Navigating by the heart: life purpose and yoga nidra

by Wendy Knerr, Restful Being Associate Teacher

One of the first things taught in a yoga nidra session is to think about something you want more than anything else – what is called Heartfelt Desire or Heartfelt Purpose. For anyone who has browsed the self-help section of a bookshop or spiritually oriented websites, you’ll notice page after page about how to find your life’s purpose. Despite having read widely on the subject myself, when I began practicing yoga nidra I was flummoxed by how superficial it seemed to think about my greatest desire or to imagine what I want most in life. It felt selfish and unspiritual, and I felt unprepared, not really knowing what I was meant to do. At the same time, I felt paralyzed by the possibilities — how would I choose?

 My teacher James Reeves gave me an invaluable piece of advice: just welcome the questions, such as ‘what is my heartfelt purpose?’ or ‘what is life asking of me?’ And he said that it could take ten years to understand my heartfelt purpose. What a relief! I thought I was supposed to just know or that this should come easy to me. Instead, I discovered that it would take practice to distinguish my heartfelt purpose from personal, family and social expectations, and from old hopes and dreams that no longer serve me. It would also take time to fully trust what was gradually being revealed to me through a committed yoga nidra practice.

 Knowing (with an upper-case ‘K’)
Slowly (and with some reluctance), I began to trust the practice of meditation and to see my search for purpose as a lifelong inquiry, rather than something to quickly get to the bottom of. More importantly, I began to understand that clues to my heartfelt purpose may not come in words. Yoga nidra is not something to think about, but to feel in the body. That’s why reading about finding my life’s purpose never really got me there. Like a novice sailor learning to navigate by the stars, or a young tracker learning to read the land, allowing myself time for meditation each day familiarized me with the subtle cues emerging from my body and from the silence, pointing me towards the things that bring me joy. This was the felt sense of Knowing (with an upper-case ‘K’), rather than the cognitive knowing with which I was more familiar. This was the language of the heart.

 What Heartfelt Desire is (and is not)
This process has meant welcoming my disappointment that the things I had read and thought about my purpose may not have been quite right. Turns out, it isn’t necessarily an impressive career or title or a particular achievement. It may not be something tangible at all. It may feel small, insignificant, nothing like the big dreams I had of saving the world or achieving something reward-worthy. I now sense my heartfelt purpose as an inner guide that registers when I am going in the direction of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in my life, towards (or away from) fulfillment. I can’t always understand why something feels right, but in the words of iRest Senior Teacher Anne Douglas, the more I practice yoga nidra, the more I know what it feels like to experience the “living yes.” At the same time, I get a sense of what the “living no” feels like, too, and the contrast is what enables me to find the most joyful and fulfilling path, day by day, moment by moment.

 Call it intuition, call it divine, or don’t call it anything at all – it doesn’t need words (unless you plan to blog about it). I found that my heartfelt purpose exists whether I can articulate it or not, and like an internal compass, it has been directing me towards fulfillment, to where I am right now, all my life.