Every so often I come across a gem of a book. You know, the ones that change your view of the world or your view of your life? This book helped me understand something I have been reading and studying for a few years, The Bhagavad Gita. I have read several interpretations and am currently in a book study group that meets weekly reading just a few verses at a time and discussing. But somehow this book, The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope gave me even more insight into living the teachings of the Gita, of Yoga with a capital Y. (The Gita was Gandhi’s reference book. Whenever he struggled with what to do, it is said he turned to the teachings of the Gita.)
This book offers case studies of famous and not-so-famous people who have followed their lives according to their dharma. Dharma has two meanings:
- samanya dharma– universal values
- visesa dharma– what you are to do in a given situation
This book addresses how to live your visesa dharma… how to live given the situation and the gifts you have been given. In the opening of this book is this line:
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you…
I think we have all been in that place where we feel we aren’t following the path we are meant to follow. It feels as if you are rubbing up against a tree and you are constantly irritated. But then you step onto the path you are meant to be on and the rubbing goes away. You step into, what some people call, the flow.
People actually feel happiest and most fulfilled when meeting the challenge of their dharma in the world, when bringing highly concentrated effort to some compelling activity for which they have a true calling.
When you are working, dancing, doing yoga, gardening… whatever that gift is that allows you to attend wholly to the task at hand, this can save you. We know when our creativity has been stifled or we can’t step into what we were born to do. We feel tired, lethargic and everything is work. When we bring forth what is within us everything feels lighter, brighter and easier.
This book shows us stories of Jane Goodall, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Susan B. Anthony, Camille Corot, John Keats, Marion Woodman, Beethoven, Harriet Tubman and Gandhi. Their unique stories show ways they lived their dharma. Not all of the stories are easy or pretty and this is the truth of the Gita.
One of the conflicts I often had was that the Gita’s central setting is a battlefield. Arjuna is poised to go to war against his step-brothers, his grandfather, his teacher, his family. He realizes his situation and he essentially calls a time-out. His charioteer is Krishna, a divine being, an image of God. Arjuna then has a three hour conversation with Krishna about what to do. This is the Gita. Many people struggle with this wondering if the Gita promotes war because Krishna’s first response is, “Stand up and fight!” However, this book put it best and helped me lay to rest this dilemma:
Krishna and Arjuna give us the field of battle. Is this just a symbol? No, it is not. It is quite real. The battlefield is an absolutely central component of the Gita. Our conflicts and inner divisions- all that separates us from our true selves- must be worked out on the field of real life. On the field of relationships. Of work. Of effort. Of hobbies. Of callings. This is what dharma is. Dharma calls us not to just any old battlefield, but to the battlefield were we will suffer most fruitfully. Where our suffering will be most useful to ourselves, to our souls, and to the world.
This book inspired me to stay the path of teaching yoga, reminding me this is when I feel whole and content. This book reminded me that when we stray off the path, our inner litmus reminds us we aren’t doing what we need to do. This book showed me living examples of ordinary people who followed their path to do extraordinary things. This book brought one of the oldest works that has been handed down through centuries to life.
If you want to be inspired, but have no desire to know about the Bhagavad Gita, read this book. The lives of each person will make you see no one has it easy. It is what we do with what has been given to us that counts. If you are searching… seeking, read this book.
Mysteriously, the gift issues forth out of the wound. It does not quite heal the wound, but it makes sense of it. It gives it meaning. And meaning is everything.
p.s. If you have read this book, I would love to see your favorite quotes in the comments below. I know my book is FULL of highlights and dog eared pages.