Life Is a Highway: Ride It to Liberation

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As the year draws to a close, many of us are busy stockpiling magazines to create vision boards and plotting out our New Year’s resolutions. There is so much hope and possibility baked into the dawn of a new year, yet often by the middle of January we are beating ourselves up about where we feel we’ve fallen short, and by mid February many of us have completely abandoned our goals. Here’s a little road map to help you stay on track this year.

On this great road trip to happiness there are four major stops: purpose (dharma), wealth (artha), pleasure (kama), and liberation (moksha). These are the aims of life, or as they are known in Sanskrit, The 4 Purusarthas. While the 4 aims speak to perhaps the largest goal any of us have through life - liberation - they can also apply to the journey of setting goals and resolutions without overwhelming pressure, and help us stick to them even when we come up against roadblocks.

Purpose

Step one: get a vehicle, a map, and figure out where you’d like to go. Simple, right? In theory yes, but in practice, not always. This first step is sometimes the most daunting. It’s time to figure out your dharma, or life’s purpose. How can you best serve yourself in a way that will then benefit the world around you?

This goes beyond your career, where you live, or even what you’re good at. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says something to the effect of, “It is better to do your own dharma poorly than to do someone else's well.” We sometimes get stuck in a physical or energetic rut in life by sticking to something we excel at but don’t love, or doing things to live up to expectations set by ourselves or others. This is like a glitch in the GPS. That lovely monotone voice from the phone tells you, You have arrived at your destination, and yet, what you’re looking for is not there. It’s time to reroute, maybe shut the phone off for a minute, and listen to the hum of the engine, the whispers of the universe, that little voice within.

How it applies to day-to-day goals: When I am setting a goal, whether it be a pose I’m working towards on my mat or shifting a negative habit to a more positive one, I come back again and again to my “why”, the root or purpose of it all. Is my motivation solely ego driven, or is it of service to self and the world at large? Is it ultimately bringing me closer to a place of peace? Choose peace! Choose laughter instead of frustration when you stumble out of that one pose for the millionth time. It’s just practice. And at times we learn more from our stumbles than our perceived triumphs.

Wealth

Step two: make sure your car is up for the journey, change the oil, fill your tank with gas, and get some snacks! All of these things require artha, or dolla dolla bills y’all! Artha means wealth. Biggie famously said, “Mo money, mo problems,” but there is a lesser known quote by the artist known as me, “No money, real problems.” This does not mean that we all need to be millionaires to find our happiness or achieve our goals (although, if someone would like to offer me a million dollars to test this theory, please make out a check directly to yours truly). Rather it means that we should make enough so as not to be a burden to others, to take care of our basic needs, and to hopefully at some point, have the means to give back in some way.

How it applies to day-to-day goals: When applying the concept of wealth to my everyday goals I often think of this financially and energetically. Is the way I’m working toward my goal depleting my energetic funds or bolstering them? Is the potential gain worth the possible risk/loss? For example, if you take on a job that you don’t love, but it’s affording you the financial freedom to build toward the things in life that ultimately fill your cup, the effort of the work may be worth the reward of the lifestyle you are able to maintain. However, if you convince yourself to take on the job you don’t love in order to do the things in life that light you up, but you end up feeling so rundown by the work that you don’t have the energy to actually do all the things, then this isn’t a wise use of your energy and ultimately won’t be sustainable. This can also work the opposite way around; there are times in life where we may make the choice to earn less in order to find greater joy.

When it comes to goals related to gaining more material wealth, whether that be money or things, can you accumulate what you need to live comfortably without falling into the trap of greed?

Pleasure

Next step: pick up a friend or two, stop in beautiful places you’ve never seen, ditch the meal plan occasionally for some random dive off an exit that claims to have the best pie ever, roll down the windows and breathe in the world around you! In short, indulge your senses. This brings us to kama, or pleasure. One of my favorite definitions of kama comes from Joanna Macy. She says kama is, “desire, wish, passion, emotions, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love, with or without sexual connotations.” Um, yes, please!

You were born in this body to enjoy the world and to give experience to your higher self (just remember we must remain unattached, or we will quickly find our way back to Sad Town, USA). So take that random exit here and there, and remember, if the pie shop is closed when you show up, don’t freak out. That reroute may have saved you from an accident up ahead, or allowed you to stumble upon another treasure you may have missed if you’d stayed on the beaten path.

How it applies to day-to-day goals: Part of sticking to a goal is finding joy in the effort of pursuing it. If there is no pleasure along the path to what you seek, chances are you will end up quitting the journey before you reach your final destination. For example, let’s say your goal is to workout more. You hate going to the gym, but you’ve decided to buy a membership anyway. Maybe you force yourself to go a few times, but eventually, it just becomes that place you feel guilty about paying for, but never actually going. Picking a more pleasurable route, like taking a dance class, hiking, walking daily with your dog or your friends, or taking a yoga class on demand from the comfort of your own home (wink wink), are great ways to honor your goal in a way that you might actually enjoy! Sometimes we just have to think outside the box. At times we can become so fixated on our goals that we forget to enjoy life along the way! In fact most of us end up abandoning our goals at some point because we feel deprived. What’s the point of achieving your goals if they ultimately make you miserable? If you are rigid, you run the risk of breaking. So be flexible, remember to offer yourself grace and enjoy the fruits of your practice (on and off the mat).

Liberation

Final step: Cue the sound of your GPS saying, “You have reached your final destination: moksha.”

Imagine your absolute favorite place in the world, and then multiply how happy it makes you by infinity. This is your ultimate destination. This is the point where you realize it’s getting dark out, and you don’t have to freak out because your vehicle has lights, and cruise control. You have A/C if it’s too hot, a heater if it’s too cold, and seat belts for your safety. Basically, everything you need, you already possess. When you are living fully in your dharma with a balance of artha and kama, liberation, self-realization, and freedom from the cycle of rebirth unfolds.

How it applies to day-to-day goals: Let me start with one of my favorite T.S. Eliot quotes: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

A resolution isn’t meant to change or fix you, but instead to bring forth the divine within. You (yes, you) are in this very moment whole, divine, and beautiful in every way imaginable. Set goals and follow through with the practices that help reveal that truth. The reward is recognition of your true Self... it doesn’t get much better than that!

Happy trails to you. Until we meet again.

Ashley Rideaux
About the Author

Ashley Rideaux

In addition to teaching yoga, leading workshops, trainings and retreats, all over the world, Ashley has been happily (and nerdily) journaling since she was a wee lass. Occasionally she manages to parlay this experience into freelance writing gigs, content creation for Center for Yoga and YogaWorks teacher training programs and is slowly but surely penning a book on working with props. Most importantly, Ashley is the dog mom to the best little muse in all the land, Augustus Barnaba (aka Augie). You can practice with Ashley in her Burn Bright challenge.


Comments

Carole T
Hi Ashley,  this resonated with me, thank you.  Namaste 💖

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