Review of The Great Work of Your Life

Review of The Great Work of Your Life
Yoga teacher Stephen Cope has worn many hats over the course of a life well lived. Trained as a psychotherapist as well as an Episcopalian priest, he has spent the last two decades working at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. In addition to teaching both asana and yogic tradition, he’s helped to develop the Kripalu Center for Extraordinary Living, where he researches the effects of yoga as a part of the daily lives of those in stressful occupations. Oh, and he is also the author of three books that meld the great works of the yogic canon with the everyday lives of real people involved in the world. His latest, entitled The Great Work of Your Life , is insightful, compulsively readable, and at times magical.

In this tome, Cope does not discuss asana at all. Those who practice yoga divorced from its ancient roots will find little of interest here, for this is a book grounded in the importance of the story told in the Bhagavad Gita, a seminal Hindu text. Those interested in the relationship between this ancient manuscript and personal psychology, however, will enjoy this book. The Great Work of Your Life demonstrates that the love one has for yoga (or music, or nursing, or what-have-you) should not be disregarded. In fact, these passions are often the keys to fully inhabiting one’s life.

The Bhagavad Gita, which takes place in the middle of a war, is written as a dialogue between a young general and the person who drives his chariot. The general, Arjuna, is a prince on the eve of battle against relatives and loved one, trying to understand his proper role in the coming conflagration. The charioteer, Krishna, is ultimately revealed to be an incarnation of God; his advice to Arjuna forms the basis of understanding one’s dharma, or role in the greater cosmos.

Cope demonstrates genius in how he weaves the events of the Gita with the personal narratives of those who have made a difference in history (such as Beethoven and Gandhi), and then with the stories of his friends; by extension, the reader becomes yet another part of the tale. In this way, the ideas rise above Hinduism, Transcendentalism (Henry David Thoreau), the vicissitudes of history (Walt Whitman and the American Civil War), or the importance of a Broadway show (the life of a deceased friend). Big or small, Cope reminds us, each of us is a puzzle piece in the great beauty of our universe, and each of us has a responsibility to make sure that our lives are dedicated to understanding and developing out personal passions.

It is difficult to read this book without focusing on the big questions, but these ideas are equally applicable to the way in which one approaches any important facet of life. Thus, one can read this as an inspirational lecture about how to approach yoga practice as well as the other, more overarching questions. If you consider yoga to be just a workout, this is not the book for you. However, if you want to engage with yoga on a deeper level, this is an important read.

Disclaimer: I have never met Stephen Cope, nor have I spent time at the Kripalu Institute. I purchased this book with my own funds.

Cope, Stephen. The Great Work of Your Life. Bantam Books, 2015. ISBN: 978-0553386073

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