Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life looks to the 2000 year-old yoga text, The Bhagavad Gita, an allegory about the path to dharma (true calling in simple terms), told through a dialogue between the Warrior Arjuna and his divine mentor, Krishna. Arjuna is riding “shotgun” (ok, “archer?”) in the chariot, piloted by the diving Krishna who is extolling advice over the course of an epic battle. Cope shows us how Arjuna’s military career and moral dilemmas aren’t so different from our own or from luminaries like Walt Whitman, Susan B Anthony and even Beethoven. We learn that Krishna’s advice is timeless and relevant to all of us looking for fulfillment in the modern world. BTW, the “The Gita” is probably one of the most accessible yogic texts and has influenced people like Ghandi and Martin Luther King.
Warning: this is not a story about how you can “be anything you want to be.” In fact, the word dharma “refers to the peculiar and idiosyncratic qualities of each being.” It’s not about doing anything you “set your mind to.” Cope explains what Krishna might say:
Yes, our inner possibilities are fantastic beyond imagining. But no, these possibilities are not nearly as subject ot our ego’s manipulation as we might like to think. Actually, you can only expect a fulfilling life if you dedicate yourself to finding out who you are. To finding the ineffable, idiosyncratic seeds of possibility already planted inside. There is some surrender required.
As you may know, Stephen Cope was the driving force behind transforming Kripalu, where I did my teacher training, from a dysfunctional Ashram into the world’s largest Yoga Health and Wellness center. He now heads the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL). The IEL sponsors the largest and most influential team of yoga researchers in the West and has a team of Harvard Medical School faculty and research assistants who are studying the effects of yoga on a wide spectrum of human functioning—from mental and physical health to the development of extraordinary states of consciousness.
If you have any interest in living extraordinarily yourself or are tasked with the job of helping others to do so (parent/teachers/mentors) on any level, give Cope’s book a read! If nothing else, you learn some obscure facts about the lives of fascinating people. For instance, did you know Walt Whitman credited the Civil War with “saving him” and Jane Goodall got her start with observing chickens?