25. Let's Talk about Your Calling
For our transcript this week, here are the quotes--or paraphrases--that Dave looks at on the podcast. They’re from Stephen Cope’s book The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling.
As it turns out, most people are already living very close to their dharma. (But) they know very little about it. They don’t name it. They don’t own it. Their own sacred calling is hiding in plain sight.
Particular dharmas can get used up. The challenge then is to know it, close the door on it, and move on to the dharma of the moment. This requires a leap of faith. (Paraphrase.)
Sometimes we are in fact living out our dharma, but it’s not as dramatic as someone else’s, so we don’t embrace, claim and own it. (Paraphrase. He uses the example of a nurse.)
Part of embracing our dharma is understanding and embracing doubt.
- Look to your dharma.
- Do it full out!
- Let go of the fruits.
- Turn it over to God.
On: Let go of the fruits. “It is better to fail at your own dharma than to succeed at the dharma of somebody else.” (Bhagavad Gita) You cannot be anyone you want to be.
The gift is indestructible. “Fire cannot burn it.” But the connection to, trust in, faith in the gift are fragile. We have a responsibility to the gift, which is God in disguise. “The attempt to live out someone else’s dharma brings extreme spiritual peril.” This is the false self. If we live it, it will hollow us out.
At a certain age it finally dawns on us that, shockingly, no one really cares what we’re doing with our life. This is a most unsettling discovery to those of us who have lived someone else’s dream and eschewed our own: No one really cares except us. When you scratch the surface, you finally discover that it doesn't really matter a whit who else you disappoint if you’re disappointing yourself. The only question that makes sense to ask is: Is your life working for you?
On failure: We only know who we are by trying on various versions of ourselves and seeing if they fit.
The two enemies of dharma: grandiosity and devaluing. It’s key to embrace right-sized dharma. (I think of John McD. “I’ll pray for two million dollars by January!”) (The risk of youthful, high-faith, HS spirituality--I think of Bethel.)
By being uniquely ourselves, we hold together our part of the net that holds together the entire world. (I think of the stories I’ve read, some today, about the creation of Hamilton--the act of faith, how it made for a terrible elevator pitch [hip-hop founding fathers]. But it took its place in the fabric of many things.)
On right-sized dharma: Thoreau knew how unheroic his time at Walden was, that it was very close to his home. His mom brought him cookies everyday. “I have traveled extensively in Concord.” There was no attempt at heroism here, no grandiosity. From this experiment, he discovered his inner world. “Do what you love!” he wrote. “Know your own bone: graw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.”
Robert Frost: Choosing is the most important thing. The act of moving forward is what matters. This involves loss--the cutting off of possibilities. Options discarded are usually gone forever. But concerning one’s dharma, one should not vacillate. But commitment itself calls forth an unseen power.
Committing to our dharma empowers singleness of purpose. “The mind that is disunited is full of suffering.” If we don’t commit, we will be haunted by the suffering of doubt and the internal agony of division.
Susan B. Anthony on dharma: “The important thing is to forget self.” Success was for the cause--for womankind--not for herself.
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of your work.” Clinging to outcome has a pernicious effect on performance. Be alike in success and defeat. With attachment, you lose the ability to choose between what is wise and what is unwise. “Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad.” With this, we are able to become completely absorbed by what we are doing. All our energies can become concentrated on the task at hand.
Aspiration, which brings energy and focus, is not grasping. The way to tell the difference? Do your work passionately. Then let it go. Now you are free.
Let desire give birth to aspiration.
When difficulties arise, see them as your dharma.Turn the wound into light.
John Keats: to be a poet is to live on the edge. Embrace light and dark. Fame can come to the one who is indifferent to it.
Dharma changes: Like everything in this imperfect world, the work of this moment can change on a dime. He describes a man who got Alzheimers, which became his new dharma. Instead of declaring war on Alzheimers, embrace it. Live its experience consciously. Talk about it. Investigate it. Open to the possibility, however slim, that this ordeal could be some kind of crazy initiation into wisdom.
Aversion is the flip side to grasping. “I don’t want that to happen to me!” It has the same downsides. When we hate something, we can’t see it clearly. It’s a seat in hell; it separates us from now and from others and from ourselves. We can never have a moment’s peace. Sometimes we hate our aversion, a problem as well. The aversion to aversion is where the real suffering lies. So go into your anger and fear. Feel it in the body. Find the secret gift at its center. When difficulties arise, give yourselves to them as being your dharma.
The “night sea journey” is the journey into the parts of ourselves that are split off, disavowed, unknown, unwanted, cast out. We can free the energy trapped in these cast-off parts and reunite with ourselves.
For one woman, is cancer an alien intruder or an initiation?
Turn the wound into light: Beethoven when he realizes he’s going deaf: “Submission, deepest submission to your fate, only this can give you the sacrifice for this matter of service.” His life was a willing sacrifice. Embracing dharma requires walking by faith.
Think of your own family’s dharma stories. They are usually stories of the courage and character of some colorful forebear who, against big odds, thrived in her authentic calling. As with Harriet Tubman, those stories usually focus on being guided, as Saint Paul was. Ask for guidance and listen for the response and then test it out. Harriet Tubman’s motto: Just keep going. “If you are tired, keep going; if you are scared, keep going; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keep going.”
Gandhi: Contemplation empowers dharma, because you get good at focusing your mind one direction.
Everytime we discerningly renounce a possession, we free up energy to channel into dharma. Gandhi and Thoreau found this. Gandhi: “One must not possess something which one does not really need.”
As we age, we will always be losing the “How am I doing?” game, the “How am I measuring up?” game. Old age, illness, and death heighten our awareness of the inevitable failure of the self project. But when we throw ourselves into our work for the world, the project of self--with all its disappointments--disappears. When we lavish our love on the world, it doesn’t matter whether we succeed or fail. It’s inherently fulfilling. Gandhi talks about the need to “reduce yourself to zero” and let God do the work, at which point we can’t fail.
Eventually your dharma takes you into a new land, as Gandhi’s did. A land where you can rely only on God. You cross a bridge, and you are suspended in the air. Only God is holding you up now.
Dharma redeems and gives meaning to our suffering and enables us to bear it. And it enables it to bear fruit for the world.
Thomas Merton: The chief source of spiritual exhaustion is the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a sparkling success in your own eyes and the eyes of other people. We can only get rid of this anxiety by being content to miss something in almost everything we do. We cannot master everything, taste everything, understand everything, drain every experience to its last dregs. But if we have the courage to let almost everything go, we will probably be able to retain the one thing necessary for us--whatever it may be. If we are too eager to have everything, we will almost certainly miss even the one thing we need. The fulfillment of every individual vocation demands not only the renouncement of what is evil in itself, but also of all the precise goods that are not willed for us by God. We cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great. Our own idea of greatness is illusory. If we pay too much attention to it, we will be lured out of the peace and stability of the being God gave us and seek to live in a myth we have created for ourselves. It is therefore a very great thing to be little, which is to say: to be ourselves and to lose the futile self-consciousness that compares us with others to see how big we are.”
Tend your garden every day. Show up for your duty, your dharma. Then let it go.