THE GREAT WORK OF YOUR LIFE: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope

Books entertain, educate, inspire, enlighten and allow us to live lives we’re not brave enough to embrace. Then one day, when you stand at the crossroads filled with doubt, a book presents itself. The material within turns you on your head and all the pieces of your life tumble into place, and the true path of your life crystalizes like the Yellow Brick Road. This was my experience with Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life.

Stephen Cope, the director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living, takes us ringside on his examination of the two-thousand-year-old Bhagavad Gita. Much like watching movies with the director’s commentary, Cope educates us on the Pillars of Dharma by offering up the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna from the Gita, and giving examples of these principles in action by shining light on well-known people who inherently embraced their dharma like Jane Goodall, Henry David Thoreau and Ludwig von Beethoven, as well as individuals like you and me. The famous illustrators of dharma at work truly clarify the Four Pillars of Dharma.

 Look to Your Dharma

Do it Full Out

Let Go of the Fruits

Turn it Over to God

However, it’s the ordinary individuals that make this book hit us where we live. Each one of these stories shed light on my own struggles throughout life and provided me with an objective window to examine where I’ve been, and where I ultimately must go to live a fulfilled life.

After reading The Great Work of Your Life, I wish I could find a way to get every junior and senior in high school, every college student, teacher and parent to read this book. I was a college professor, so I know first hand too many students study for degrees because their parents have corralled them into it, or the media has made them believe it’s the only way to be successful. Students spend four years making their parents happy, or living under delusions of grandeur, then they spend the next ten to fifteen years—sometimes more—trying to undo the damage, or in misery that seems to them has no real source, while their parents watch from the fretful, criticizing sidelines. All of this can be avoided if students, parents and teachers understood how to tap into their own dharma.

It is better to fail at your own Dharma than to succeed at the Dharma of someone else. 

And remember the wisdom of mystic Thomas Merton.

Every man has a vocation to be someone, but he must understand clearly that in order to fulfill this vocation he can only be one person: himself. 

My wish, of course is impossible. It is also impractical because in order to find your true dharma you must be in a place in your life where you are ready to receive it. An addict can go through a slew of interventions, but unless he is ready to change his life for himself, in many ways those meetings are nothing more than hot air.

We only know who we are by trying on various versions of ourselves. We try various dharmas on to see if they fit. 

Still, it’s a relief to know The Great Work of Your Life exists. That it’s on the shelves ready to fall into reader’s hands, or to be recommended to someone, even if they’re not ready, because one day they’ll be tangled in doubt and they’ll reach for it.

Cope’s book is not only for those individuals who are lost and confused. Many people become content with vocations they did not desire. My father’s dream was to become a Veterinarian. Then the war came, and a marriage and children. He took a job as an estimator for a construction company. He gave everything to his job and became one of the top estimators in the area. He bought a house and sent three kids to college. I wouldn’t call him a happy man, but he has lived a contented life. So what can this dharma stuff offer a man like my father?

…we are likely to interpret feelings of exhaustion and boredom as the signal to retire. But couldn’t they just as easily be the call to reinvent ourselves?…

We tend to think leaping off cliffs is for the young. But no. Actually—when better to leap off cliffs? (T.S. Eliot said it: “Old men ought to be explorers.”) 

Life continually throws us curves and canyons to jump over. Knowing who you are and embracing your path won’t eliminate the troubles of life, but it will make life easier to navigate. When we are centered and whole, we are open to options we otherwise would be blind to.

I imagine a certain percentage of readers are thinking, “But I’ve already read The Secret and The Power of Now, what do I need this book for?” Well, I’ve read those books too. If I were going to recommend one of those books I would pick The Power of Now. For me, Tolle’s book explains why the material in The Secret works. When I read Eckhart Tolle’s book, every word resonates with me. The trouble comes after. How do I go about incorporating the concepts into my daily life? Let me clarify, The Great Work of Your Life is not a how to book. It doesn’t say do this and you’ll get that. What Cope’s work does do exquisitely is reveal that all of the answers we’re looking for are within us and shares the blueprint for how every individual can embrace their own. Oh, Happy Day!

Meet your Dharma. Read The Great Work of Your Life.