Reading Stephen Cope
Everything happens for a reason.
I believe this statement because I like my life better when I do. I have taught in prisons and I have a sense of what my life might be like if I lived in one, and I am pretty sure I would go Reservoir Dogs on the world if all the stuff I’ve dealt with in my life was random. I would be marking lines on a wall with the others who were hurt so much they felt they had no choice but to hurt back.
My friend Karen gave me Stephen Cope’s book The Great Work of Your Life, and it may be the single most influential book, aside from Little House in the Big Woods, I have ever read.
Years ago I followed Karen around Whole Foods, watching to see what someone so beautiful and quiet and powerful would put in her cart. At that point she was my yoga teacher and I had only spoken to her in limited greetings and farewells. She had the strongest core of any human I’d encountered, aside from the times I went to Cirque du Soleil and wept over the onstage beauty and strength. Now that we are friends we regularly profess our mutual adoration for the other, texts full of x’s and o’s and hearts. I loved her from a distance, and I love her even more up close. It takes a lot of guts to have a strong core, and she challenges me to be my best self, saying just the right thing or asking just the right question, or giving me the book I’ve needed to read my whole adult life, but was only ready for now.
I have never written in a book as much as I’ve written in this one. Generally books to me are sacred and not to be marked, but I went at this one with a black ink pen and underlined whole paragraphs, scrawled notes widely in the margins.
All my who am I, why am I here, and what am I supposed to do with my life questions were answered by page 199, and although I still had two chapters to go, I thought I would stop and write about my sense of calm and acceptance and peace and hope before my head exploded and I lost all ability to type.
By page 199, I got it. All of it. I understood who I was and why I was here and what I was supposed to do with my life. I was sitting there at Peet’s afraid to move, however, because if I tipped my head all that knowing might spill out my ear or get scrambled in my brain and leave me back where I was, a person trying to figure out how to live a life that seems inexorably damaged by the trauma caused by adoption (Yes, I was ten weeks old. No, I don’t remember. Yes, wonderful people adopted me. And so on, ad nauseam.) that was not recognized, validated, or even articulated by the world in general?
So here are some parts of The Great Work of Your Life that blew me out of and then pulled me back more deeply into the lake of myself (the italics are the author’s). I believe if you enter the forest of these quotes as an adoptee, or anyone who feels a little lost in his or her life, and let each land like a stone on the water’s surface of you, like me, you will leave the forest invigorated and, okay, I’ll say it, reborn.
Yup. Adoptees get to birth themselves. Finally. I found a way to control feelings of abandonment, loss, etc, etc.: read a book and rethink the situation and feel, finally, complete. Go ahead: roll your eyes. I don’t even care anymore what you think. In two weeks I’m going to be 52. I’m done with worrying. Done with suffering. I want to sit on a porch on a rocker and feel good in my skin. Happy birthday to me. And, if you want it, happy birthday to you:
So, here it is: CLIFF NOTES TO HOW TO BE YOU AND NOT WANT TO KILL OTHERS OR YOURSELF.
(Sorry, Stephen Cope. Your title is better. After this I promise my thieving days are over. The words that follow in quotes are all from your book. Not mine.)
“It was her [the author’s mother] aversion to her own aversion that was the problem. She hated the aversion. She hated the feeling of aversion itself. She hated the fact that she felt it. She was not comfortable with her anger, with her rage, with her disdain.”
“The aversion to the aversion is where the real suffering lies. As my friend the American Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein says so often: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
“Go into it [aversion]. Go into your anger, your fear. Feel it in the body. Get to know it. Find the energy at its heart. Find the secret gift at its center. Don’t be afraid. Let it wash over you. Know it.
“Do not try to distract yourself! Try it just the other way ‘round. Rather, go into the heart of the difficulty. Experience it. Investigate it. Take yourself into the center of the conflict. Learn to tolerate its discomfort without acting or reacting.
“And what do you find at the heart of fear, dread, loathing, anger, hatred? You find a surprise. You find a gift.”
“…longing for our idealized images of life separates us from our true selves and from our true callings.”
“All of the Eastern contemplative traditions finally see a full-hearted embrace of death as the very bridge to full life. Stand at the center and embrace death with your whole heart. Then your work will last forever (Bhagavad Gita).
“Marion [Woodman]—along with Jung, along with Krishna—chose a remarkable view of difficulties. Difficulties—even death—are not an enemy from the beyond. They are not an alien force. They are part of the Self. Therefore, what appears to be difficulties are really invitations. They are doorways into a deeper union with split-off parts of the Self. They are opportunities. But in order to make full use of these opportunities, one must be willing to undergo what Marion calls ‘the initiation’.”
“Initiations are opportunities for us to grow larger. They are death channels. And they are birth channels. They allow us the opportunity to integrate more of our self—more possibility, more reality, more sensation, more feeling. They require everything we’ve got. They destroy us to re-create us.”
“Marion teaches that we cannot undergo initiation until we learn to live in paradox.”
“Carl Jung created a brilliant developmental strategy for standing in paradox: One must hold both sides of a paradox at the same time, he teaches, without choosing one or the other…In this way we can gradually learn to tolerate living in the tensions of opposites...Marion states the technique with stunning clarity: ‘Holding an inner or outer conflict quietly instead of attempting to resolve it quickly is a difficult idea to entertain. It is even more challenging to experience. However, as Carl Jung believed, if we held the tension between the two opposing forces, there would emerge a third way, which would unite and transcend the two. Indeed, he believed that this transcendent force was crucial to individuation. Whatever the third way is, it usually comes as a surprise, because it has not penetrated our defenses until now. A hasty move to resolve tension can abort growth of the new. If you can hold conflict in psychic utero long enough we can give birth to something new in ourselves [bold and crazy font size mine].”
And this, dear reader, is where my head almost busted. I saw I had found a way out of the suffering caused by the adoptee trauma. I could give birth to something new (me!!) and let go of the stories of abandonment and loss that had been in control of my mind and body for all my life (except for the first twenty seconds or so when I was born and thinking I was going next to the mother ship’s breast).
I have believed in the possibility of immediate transformation ever since I started working with Katie Peuvrelle (www.yourinsightedge.com) and this book, and Karen, and Katie, and everyone else I have ever come in contact with, helped make that happen.
I feel different. I feel good. I’m going to finish the book now. I’ll keep you posted, but mostly I hope you read it yourself so we can form our own wild tribe of something new.