himself through life. One should always be on the trail of one’s own deepest nature. For it is the fearless living out of your own essential nature that connects you to the Divine.” And while that sounds great in retrospect, according to Cope, Thoreau enjoyed only mild success while he was still alive. In fact, Cope writes that Thoreau was actually considered a “loser” by many. Some of his neighbors considered Thoreau to be “widely seen as ‘an irresponsible idler, a trial to his family, and no credit to his town.’ Others thought him a mere pencil maker and a tax avoider.
The lesson for all of us to know is that we must be true to ourselves regardless what others are thinking—especially if we want to honor our unique gifts. If we want to live in another country, write poetry, forgo going to college, have kids, don’t have kids, live in a tiny house, buy a mansion—what others think of us doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are true to the life we are called to live and that we let go of everything else.
5) “Know your own bone!” According to Cope, Thoreau was eventually able to claim his rightsized, dharma life. At one point he even boldly claimed, “I am a mystic, a Transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot.” And while that might sound glamorous to you or me, it wasn’t to many of his contemporaries. At the essence of that proclamation was his pronouncement, “Do what you love! Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.”
Far too many of us distract ourselves working at jobs we dislike, to make lots of money so we can buy things we really don’t need just to try and make ourselves happy. But what if we instead took the time to find out what our “bone” is—that which makes our heart’s sing—and we do that above all else? What if we stripped away all the superfluous amusements and focused on what really matters? What if we took the time to unearth our dharma and rightsized our life? That bone, that jewel, will lead to a life well lived—as long as we don’t give up.
As I said before, I found it fascinating that Cope equated Thoreau’s life to one where he rightsized. While Cope also agrees that our dharma can change throughout our lifetime and the timing for offering our gifts is essential, he clearly says in his book that, “Right size is everything.” Holding the balance between too big (grandiose) and too small (devaluing) is a big problem for most people. But, if we can do like Thoreau, where we experiment with our lives to find that perfect balance, then, we invite our dharma to “explode with energy.” At that point, we will likely find ourselves living the life we are called to live.
One of the reasons I write so much about rightsizing, and look for ways to reinforce it in my life is because it helps ME stay focused on what is most important in my life. (And obviously, I hope it does the same for others.) The SMART and practical approach is to look for and embrace all those ideas that bring us into better harmony with our own unique selves—and that is likely our dharma!
Okay, your turn! Have you heard about dharma before and do you believe that living your dharma and rightsizing share a lot in common? Do you agree that “living in harmony with our own unique selves” is a beneficial way to live? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions and the article. Please share in the comments below.