If you haven’t yet cracked open one of the many gems by Stephen Cope, now might be the time. The Great Work of Your Life practically had me in tears by the end of the first chapter. What struck me most was an idea that I articulate in all my teacher trainings, albeit a bit softer on the landing: that life isn’t about becoming whatever you want, or that getting what you think you want will ever make you happy. Free will has its limits, and if it’s not in alignment with your dharma, expect to be pretty bummed out. Not to dash your dreams, but the only thing that is a guarantee is that you will have a life path, or dharma, to fulfill. Before you even knew it, from a yoga philosophy perspective, you conceived this lifetime and its unique set of orientations and tendencies prescribed from lifetimes past. This cannot be avoided. Only your dharma can deliver you to the Promised Land – not your Instagram account, your delusional ego or your bloated sense of self-worth. Cope cites the Gita as his example, the divine interplay on the battlefield between duty and free will.
The Cliff Notes version of the Gita in layman’s terms: you absolutely don’t get to do what you perceive you want, Arjuna. You have to fulfill your dharma instead. Karmically you manifested in collaboration with the universe to set in motion the actions that brought you to this moment, and this place. So shoot the damn arrow, and don’t be attached to the outcome because the entire balance of the universe is at stake.
Laws of karma suggest you chose your parents, time and location of your birth. The entire universe conspired with you to make this moment happen. You have a central nervous system and endocrine profiles to put into motion the tools and impetus to fulfill your dharma. So why is it so damn hard? What if everything you know about yourself to be true, intuited at a young age was buttressed by the conditioning of your family and expectations of society? Does your dharma just die away because of the karma set in motion? Can your karma hinder you from fulfilling your dharma? Because this is seen through maya, the hazy veneer, tainted veil of illusion, one might forget that your karma is there by design which sort of brings us back to the parents we chose.
Some of us land the ideal parents as Cope describes Jane Goodall’s mother Vanne to be: a woman who saw her daughter’s dharma, cultivated and honored it. Meanwhile, the rest of us are trying to figure ourselves out, falling blindly victim to the ravages of the media, the insidious manipulation of our materialistic society. No chimpanzees here, yet the jungle of western civilization is making monkeys of us all. Cope suggests if you go against your dharma, ignore that divine spark that ignited long ago when you were a child, sadness, dissatisfaction will follow in its wake. In my trainings, I say chances are your destiny or dharma was the thing you most loved to do when you were young, but at some point your parents focused your attention elsewhere, typically towards say a Finance degree or law school – because conformity and practicality for accumulation of wealth is valued as the apex of success in our capitalist society. This is an achievement- and status-based society, not one whose values reside on the bedrock of kaivalya.
So years pass by, you wake up each morning grumpy and disheartened. Defeated by breakfast time, It’s that mid-life moment, oftentimes referred to as the Middle Passage, when you realize your life has been comprised of a set of experiences and choices you felt obligated or guided to make even if they went against your own intuition and sensibility. At some point you are faced with stone-cold reality: come to find out nobody really cared what you did.
So why not start to live your life according to your dharma? You might piss some people off, but that is the first move, in my opinion, for cleaning out your karma. It’s the first step on the road to fully realizing and no longer traipsing around your dharma. The good news: it is never too late to live the life you have always been meant to live. Karmically, it’s impossible to avoid your dharma.
Previously published in Five Tattva/Embodied Philosophy e-zine. http://www.fivetattvas.com