Published by Bantam
Publication date: September 25th 2012
Genres: inspiration, Non-fiction, self-help
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.
The Great Work of Your Life opens with these lines from the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas Author Stephen Cope then skillfully relates “what is within you” to the Hindu concept of dharma. However, as seen by the intermingling of these two concepts, this is not a book just for followers of Eastern traditions, but is relevant to people of all religious and philosophical beliefs.
From the book’s beginning, author Stephen Cope makes it clear that while Eastern philosophical traditions often talk about the importance of being versus doing, as humans we are doers. Our lives are not meant to be spent in a permanent contemplative state. This is an interesting start as so many books do rely on the credo that we are “human beings not human doings”. True and clever, but does not leave much room for the reality of most of our lives. The focus here is on dharma, a Sanskrit word which translates to “path” but can also mean “sacred duty” or “vocation”. This is one of the central tenets of Indian (Hinduism and Buddhism) religion. For the purposes of the book Cope looks at the four pillars of dharma:
- Discern your dharma
- Do it full out
- Let go of the outcome
- Surrender your actions to God
In each of the four parts of the book one of the four pillars is examined. Cope draws on the experiences of luminaries such as Jane Goodall, Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Thoreau, and Beethoven in their journey to their life’s work. He does so with quotes and passages from their works and supplemental material from their biographers.
The example of Robert Frost, in particular, stands out. In one of his most well-known poems, The Road Not Taken, the narrator is clearly torn on which way to go- as Frost was when he sold his farm in New Hampshire and moved to England to devote himself to poetry.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
While he was already known for his poetry, this poem (in its entirety) represents much of the principles of dharma. There is the initial doubt when one is trying to discover their dharma—a stage many people find themselves stuck in, then the full-on commitment necessary once it has been identified, and the letting go of the outcome.
Cope does not simply look to the famous for their stories but interweaves them with stories of people he knows and has met through his work at the Kripalu Institute. For each of the pillars he breaks down the premise into easy to understand bytes of information, giving examples in in everyday terms. This down-to-earth, friendly manner, without the take-charge/no-pain-no-gain attitude of many self-help tomes, makes this a book of gentle encouragement and one that keeps the reader going, without becoming bored or discouraged. Reading The Great Work of Your Life is like a meditation, forcing disengagement from pre-conceived notions of how life and answers should evolve and simply creating space and openness in the mind. It’s about the spiritual journey of discovering one’s true purpose in life, recognizing it and living it to its fullest. Wherever you are on that path this is a lovely, thought provoking addition to any inspirational library.