The Great Work of Your Life
Last month, my friend Shanna mailed me a package full of books, and I’m slowly reading the fiction and non-fiction stories. One of the books Shanna sent is by Stephen Cope—The Great Work of Your Life. I started reading Cope’s book on Saturday night, and I’m already 70 pages in!
Before digging into Cope’s book, I didn’t understand dharma philosophy or history.
Here’s how Cope introduces the idea:
“The yoga tradition is very, very interested in the idea of an inner possibility harbored within every human soul. Yogis insist that every single human being has a unique vocation. They call this dharma. Dharma is a potent Sanskrit word that is packed tight with meaning . . . Dharma means, variously, ‘path,’ ‘teaching,’ or ‘law.’ For the purposes in this book it will mean primarily ‘vocation,’ or ‘sacred duty.’ It means, most of all—and in all cases—truth. Yogis believe that our greatest responsibly in life is to this inner possibility—this dharma—and they believe that every human being’s duty is to utterly, fully, and completely embody his own idiosyncratic dharma.”
I’m fascinated by this notion, and by Cope’s exploration of the concept—through an intensive study of many lives. The life stories of Jane Goodall, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and “so-called ordinary lives” are used by Cope to examine the idea of dharma.
Below are a couple of quotes by Cope that I’ve been pondering. They make excellent journaling fodder:
“. . . here’s an experiment. Stop reading for a minute, and ask yourself these questions: Am I living fully right now? Am I bringing forth everything I can bring forth? Am I digging down into that ineffable inner treasure-house that I know is there? That trove of genius? Am I living my life’s calling? Am I willing to go to any lengths to offer my genius to the world?”
“. . . Someone has had a profound taste of living their dharma, maybe even for decades. But now that particular dharma is used up—lived out. You can smell it. This person knows that a certain dharma moment is over but has only the vaguest sense of what must be next. It increasingly begins to dawn on her that in order to find that next expression of dharma she is going to have to take a leap of some kind. She knows that she is going to have to close a door behind her before she will find the next door to open. And gradually she comes to edge of a cliff, where she knows a leap of faith will be required. This is where she sits down in her folding chair. Will she ever get up?”
“Failure is a part of all great dharma stories. And great dharma failures do not just happen early in life. They routinely happen throughout life. We only know who we are by trying on various versions of ourselves.”
Cope’s book is making me think differently about my life and work, and I’m looking forward to finishing it this week!