Recently, my yoga teacher and friend, Tanya Deacove, gave me a wonderful gift when she loaned me Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life. It turns out that this is a book for all who face uncertainty about life’s true purpose. “What is your biggest fear?” Cope asks. His answer, “I’m afraid that I’ll die without having lived fully” surely resonates for many of us.
If you bring forth what is within you, your sacred calling, he says, it will save you. In the first place, The Great Work of Your Life is compelling as a selection of moving stories which examine the essence of many inspiring lives. For these illustrations, he chose Jane Goodall, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Susan B. Anthony, Camille Corot, John Keats, Marion Woodman, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Harriet Tubman, and Gandhi to illustrate his powerful theme. As well as these luminaries, he includes examples of people he knows from his own life, and the ways they came to terms with and nourished their true vocations.
All of these teachings illustrate, and are seamlessly intertwined with the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita. In this, Krishna says to Arjuna “You do not know how to act because you do not know who you are.” In the past, I admit that I found this allegory about the path to dharma, or sacred calling, unapproachable. However, in context with Cope’s examples and the Gita’s wisdom, I found an invitation to free myself and to reinvent myself . What is more, Cope gives a map of how to proceed with this quest first by discovering what is really in your heart and then by choosing to commit to it with all your heart.
I’m buying my own copy of The Great Work of Your Life. It is such a perfect guide, and so dense with ideas from people of all kinds, that I know I will want to keep it nearby to refer to frequently.