It was a tight knit group that sat in the Seven Springs shala one Appalachian spring afternoon, nestled among the sheltering cedars, sweet gums and pines.

Our eyes were closed, imagining how we would move forward into our future selves.

As I asked questions about how this future life would feel, I looked around and noticed a student’s face—we’ll call her Ana—so joyful even as her eyes filled with tears. Just a few weeks ago, she had arrived wracked with anxiety over what to do with her life—which path to choose. It had been such a joy to watch her step back and into herself, allowing new visions to arise.

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In my eight years leading groups through transformative retreats, workshops, and teacher trainings, I’ve observed that the tears always flow when people are faced with The Unknown:

What can I give to this world? How can I unearth my true self from the false beliefs burying it? How can I stand out with my skills and knowledge? How can I discover my unique gifts in this lifetime? What is my purpose, my dharma, my path?

These questions always seem to bring anxiety, yet I believe we can transform that anxiety into curiosity. The resulting introspection will create a better world for our children’s children. We must ask ourselves these questions to discover our true nature, our given gifts, and our inner passions.

In this era of scientific achievement, our selves have become The Great Unknown. We don’t have all the answers, and even when we think we know we may be not be listening to our true inner voice.

Sometimes we pursue what we feel we should; society guides us to following pressures from family and friends. We commonly mis-identify others’ passions as our own, leading us down a path of disappointment and self-doubt. Sometimes we think we know, and we make elaborate plans for the exact way our path will unfold. Yet, life is never linear. More often than not, this attachment only leads to more disappointment and doubt.

So, what are we to do with this conundrum? How are we to sort out what we “truly” want—our true purpose?

As I’ve learned through experience, nature is a good place to start. By observing her patterns and systems we can gain insight into our own lives. For example, permaculture teaches us small and slow solutions. To answer The Great Unknown, we don’t need to know exactly how it’s all going to work out. We just need to be aware and willing. Taking one baby step at a time toward a more balanced existence.

Once we bring awareness to our true gifts—the ones that make our heart sing—and we fully take ownership of these, that’s when they become our passions. When we fully commit ourselves to following these passions, we begin to see clarity in a direction that we can move our energy, that’s when we find our dharma.

What happens from there is a beautiful dance between self and the universe. It all starts with simple awareness, not big, long-term solutions.

Ana’s tears turned to a face of distrust. I witnessed the loss of her hope as her cheeks sank. “I’ve examined all my skills and gifts,” she shared with me later, “and I just don’t think any of them are my passions. I don’t know if I have a passion.”

I know it’s easier to read than to believe, but here’s the truth: We all have a passion, we just may not recognize it.

Maybe others see it, maybe not. Maybe we are focusing on our short term desires rather than our true calling. Regardless, our first step in following our Dharma is recognizing our path and calling it out.

To examine this, I like to bring in the Johari Window model. Let’s shift our brains from the more esoteric, idealistic thought pattern to a more discriminatory thinking process. Both are equally important as we create, plan, and implement our life’s dreams. In our Kula Collective Facilitation Intensive course, we dive into the pedagogy of facilitation, group development, and personal goal-setting. One of the tools we use is this Johari Window chart:

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This model is quite simple. There are passions within us which we know, and which others know as well. These are wonderful to continue to develop, depending on where we wish to put our energy.

There are passions within us which we know but others don’t. These are the ones we want to focus on shining brightly to our world.

There are passion within us which we don’t know, but others do. Our peers, friends, and facilitators can help us identify these when we come together in learning and growing retreat and training environments.

Finally, there are passions within us which we don’t know and others don’t know either. The Great Unknown! The Sweet Spot. We can use the Johari Window to bring awareness to this space so we may begin a process of guidance from the unknown to the known.

“But I’m just not a talented person,” continued Ana after blurting out that she had no passions. “Other people have special skills, but all my life I’ve just been mediocre, in the background, not special.”

This is an example of another layer that I’d like to add into the Johari model: the False Knowns, or the mistaken identity of self. Because all her life Ana had been told or conditioned to believe that she was not talented, she now believed her identity of not being special. With this belief, even the first step—awareness of our gifts—is impossible.

In Stephen Cope’s Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, he writes,

“In yogic science, the project most central to the discovery of the real is the penetration into the delusion of the unreal…the true self is discovered only in the process of exposing the false self…our whole task is understanding and revealing the false self, because once freed from it everything that is left is true self.”

If belief in a false self is true for you (and it is for all of us to some extent), become aware of this. Write a list of your beliefs about yourself, and then ask yourself if each one of those is true in your heart. Do this in an open and safe space where the mind can remain quiet so you may hear the whispers of the heart.

Once we begin to release the False Knowns—what we have been conditioned or told to believe—we can enter into the journey of discovering the Unknowns with confidence.

Now I invite you to stop and ask yourself: Does this thought of discovering something about yourself that you don’t know (and others don’t know either) scare you or excite you? To begin this path of discovery, we must cultivate a state of pure curiosity.

We don’t know what we will discover, and that’s okay. We do know it will lead us on a new path of passion and purpose.

Ana came thinking her Teacher Training would be all about getting fit and flexible through practicing asana. In this process, her flexibility of her own self-awareness expanded as well. As budding yoga “teachers,” we must do the work to know ourselves fully and wholly.

This is where deep personal transformational work becomes so necessary.

Ana embraced the journey to move through the exploration of her challenges and strengths, the empowerment of self, and the expansion of her passions and purpose into this world and lifetime.

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Join Jessi at Seven Springs Holistic Retreats in Tennessee for a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Journey: Passion to Purpose: June 1-25, 2018.