Yeah, Work Is Work, But What Else Might It Be?

img_0784I have written many times about the tension between having a day job and wanting to pursue my writing and healing live full time.

Green as a Granny Smith apple, I look to the bloggers and friends who can dedicate all of their time to their creative pursuits. I wish constantly for the financial freedom or the artistic warriors’ courage that allows them to refuse the constraints of the nine to five.

I shadowbox with guilt that my work ethic isn’t strong enough, that I should knuckle down and realize I wasn’t born independently wealthy and that I love this new house and have to earn the salary to pay for my piece of it.

At the same time I try to sort out the root my aversion to my job. Is going to a temple of knowledge every day and being paid for my pains actually painful or is it just an amplified version of the drama everyone experiences on Monday mornings? What if my soul is trying to tell me that I must do something else? What if I just don’t realize how good my job could actually be?

These are all still rhetorical questions, because I sure as heck don’t have any of the answers to them. Yet.

One thing I have sorted out, however, is helping me find new peace with my job as I continue to show up there each day. It sprang from a great deal of soul searching I did over my vacation when I started to realize how worried I was about returning to work.

I have been afraid to either like my job or give it my best effort because it might lead to contentment.

Huh?

You see, I worried that if I was content in my work, the Universe might start to think that all I could do was take care of the logistics of a college library and design a few publications and manage a few budgets. The Universe (or God or my boss or myself) might start getting the idea that this life was ok for me and I could quit striving for that elusive something better. Even worse, I feared that that “something better” might stop trying to find me.

And so, I offered about 42% of my energy and attention to 40+ hours of my week. Somehow, I still expected to come home and switch into being able to give 110% of myself to writing and healing and loving my husband.

img_0788But, there is this thing called inertia. It the law that says that an object (or a redhead woman) is most likely to persist in a given state once she is already hanging out there. I am not sure what sort of magic I thought might happen during the commute home, but I guess I was hoping All Things Considered offered the alchemical secret of turning disaffected, scattered working girl into inspired, focused epiphany girl in the span of a thirty minute drive.

And so, I still have absolutely no idea if I am supposed to work toward escaping the relatively safe and predictable world of a salaried, benefit laden job in higher education (not that anything is all that stable these days) or if I am supposed to take all those risks and step into a “career” of my own creation. But, at least I am coming to understand the law of physics in my professional and creative lives and have stopped believing that I can make gold from the ashes of an unlived day.

I am dedicating myself to my job anew, and daring myself to look at every task and every person with fresh eyes. I am willing to risk offering all of myself to my position for the hours that I am paid to do so. Heck, if I do that maybe I can stop blogging about work on my own time!

What are your strategies for getting through the workday? Do you have this sense of tension too?

Those of you freed souls that we office-dwellers envy – what is it like on the other side? Any secrets you’d like to share with the class?

A Tricky Word: Extraordinary

library ceiling

We’re going to be extraordinary

Seven years ago I sat in a college theater watching a friends’ production of Wendy Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women and Others and this line, like a well aimed arrow, got lodged in my heart.

I carried around the burden of this drive to be extraordinary like a sick woman bears a prognosis that she has six months to live.

Contentment scared me because I equated it with settling for my still imperfect life. The experience of the ins and outs of daily existence made me feel like I was stuck in one big waiting room praying I would soon be released into the next stretch of life where things really counted.

Always on the run from the mundane, I chased after at ever elusive hopes that magic and transformation would find me even as I raced around in a panic. There was no chance that I could ever find peace in meditation – all about embracing the present moment – because I was convinced that the present moment was just a big, fat, ugly reminder of all that I had failed to do.

It was a well meaning sort of madness, since all I really wanted was to lead a “worthwhile life,” but it was a destructive madness all the same. Essentially, I was convinced that unless I totally revised my uninspired every day life, I would end up a dissatisfied fifty year old, regretting my lost youth and unused potential.

Then one day I realized I was comfortable in my own skin.

Ok, it’s not a complete transformation, I definitely admit. I still get cranky about work sometimes and I fret that I will not see my name on the spine of a book by age thirty and I panic that there are not enough hours in the day to be a writer and healer and a wife and a professional and someone who actually SLEEPS, but I’ve stopped rushing to some undefined place of “achievement.” I know this feeling has been creeping up slowly, but I feel like I just woke up a few days ago and realized: I AM leading a worthwhile life.

Learning that to heal someone is to facilitate her awakening definitely lead to this epiphany. That definition finally lead me to accept what we have heard so many times – to change the world, help bring change to one other person.

The other thing that made me realize I actually can be the change I wish to see without changing everything was watching my teacher and my healer in action. These women may get to be well known someday, but for now, they are effecting amazing transformations in the worlds they directly touch each day. They wish to get their ability to heal and their message of possibility out there, but they are not driven by a need for recognition or because they believe that what they have is not enough.

I am still striving to make what improvements I can, but I think I am finally doing it from a place of fullness rather than a place of fear that I might not be enough. It seems this is the only way to really reap what we sow. Who knew that the best way to move forward was not to project yourself into an always distant future but to be happy standing still for a moment?

Accepting the Risk of Contentment

Wedding skyI am trying to decide whether there is tragedy in the discovery that contentment breeds silence. Granted, as the pieces of my life seem poised to draw together into a shining collective marked by peace and possibility, I feel largely protected from tragedy. The bits of me tinged with superstition and fear wonder when I will be cursed for such blithe naivety, such hubris, but in reality, I just feel incredibly fortunate to be walking through life with eyes opened wide enough to realize when I am moving through a blessed stretch of my journey. Caroline Myss was the first person I ever heard to use the phrase “field of grace”; I think I know what it is to have my star enter such a space.

We didn’t win the lottery. I didn’t lay a spread of tarot cards that predicted nothing but prosperity. My husband didn’t tell me I could forget about the money and quit my day job. I was not told that life would become any simpler or less full of questions.

After months of scurrying after fate, dreaming that the Divine would set my future ablaze next (sort of like really, really, really hoping you would get picked for the kickball team), it just seems that I have found an end to all of the franticness that has marked so much of my life. It seems time that I learn the difference between stagnation and stability, between laziness and contentment.

James Martin, SJ paraphrases Mother Teresa’s pronouncement that “you should find her own Calcutta” with the familiar “bloom where you are planted.” He suggests that you “discover sanctity in your own life.” We have decided to embrace that idea, but only after a roundabout interrogation of what seemed like every option, not (I hope) because we fear challenging the status quo or because it seemed easy to adopt a nice little line from a supportive priest. Suddenly, living in this beautiful valley full of progressive thinkers and going to work every day in a place that sets galaxies of information at my fingertips seems like the fruit of a sweetly conspiring universe rather than the consequences of a few unrelated accidents.

When the tide turns, as it invariably will, and we seem to be taking less advantage of this time of comfort (declared now to be a couple of years marked by conscious growth in a familiar world), I may blush at this sweet faced optimism. Perhaps the fear that I will sound foolish to the eventual jaded self that will read these words with derision keeps us from wanting to express hope and happiness. Somehow drowning in confusion and complaint is easier; there are so many more dramatic ways to describe misery than pain (isn’t that why modern fiction robs us of happy endings so often these days?). Or perhaps the truth of contentment is to be found in the stillness it begets, the ability to cease the need transmit an emote and simply be.

Courting Chaos, Contemplating Completeness

It is difficult to commit words to the page when I feel as if I am spinning in constant cycles between chaos and completeness. Every tempest is my own creation and a sense of solace is always a few deep breaths away.

photo by Samuel EichnerPerhaps because creatures trapped in perpetual motion attract one another, I know I am not the only one who manufactures her own state of flux. I have had countless conversations that start “look at us, we are so lucky, but how can we keep catapulting ourselves into such misery with all this over-thinking and self-obsession?” More than a few late nights have been spent discussing why one friend or another and I have hyperactive minds and restless spirits that make us refuse ourselves the permission to settle into daily routine It’s as if we have an aversion to “life” with a lower case “l” as we force ourselves to constantly ponder the capital “L” questions of “Life.” At such moments we imagine it would be nicer to watch John Cusack movies and discuss recipes and shoes and curse our radioactive brains, even as we know we would never give up the internal debate.

I think that all of this ferment makes me feel more evolved; a soul in this much upheaval must be on the route to a truly amazing breakthrough. Plus, it is an excellent excuse for why I cannot settle into a steady meditation practice. Sure, I am aware that meditation would quiet the whirling dervish within and that you don’t wait for perfect serenity to close your eyes and seek stillness, but who has time for such wisdom when one is so busy, well, seeking wisdom.

I’m reasonably certain that this addiction to spinning in circles is a response to a culture that tells us that we can never get enough and that perpetual motion means you must be moving up the ladder. In such a banal maelstrom it is nearly impossible to cool the chaos and realize the Eastern ideals of living without attachment and desire. I am learning that an existence free of attachment does not sentence one to an ascetic cell without sensual pleasures, but is instead about accepting rather than reacting to situations. Happiness is infinitely more attainable if emotions are permitted to pass right on through rather than constantly getting trapped in the body and clouding up the mind. It seems, however, that the more relevant and perfect I perceive such philosophies to be, the more scattered I become.

To my own detriment I have equated contentment with complacency for far too long and have feared stillness and acceptance. As soon as peace seems too palpable or I really consider embracing the person that I am and the way life flows around me, I seem to veer off into another drama of my own devising. It’s like constantly chasing my shadow because I have confused the false outline of my being with my true self.

In some ways I hesitate to even put such thoughts on the page because to discuss them is to give this perpetual game a sense of power and reality, but I dare to hope to name chaos is the first step to its undoing.