Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life, The Path to Finding Your Dharma, and Once You Do, Make it Work. Then, Enjoy it With this Veggie Curry
An Essay for Yogis, Yoga Teachers, and Those Interested in Diving Deeper
I recently read another absolutely fabulous book by Stephen Cope, who for me, is on my top-10 favorite authors list. I’ve talked about this book loosely with a few friends, and insisted that my friend Laura and my dad go out and buy it, too. Of everyone I’m close to, my interests are the most similar to theirs. So if something really hits me, it’ll probably do the same for them. And it did.
The book is The Great Work of Your Life, and for all of $13, it’s a great one to pick up. Cope, in his magical way, ties together stories that can sometimes be hard for our modern minds to read (in this case, The Bhagavad Gita), and applies them to our current day, specifically, to stories of those who have found their dharma.
He goes through stories of Jane Goodall, Harriett Tubman, Camille Corot, and many other famous artists, activists and thinkers, in addition to sharing more of his own story, and that of his family. If you’re not familiar with Cope’s work, and you teach yoga, run out and buy anything he’s written. I’ve included many of his books in my yoga book clubs in the past, and all of them apply to what we as teachers need to be learning.
Finding our truth, that is, and helping our students find those places of silence so that their own truth can be discovered.
To include even a few quotes from his book into this blog could never give you the full essence of it. I’m fairly certain I highlighted every single page, dog eared every other, drew stars and arrows and wrote notes on the edges. It’s that kind of book.
What I can do is present to you a few different topics, and then we can review what it’s like when the dharma you found just isn’t cutting it.
So what’s dharma?
It’s your life path. It’s your mission in life to give out that which needs to be spoken. That can be so many things. The hard part, in my opinion, is finding it, or at least, giving it the attention it deserves. Because that’s the funny thing about dharma and our current, modern world: they don’t always line up. Our modern world wants technology and fast paces and multi taskers and number crunchers. Our modern world often races past the thinkers, the poets, the colorful fabric of our society. But here’s the deal: that fabric of our society is what’s holding it all together.
And you might be a little thread in that fabric. Your blog, or your essays, or your teachings, or your engineering might be the thing that the world needs to hear. Or that one other person needs to hear, to see, to touch.
One of my other favorite authors, Pema Chodon, once wrote: “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know”.
That’s your dharma. That’s that inner voice telling you that you’ve taken the wrong step, or you need to speak up, or to simply pause and listen.
Your dharma’s funny in many ways, as it’s always there, it’s like that imaginary friend sitting by your side. It’s not going away. As my dad just texted me, after reading Cope’s intro: we’re already living our dharma, we’re already so close to it. We just have to live it intentionally.
After finishing the book, I got back onto Amazon and decided to read some of the reviews. I have no idea why I did this; I don’t think I’ve ever done this before with an author’s book. However, I saw the reviews, and most were something like this: his writing style is fabulous, but he gave me no ideas on how to find my dharma.
So, yea, I get that…we all want the tools. We all want the Three Easy Steps to Mastery! The Seven Tools to Perfecting Your Habits! The Five Best Ways to Increase Your Communication!
It’s not a few simple steps. Finding your dharma is a life-long process. I guarantee you, I mean, guarantee you, that if you sat still for a few days or a few weeks and listened to your breath, and quieted your mind, you would realize what your dharma is. It would simply come flooding in.
It would also be so damn obvious that it might irritate you a bit. That you had spent so much time looking when you could have been doing.
That was my case, at least.
My dharma, if you’re interested, is writing. DUH. It’s my favorite thing to do, aside from reading, that is. When friends – even friends I adore – invite me to do things, I weigh it like: how many hours will that take me away from my reading and my writing and my thinking? If it’s too much, I have to bow out. I’d rather be doing my dharma.
So take some time, think about it for a bit. What’s that thing that’s been with you your whole life? What’s that thing that you do that puts you in a state of flow, meaning time flies and you simply have no idea that so many hours went by?
Think about that, and then write it down.
And now, here’s the really hard part (yep, I know, that felt like the hard part).
How do you make money with that dharma? How to live out your life path?
That’s what we really all want to know, right?
More importantly, what if your dharma doesn’t pay the bills?
I know, it’s bullshit, right? You found that thing: painting, writing music, writing a blog, speaking about social justice… and we live in a society where all of the really good things are free. Music is free. Words are free. Videos are free. Speeches are free.
You can’t make money off of free.
So what do you do?
You have to go a little deeper. You have to get a little more quiet. You have to assess your life a bit more. Gosh, this part is hard. And it’s essential.
You must embrace the search.
Here’s where my dad comes in handy, my counselor-psychologist-life-coach-dad, and if you’ve read this blog, you already know this, as I’ve mentioned it before:
You have to look at what you do as a career, and then look at your dharma, and then, the tricky part, look for the places that they intercept.
If your dharma is playing an instrument, and no one pays for music anymore, how do you make a living? Well, if you love the technical parts of it, you could write about your instrument, if you love sharing the joy of music with others, you could teach it online, if you love the physical aspect of creating a piece of music, you could work in music production or write jingles for a local ad agency.
If your dharma is writing a blog, you could add affiliate links into your content, you could set up an 8-week course about what it is that you’re writing about, you could pitch your articles to your local magazines and newspapers and online journals.
People will tell you to quit everything else and focus 100% on your dharma. Hell, I might have even told you that. I don’t think it works that way. I don’t think we all just get to do the fun parts of our dharma. Because that’s what they’re telling you, right? Your dharma might be to learn as much as you can about other cultures. You might have a true calling for travel. Well damn, you can’t just quit your job that’ll pay for you to travel in order to travel.
You have to find a way to weave that into something that will make you money.
Let me tell you a little more about my dharma and maybe it’ll help you with uncovering yours.
I love to write and to learn. I am mostly driven by knowledge, and sharing. I love to teach, I love to cook, I love to bring people together.
At the heart of all of that, is serving.
I serve you by sharing what I know on this blog. By sharing what I’ve learned as a vegan cook, by sharing what I’ve learned as a yoga teacher, by sharing what I’ve learned through leaving Corporate America.
When I look deep at my dharma, reading and writing, I get to sharing. When I look deeper at sharing, I see it loud and clear: I like serving others. I like helping others. I like being of service.
Well, damn. There it is.
THAT is my dharma. I DO it through learning, and then writing, and through customer service.
If you want to break my job up into what really matters (yes I do marketing, yes I own a business so there’s soooo much clerical involved, yes I manage people, this list goes on and on)… really, the essence of what I do: it’s customer service.
It’s serving. It’s my dharma, y’all.
I think it took me the better part of 7 solid years to figure that out. And before then, I was looking for it, but I had no idea what to call it.
It was there all along.
It’s in every single job I have ever had. I am not successful because I’m a whiz at marketing. I’m successful because I care wholeheartedly about our clients. I want them to succeed. I am here to serve.
I want you to succeed, too. I want us all to. Because if we all do, then we all get to share what it is that makes our heart sing. And if we do that, 100%, the world will be a better, more fulfilling place.
Listening to your dharma will do it.
So, yes, I would totally love to just drop everything and cook for you and share these words for you. But I have to pay the bills. That version of my dharma will absolutely not pay the bills.
Working in customer service will.
Do you see? It’s right there.
You’re already doing it. You might think that you’re not. It might come dressed in something different, something way less sexy. It is probably sitting there in overalls, for goodness sake.
I won’t say that reading Cope’s book got me to this place. But my god, it got me closer. If there’s one book I recommend for your 2020 reading, it’s that one.
Good luck in finding your dharma. And good luck in figuring out how to make it pay the bills.
Vegan veggie curry! I wanted it to be a traditional aloo gobi, and then I wanted it to be a traditional chana masala. It’s neither. It’s a little of both. And it’s great, filling, absolutely delicious. Serve with rice or without (I didn’t miss the rice BTW). Definitely serve with these samosas and mint chutney if you can!