Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Great Work of Your Life

By Kristy McCaffrey

First, Happy New Year to one and all! This is a time of fresh starts and new ideas, so perhaps this post will spark a bit of recognition in your heart, especially for those who may be seeking that BIG question: What is my purpose?

When I was a little girl, I couldn’t NOT write. I filled dozens of journals, I categorized every aspect of the King Arthur legends onto notecards and filed them, I kept a log of every movie I’d ever seen. Narratives have flowed through me like the blood in my veins since as long as I can remember. So what did I do? I studied engineering in college. Did I feel it was my place in life? No.

In Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling (Bantam Books, 2012), the author delves into the idea of dharma—a concept from Hinduism that encompasses one’s character or fundamental nature, the essential quality of who we are and what we’re meant to do here on Earth. This idea isn’t exclusive to Hinduism, however.

“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.” ~ Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

What does this mean? When you are fully immersed in a task that excites and invigorates you, you’ll come alive with energy. The endless and necessary hours of work and toil will be wholly satisfying. But if you deny the desire to move forward into an inspired task, you will lose more than just your purpose in life—you will cease to fulfill a potential that this world needs from you.

Dharma is sacred duty. How do you find this duty, this revered vocation? Within the divine texts of the Bhagavad Gita are four central truths.
            Look to your dharma—name it and embrace it.
            Do it full out—commit to it completely.
            Let go of the fruits—success and failure aren’t your concern.
            Turn it over to God—true vocation unites the individual soul to the divine soul.

In our lives, we’re each given a gift—you might call it THE gift, a desire within us to pursue that which calls from deep inside our soul. Cope states, “The Gift is God in disguise.”

In his book, Cope shares details from the lives of people who have lived their dharma. When Jane Goodall was four years old, she disappeared at her family home to hide in the hen house to learn how they lay eggs. This took hours of waiting. Naturally, her parents were frantic with worry. When she finally emerged, her mother—instead of scolding and punishing her—acknowledged what her daughter had been seeking. This validation is important in embracing one’s dharma, especially at a young age when we’re all impressionable to the opinions of those around us.

This is illuminated in the story of a man who became a priest, but what he really desired was to study and create music. He joined his vocation at the urging of his mother, who had always wanted a priest in the family. That he was close to the spiritual music of the church seemed to fulfill him, but not quite. Over time, he became depressed and unhappy, and ceased to be the best priest he could be. Even more, he was despondent from being near to that which called to his soul but not fully joined to it.

We serve no one—least of all ourselves—by not acknowledging and fulfilling our dharma.

When I began writing in earnest, I was filled with doubts. I embarked on a long journey to learn the craft of writing, which hasn’t always been easy. I made mistakes and stumbled, and for a long time I spent more money than I made. But I have never ceased to feel that I was on the right path. I’ve come to believe it’s not the writing itself that is my dharma, but rather the way it propels me forward into areas of curiosity. I’m simply a conduit to filter and share what I learn with others.

What is your dharma?

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