“The meek shall inherit the earth”

IMG_0579This blog’s Biblical title enters my mind fairly often when I contemplate my workplace.  And if I haven’t scared you off with this reference, I can tell you several reasons why my job draws it out.  For one thing, the disability services organization I work for as a program manager has little structure or supervision, and yet our staff engages in humane and caring interactions with people in pain, every day.

Another reason is that this job has introduced me to people who continually remind me of the most important things in life.  The job has exposed me to people with developmental disabilities with whom the only way to be, or so it feels, is present and genuine, responding from my better self as I talk with others about our shared realities.  A third reason the job suggests to me another way of being, which may one day come into focus, is that we recognize staff for their contributions, their losses, and their joys.  My cat died recently, and I was devastated to lose my long-time companion.  Instead of ignoring or belittling this loss, people expressed concern and verbally acknowledged it.  My boss bought me a card, and everyone signed it.

A few of us garden in a plot off the parking lot, share the vegetables, and instigate cooking contests.  We pick up food from the local food bank to give to those who need it, and we have celebratory parties with our clientele.  People of various races, colors, ability and disability, those of changing genders, share food together.

The effects of such an environment are disorienting if you’ve ever worked in a more formal office.  On the one hand, the lack of structure and accountability at our center elicits our insecurities, but it also allows us to find our own voice and our own compassion for ourselves and others.  I’ve had my share of struggles with the place, grappled with my own insecurities roaring up from the void, but slowly and surely, I’ve defined my own way of helping, and I’ve learned to be fully present for many an encounter with an array of unusual souls.

Like those with a psychic Iraqi war vet who attends my yoga class and describes vibrant images that arise for him during class.  With a woman with cerebral palsy who cannot talk but communicates worlds through her eyes and her expressions, aided by technology.  With several disabled children who grin widely when I walk in the room and settle down to a half hour of engaging play with iPads.  With the newly blind young man who lightly grasps my elbow as I guide him to his destination.

I will not work at this center forever, but for a time, as the world spins, the economy falters, the climate changes, and we continue to make and buy a plethora of electronic and plastic goods, I can feel the profundity in my own little world of our daily encounters, our care for one another, for the animals among us, and for our earthly sustenance.  In this environment among the forgotten and marginalized, I can find my center, my mindfulness, and I can remember that it is the small and human interactions that are the most precious and that it is the connection with the earth that is most integral to our life.  I know I am lucky to have a job that stirs such “memory.”  That reminds me it is the gentle in this human life that is truly most strong.

 

Curvy Yoga and the Cultural Revolution

anna gj headshotBack to this blog again after a hiatus, I am still thinking about work.  Still working at the disability center, still writing, teaching one yoga class.  It’s just the writing that has changed:  I started freelancing for pay again, this time online.

But I felt a need to get back to this blog.  “Work from the Other Side” still draws me, because I’m still obsessed with questions of how we can work in ways that suit us, even energize us, but that are also gentle for the planet and the other creatures who live here.  And in my new freelance work I encountered a woman who started a business that fits the bill and also has a bit of that counter culture flavor that I dig.

That’s Anna Guest-Jelley and her Curvy Yoga “training and inspiration portal.”  Now here’s an innovative business meeting a true need.  Curvy Yoga provides podcasts, writings, videos, and now books that provide a new angle on yoga, one for people who are bigger bodied.  It serves as part advocate, part educator, and part trailblazer showing us a way to practice yoga that is good for our bodies and ways to make yoga more inclusive.

Guest-Jelley calls herself “a writer, educator, and lifelong champion for women’s empowerment and body acceptance.”  Says she, “I’m here to encourage people of every size, shape age, experience level & ability to grab life by the curves. And never let go.”

What I like about her work is that she has stepped up and spoken out about an issue that isolates many of us, that she is clear and professional and provides quality tools and education that are accessible and free.  She’s providing a tremendous service to many people who feel excluded from the fitness yoga craze, or even from the “gentle yoga” classes found in studios.  She’s speaking up about learning to accept one’s body and claim the right to honor it and to exercise as one wants and needs.  Guest-Jelley is also providing imminently practical advice.

Most of all I like that her business encourages women to be and love themselves while simultaneously challenging the paradigm of our society that values only certain body types.  On top of it all, it she is running an awesome website and has created her own niche.  Cool, I say, bring on more.  More of Curvy Yoga, and more new businesses that empower, more ways to make a living doing the empowering, more innovation in business and healthcare, more challenges to the status quo.

Gather the resources, network, spread the message.  I see Daniel Pink’s “right brain” approach in action, I see Seth Godin’s “post-industrial revolution.”  In Anna Guest-Jelley, I see finding one’s potential, clear presentation of message and values.  Hope my encounter with her “infects” me to spread a message, connect, and change the world.   Thanks Anna!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clarity in chaos

IMG_1724Some kind of change is in the air, in my little world and beyond.  Three of my friends quit their jobs a couple of weeks ago (two from my current workplace), and another coworker quit this week.  I too am trying to create new work for myself, but a bigger transformation is underway.

A yoga student who is a veteran of the Iraq war seems to drop in on me at these more chaotic times.  This friend, who is disabled by war injuries, is aware of the turnover at work.  He supports our organization and dropped in to say hi to a few of us.  The organization is about helping people, he has said more than once.   So why are so many people leaving in states of negativity?, he wonders.

Thinking about that question, and my friends new endeavors on the outside, I notice my own uncertainty and fear, but I also feel my focus sharpening, an urgency emerging, a clarity related to turmoil at work and in my community beyond work, and one driving a vocational shift of my own.

In fact, a spiritual shift is rippling through my life.  Not only is my workplace disintegrating; my young neighbor is fighting breast cancer, and oil and gas companies are preparing to drill close to my home.  I cannot solve all these problems, but my own tasks are clearer than ever.  I know what I must do.  Take soup to my neighbor, join with other citizens and tell my local politicians I don’t want fracking in my town.  Join a larger community standing for renewable energy and better health care.

I believe there are natural laws governing our earthly life and that we are breaking too many of them, that one day we will feel the full consequences of doing so.  I find myself wanting to seek out native elders and spiritual leaders in general.  I want to be around people who are wise and who are connected to the wisdom of the earth.

Not knowing how to find these leaders readily, I did the 21st century version of searching and went to Youtube.  I watched “Indigenous Native American Prophecy (Elders Speak)” and found reinforcement and nourishment in these elders’ words.

My vet friend and the Native elders say to me to call up my own wisdom and power.  They say seek the ways to see more clearly, to bond with my friends and banish fear.  Oren R. Lyons, faithkeeper of the Onondaga nation, says Native leaders make decisions with seven generations in mind.  They know they have a sacred responsibility to the land and their people.  Lyons says that rather than talking about “resources” and our need for them, we should talk about “family,” animals and plants and minerals as our family.  Of course we need them and have to treat them with respect, not like commodities.

Environmental and spiritual leaders of all races remind us that money cannot dictate how we live.  We can’t eat and drink it.  We have to honor the earth and let economics work itself out in the areas in which we can’t see the way.

So for me, I know I cannot waste energy at work.  I need to serve while I’m there, extract myself from politics and my own floundering.  Talk to my boss and others to increase my commitment and productivity, and if the environment is too toxic, or I can serve better somewhere else, leave.  Fear and inertia cannot dictate my behaviors.  Instead, my motivation must be informed by sacred responsibility and heart-felt love for life.

Quitting their jobs

IMG_1872Three of my friends quit their jobs last week.  A fourth intended to quit on Friday, but she decided to do a bit more planning for her transition.  Do I want to join them?  Yes and no.  Not yet. I am learning new skills, writing job proposals, talking to people about jobs.  My time will come, and in the meantime my friends inspire me and make me wonder about this sea change in all of our lives.

We are five of us women, in our forties and fifties.  I think of all of us healers in our own ways.  Maybe, just maybe, we are a few of those women the Dalai Lama spoke of when he said “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”  It is not his words that motivate us, and none of us has a lot of money; in fact we are scraping by or in debt.  But we know we have to do something different in work and in life, something that comes from our hearts and that begins to set us on a gentler and more life-affirming course, beyond the consumerism and the reductionism in our healthcare system (we are all involved in social work, healthcare, or psychotherapy).

Why do I say we are healers, particularly since that word is not usually associated with jobs in our time?  Because I feel that is our essence.  My friends are all deeply spiritual, and two are natural counselors whose intuition is keen enough that they sense the larger issues of a person’s life or circumstances.  They are able to convey their awareness and help others find their own deeper motivation.  Another friend, a teacher turning psychotherapist, is deeply intelligent cognitively and emotionally:  her clear awareness and compassion a gift to those who work with her.  One is a musician who works with people with disabilities.  She fell recently and experienced a severe concussion from which she healed through brain integration therapy, and she is learning this modality herself, exhibiting a natural ability for using acupressure and energy to help others with head injuries, learning disorders, and physical/emotional integration struggles.

Me?  I am drawn to write and educate, to support new models of health and mental health care.  To help people rediscover the wisdom of their bodies through movement, mindfulness, and inner exploration. To communicate new ways of being to our society, and to be part of a new sustainable economy.

When I get discouraged, or feel like I will forever be underemployed, I think of my friends, of these wise and gifted Western women.  Of their insight won from struggle, from continually listening to their hearts, from living in a great deal of uncertainty while remaining committed to meaningful work and their own authenticity.  We cannot ignore the awareness of a need in our society to change direction and live more gently on the earth, and these friends help me remember that truth.

There is something greater at work than our getting and spending, then our procurement of jobs with money and benefits, than our struggles with alienation or of feeling we do not fit.   I think of wise native people who remain clear in their awareness of spirit and nature, who consult the wisdom of the elders and honor the sacredness of earth, humanity, animals, and plants.  As we five women step forward we carry a trust in the necessity of doing our work, of making a stand for humanity’s  richness and creativity as well as its inseparability from the earth we live on.

Avant-guard psychiatry

IMG_0193When I encounter people working in alternative energy or holistic health, I find a purity to their work born from having personal experience with their modality and a conviction in its importance.  There is a clarity in their words and a humility in their demeanor.

At the moment I have in mind a psychiatrist named Will Van Derveer whom I heard speak in Boulder, Colorado, last week.   Van Derveer is soft-spoken and articulate, a lean middle-aged man with clear skin and the centeredness that stems from meditation and wisdom.  He spoke on a holistic approach to psychiatry, one that takes into account gut health, neurotransmitter fluency, chemistry, genetics, attachment disruptions, ego structure, trauma, relationship, and spirituality.  As someone who has studied psychology but often finds something missing, I reveled in hearing a perspective that made sense to me on every level.

Van Derveer does prescribe medications, but he keeps his sights on the truth that it is still the relationship between therapist that is the heart of healing, as research has shown for decades now.  He also works with natural medicine to determine if someone has adrenal fatigue, candidiasis, gluten intolerance, lyme disease, or some other issue underlying mental dysfunction.  He may order neuropsych tests as well.  He works with somatic experiencing to address trauma, and he uses a natural supplement to help those who wish to come off meds.  It’s a very complex job he has, and his clientele is varied, their symptoms sometimes mysterious.  But he listens, seeks the advice of colleagues, and recommends a variety of treatments, including yoga, tai chi, and meditation.

Many MDs do not even recognize the validity of adrenal fatigue or candida, and Van Derveer acknowledges that these issues are more often the territory of naturopaths and sometimes of a few integrative medicine docs.  But he believes these disorders are real and much of his clientele does too. He follows studies and can describe case studies in which clearing up candida or adrenal issues clears up depression, lethargy, or anxiety.

When people are suffering, have tried a myriad of treatment approaches that have not helped enough, or are inclined to minimize medication use, they seek out Van Derveer’s.  They may have to make some real lifestyle changes, but this doc is patient and understanding.  He understands the importance of community and social support in making changes and recovering.  He understands the problems involved in an unbalanced brain and in addiction.  He has compassion, and he is open to learning from patients, colleagues, research.

Here is a man in touch with the realities of his time, the evolution of medicine, the suffering of his fellow creatures.  When someone in the audience asked him why he often prescribes medications for a person in acute distress, he said, “fear.”  Not a common confession from a physician, but an honest one.  Another listener noted that compassion is also involved in wanting to help someone suffering deeply and using the most powerful or best known remedy at hand.  At another point he spoke of the need to accept a condition and the ongoing struggles associated.   For me, the daughter of a doctor, I am most impressed by one admitting his fears, the limitations of medical knowledge, and this awareness of the complexity of humans, our environments and the food we eat.  At the same time I am reassured that he is attentive to the latest thinking and research as well as the experience of patients.

Other things he said let me know he is aware of his own psychological issues, that he eats well, lives well, and learns from mistakes.  Here is the art of medicine in full relief:  open to mystery, employing intellect and intuition, considering the natural world, practicing what one preaches, learning from mistakes and from patients and colleagues of all ranks.   I call him enlightened.

The brave new world of work

IMG_0618I peruse the want ads online for that off-hand chance I’ll discover a job that I want, but also to learn of trends and new companies. Once in a while I see a job that is a good fit, but I have yet to land one. And while I look, I find that I am formulating a role for myself, one whose outlines have slowly emerged and brought me to a place where I can now fill in this little sketch.

The online world has stimulated my thought process. I read the blogs of entrepreneurs like Seth Godin, Penelope Trunk, and Chris Guillebeau. I see artists and healers make a name for themselves through their online presence. And I read about new professions, like digital media coordinator and web content manager, or ayurvedic counselor. New types of health professions are emerging, like navigators and coaches. Environmental fields are developing. As the world changes and consumer needs evolve, as healthcare and energy sources change, some of us will be taking on new roles. Seeing this change happening invigorates me: I like this direction and the values it espouses.

Some new businesses that inspire me include Mindbody Solutions, a nonprofit started by a yoga teacher paralyzed from the chest down. Matthew Sanford seeks to change healthcare and bring yoga philosophy to the process of rehabilitation. I see new companies developing solar energy products and new types of energy provision. New health insurance cooperatives.

I know a man who is a counselor who advises from a yogic framework. Physician Nita Desai and psychiatrist Scott Shannon in Colorado embrace nutrition and Eastern healing arts to help people heal in new ways. Brain imaging is changing the way we interpret some forms of learning or mental illness, and there are new perspectives on autoimmune diseases.

Meanwhile the digital age has made it possible for many to make their living through blogging, web design, social media, or online marketing. More folks are becoming entrepreneurs or advice distributors.

I feel that I am developing right along with all of these trends, evolving into a new kind of professional who will translate these ideas into words and “treatments.” I feel that I might finally bring together my knowledge, skills, and life experiences to serve, rather than hanging out on the fringes.

I am fashioning this conception of my work. It involves creating and running a web “magazine” on mental health in the digital age. One utilizing my knowledge of yoga, ayurveda, and mindfulness. My other hat will be educator/coach. I want to work with a holistic psychiatrist or an ayurvedic practitioner teaching about mindfulness, yoga, and yoga philosophy for the westerner. The third component of this work is facilitating support or discussion groups, in which people learn together how they are getting in their own way and how to apply mindfulness, nutrition, and energetic aspects of wellness.

Yes, in the meantime, I may serve in a good nonprofit or healthcare organization, most likely one that allows me the flexibility to develop my own endeavor. I may yet need to shed a few layers of my own armor, fear, and limited perceptions to embrace my creative power and take a fully realized role in my community. I know deep down it can be done.

I think of body workers who changed the “world” like Moshe Feldenkrais and Ida Rolf. Of academics, scientists, or clergy who thought out of the box: Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, Howard Zinn, Thomas Merton. People who tried to make it in established professions until creating their own niche, like Karen Armstrong, former nun who became the writer of The History of God, Buddha, and Islam. Throughout my whole adult life I have wondered, “Can we not do the work that engages our particular sensitivity?” It is the artists and somatic educators who inspire me: In them I see an engagement and fostering of life, a vocation that also provides a “living.”

For me the question is, What stirs my heart and serves the world? Though I have longed searched for my niche, it just may be that I have to create it.

Self-sufficiency or community effort?

IMG_1646In a job interview this week I was asked about my philosophy on self-sufficiency programs.  The interviewer was referring to public aid.  I spoke without thinking based on assumptions I have held for years, and then I realized that my perspective has changed.  It is far more nuanced than it used to be.

My current job has shed much light on the subject, and life experience has made me wiser.   I still believe, as I told the interviewer, that society is healthier when it provides safety nets for the most vulnerable, and I am very conscious of vulnerability, having lost my physician father and my vibrant yoga teacher at young ages.  I don’t think a society that tosses people aside at the least infirmity is a society at all.

Working at a disability center has shown me another side to the whole issue of public aid.  I meet people who just cannot work because of illness or physical disability, and I meet others who experience a job loss, temporary illness, or divorce, who lose their ground and cannot regain it.  Time stretches on, they lose skills and confidence, and some never get back in the race.

Yet I am most struck by the “invisible disabilities.”  Actually, the term “disability” becomes meaningless because it seems one sees it everywhere.   Personality disorders like narcissism, for example, or a nervous temperament, or alienation stemming from abuse have a profound impact on a person’s work life.   Some people possess undefined cognitive issues that hinder them in the work place, problems they were able to compensate for when they are young, but which trip them up as they age.  Some people may even be affected by birth trauma in ways that are difficult to understand.

I work with people on the staff who have CP, quadraplegia, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis.    Some use a minimum amount of help and make the most of it, while others spend a fair amount of time soliciting and getting all they can.  Why is that?  Is it character?  Personality disorders?  Were some of us taken care of too much so we became overly dependent?  Are these issues even quantifiable or interpretable?  There is so much that is murky.  These days I wonder if that uncle who was a “ne’re do well” had cognitive processing issues that tripped him up.  Or if that college graduate who partied a lot and 15 years later is unemployed might not have experienced sexual or physical abuse and have post-traumatic stress disorder.   If that terribly shy person did not experience secure attachment with his mother and can’t get his feet on the ground.

While character and discipline are part of the discussion when it comes to work engagement, these other issues do exist, and an individual often becomes ashamed and defensive, or tells herself a story about how the world is unfair or how she is a “waste case.”  I’ve seen people who cheat, or lie, and that troubles me, but now I see how even those behaviors can come from a poor family that has used those strategies to survive.

I draw two conclusions on this subject of aid.   One is that hidden trauma can cause disordered thinking, excessive shyness or anger, or lack of confidence.  An individual cannot regulate her nervous system and develops an addiction.  My second conclusion is that discipline and integrity are as important as ever.  The people who come to work with us in our center are generally inclined to the expectation to be willing to learn new things, to change, to receive support and make the most of it.   We expect each other to be honest.

For some reason, public aid is a painful subject for me.  Probably because it appears that some of our social supports are being drawn away.  I have had my own work struggles, my own year of unemployment, and after working in a poorer community with people with disabilities, I have seen even more vulnerability.  Perhaps my discomfort stems from how deeply I believe the whole society is healthier when we provide help:  We cannot take social programs for granted, and yet I think we have done so.

These days the rich are getting richer, and the social aid systems seem antiquated and underfunded.  I think we have to start where we are and care for each other, build sustainable communities, find work for people who can do something no matter how small or easy.  I believe we people at the ground level will develop sustainable communities, if we consult our hearts.

In reading Yes! magazine, I came across a story about a Canadian man who suffered a severe neck injury and had a hard time finding a job that would accommodate his need for shorter shifts and frequent doctor appointments.  A non-profit agricultural operation hired him on flexible terms.  The organization provides work for many people who face barriers to employment.  It received loans and financing from a Canadian Credit Union that funnels a portion of its earnings to charitable giving and to building up the social economy in Canada.

This magazine details many such instances of co-operative ventures, of social economics, of businesses embracing low-income folks or those who have experienced life setbacks. We need to build a new social economy, a new social “safety net.”  It’s good to see the effort to help those in need is addressed by businesses, communities, and innovative programs, not just the government.  People working together are a big part of the solution.  They are the green shoots in the Spring of a cultural shift.

How do you think?

IMG_0886Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society.  When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think.  Tuition fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture.  This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy. 

-Norm Chomsky

This quote stopped me cold.  It is just as relevant years after college as it is right after, and it applies to our work and financial lives years after college.  It makes me really ponder the influence of debt, or high expenses on how we think, how we live.

I am very fortunate by birth and family background that I do not have debt and can work in nonprofit organizations.  Every day I am struck by my upside-down job (unusual by most standards) and my great fortune to hike in the Rocky Mountains and hear my own thoughts.  I know lovely people who work in the healing arts, in nonprofits, and in carpentry who look wryly at the consumer economy, whether through circumstance or choice.  Though our income is limited, there is enough to live on and room for commerce of minds, hearts, and hands.  Energized with meaning, connection, and work to be done, these folks do not worry much about money.

My own job involves working with people who are visually impaired.  I do a lot of outreach and education, helping the motivated learn assistive technologies and cane travel.  At my center I also teach yoga for people with disabilities, develop communication materials, assist the director, troubleshoot computer problems, and handle a myriad of other tasks from taking out the recycling to setting up for events.

I encounter people from all walks of life.  An Iraq-war vet from the Louisiana bayou who is psychic.  Kids who are developmentally disabled and help out in our office once a week.  University students studying human services or special education who visit or intern.  People who have had strokes or heart attacks or who deal with multiple sclerosis.  People who have experienced healing and people who have not.  Liars and saints and people changing through community.

Here again I see provision for needs, whether it be through laws, food banks, Habitat for Humanity, grants, donations, volunteer services.  Yes frustrations, limitations, and inefficiency are present, but I also see people working together in advocacy groups, wellness classes, yoga.  And I see organizations collaborating, a willingness to find help and resources for folks in need.  There is less bureaucracy, less ego, less time spent posturing than there might be in other settings.

Most importantly, I see people change.  Coming to this community, an individual becomes less reliant on doctors, medications, social services, family members.  As they learn about managing their finances or health, find ways to work even if volunteering, and take part in activities, they begin to feel better and they develop a different conception of themselves.  They make do with the resources they have, make more connection, work, play, and laugh.  Whether they struggle with a mental illness or physical disability or chronic illness, they can begin to relate to the world as Mary or as Jim, rather than patient or client.

I see parallels with this model of support in my community of healers and freelancers.  We work together on solutions or simply share ideas.  We barter, simplify, grow food, start business and meetup groups.  We find ways to get what we need and to contribute.

It is when we get taken in by debt or fear (this happens to me fairly often) or “The System” that we cannot think.  We think we cannot afford to question, or to seek out better ways of doing things, and we do not have enough time to connect with others to develop our thoughts or find encouragement for our ability to effect change.  We are not as receptive to the beauty and possibility around us.

Chomsky’s words remind me of a poem that has been circling through my mind since college.  The poem surfaces to my consciousness at odd times, stopping and refocusing me, in the way I assume that voices speak to others imparting wisdom or pointing toward a new direction.

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

If we are feeling subject to a disciplinary culture, as Chomsky says, we are more concerned about obedience to an economy that some of us think is destructive.  I think we are here to live this life.  To feel our bodies, to move with joy, to engage with our hearts, to use our minds to create art, bridges, healing practices, good food, and communities.  It seems that we as humans won’t survive if the system continues as is, so we may as well take a leap and try some brand new things.

Wrestling with bulldogs

IMG_0945Two years ago, after a year of unemployment, I began a new job at a disability center in a dilapidated building.  That same week, another woman was hired.  We bonded in the rocky adjustment to cluttered offices and murkily defined jobs.  Our shared discomfort in landing in this neglected corner of the earth, along with the familiarity of her Catholic sense of social service to my Methodist upbringing, created for me a strange sense of destiny.

We cleaned out our spaces, working through piles of files and discarded junk, dusting and sterilizing.  Then we began to define our jobs.  Months into this process, conflict arose. Katie, a Christian who had worked in mental health, is committed to service and motivated to serve.  She’s social, outspoken, and driven to help people change.  I, on the other hand, a strong introvert fresh off a year at home alone and two decades of writing work, was uncertain I should be in human services at all.

Katie is 70 years old and a great grandmother.  Raised by various family members and nuns, she brought up five kids on her own, earned two degrees, and became director of senior services in a nearby county.  She’s used to fighting her way through the world.  I’m an avowed introvert, and I was reeling in the chaos.  Since neither of us was given guidance or feedback we felt uneasy about our work, and we clashed.  Katie tried to tell me how to do my job while I struggled mightily to create my boundaries in an environment where staff and clientele seemed ready to intrude wherever possible.  While Katie attacked her job with a vengeance, calling folks to see if they needed services, developing new programs, and organizing new activities, I tried to see if I could provide service to the organization and clientele in a way that I could sustain, behind the scenes.

I’d hear Katie cajoling, challenging, and encouraging others.  But she pushed me to do the same, and I resisted, wondering at times if she was right.  We squabbled a few times over how I should do my job or the wording of a flier.  Yet she learned to let me be, and I started to appreciate her strength and to find my own.  I enjoyed her colorful stories of exotic pets, encounters with police, and her husband’s ranching family.

Slowly, I became better at outreach for my program and found ways to contribute.  I made a new website, redesigned the newsletter,  set up a series of workshops.  I learned and taught others about assistive technology.

I was adjusting, and at the same time coming to see Katie as a bulldog—indomitable, resilient, energetic.  On the other hand it seemed she couldn’t slow down and listen, and I felt like I was always wrestling with her.  We traveled to other cities together for conferences, trainings, and outreach, meeting with farmers and ranchers disabled by work or age.   Crawling back into my hotel room after a long day of meetings and lunches with my cohort, I could breathe again.

On the most recent road trip with my friend, she chatted away, ready to direct until we established a pattern of cooperation.  This week we went to a senior fair together in a small plains town in Colorado.  We’d found new sympathy for each other on that road trip, and when she started insisting on how a client needed to quit smoking, I laughed and pretended to bang my head on the steering wheel.  She laughed too.

At the fair I had an epiphany.  Seated along the wall adjacent to us were three tables, one for a senior living residence, one for assisted living, the last for a funeral home.  Katie commented on how the booths represented the stages we all go through and then started talking about her plans for where to be buried and with whom.  She joked about her sister in law and brother saying she could be buried in a stack three high with them, but she responded she didn’t want to spend eternity in between them.  “Well, we won’t be doing anything!”, said her relative.  Then Katie turned to the woman in the table next to us and began a lively conversation.  Sharing her experience as a gerontologist and spiritual director and learning about the other woman’s love of working with seniors in assisted living, I felt privileged to learn about work that is not often acknowledged and about these stages of life at the other end.  Here were two elders themselves helping people take their last steps on the earth.

My own process of changing in this strange job, of softening and opening, of letting go of my previous definitions of myself, seemed suddenly tremendously fruitful.  I felt wizened and blessed, strengthened by schooling about the stages of life and the forgotten areas of this human experience.  And I again had the sense of fate in my connection with this woman.

Here’s why:  Though we were raised quite differently, have different personalities and spiritual practices, we are also of the same ilk, fighters who have come to unusual perspectives on healing and wellness through our own experiences.  Katie is a strong spiritual being from a background of abuse and poverty, riches gained and lost, now in tune with the reality of aging and death.  A student of psychotherapy, Emotions Anonymous, wellness training with wellness wheel, and spiritual gerontology, she has wisdom to share in a world bent on material gain, youth, and fitness.

My life has been more stable, but early acquaintance with illness through my dad’s work made me a questioner, and my experience in Quaker meetings, with yoga and meditation, with managing health issues through holistic medicine, with mental health counseling and body-oriented psychotherapy, have led me to a perspective much like my coworker’s. We have the same sense of wellness as involving spiritual, emotional, and physical elements, of being a lifelong process of learning and letting go.

In this relationship, over time, our spirituality, our life struggles, and our experience with uncertain positions, led inevitably to a bond. So often, different languages, backgrounds, personalities, or fear and the need for clearly defined beliefs create barriers between us humans.  In this case, I now have a strong sense of crazy adventure and of a chance meeting of fellow travelers on the road, perhaps a cliché, but an apt one.

On that outing to the senior fair, I saw beyond the grind of a job into the precious encounter with the divine and a woman full of fire and spirit.  I felt I understood the biblical parable of Jacob wrestling with an angel.   I really thought I was wrestling with this bulldog, but it was definitely an angel, both the job itself and this bundle of love and courage that is Katie.

My lack of ambition

IMG_0325Ambition

noun

a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work : her ambition was to become a model | he achieved his ambition of making a fortune.

• desire and determination to achieve success : life offered few opportunities for young people with ambition.

ORIGIN Middle English : via Old French from Latin ambitio(n-), from ambire ‘go around (canvassing for votes).’ 

What is ambition?  Last week, my friend said she was struck that my partner and I accept each other’s seeming lack of ambition.  What does she mean?  Should I be offended?  My friend comes from a very accomplished family and has siblings and friends who have high status jobs and high salaries, its true, but I assumed she was commenting more on our acceptance of each other and our humble material status (I’ll have to clarify with her for sure).

Her comment elicited some interesting thought on my part.  Ambition . . . I think my partner and I have different organizing structures than much of society.  In a way we are dedicated to a lifestyle and to values of simplicity.  To gentle vocation . . . He is a carpenter who likes to build things, fish, mountain bike, and hike.  He is devotedd to me, to his children, and to his parents.  I am committed to a mission, in a sense, to help individuals and communities be healthier in mind and body.   Money therefore, is not the main motivator for either member of this couple.

So no, we do not have big, high-paying jobs.  We aspire to earn more money, but we’d like to do so by doing what we do better.   In the meantime we are happy.  We enjoy our relationship and lifestyle immensely, and we love living near the Rocky Mountains.  We have good family relations, good friends, good food, and time for books and building fly rods and writing.  We spend as much time as we can outdoors, and we consider ourselves richly blessed.

If ambition in our society connotes success, than I want to ask what success entails.  I identify with passion, with the development of excellence, with innovation, and with developing work, art, or vocation with enthusiasm and integrity.  Ambition can easily become merged with destructive ends, or it can be clouded by insecurity or the undue influence of others.  Consider the instance of the woman who becomes a doctor because her parents want her to while she wants to be an English professor.

So I don’t really identify with the concept of ambition.  Do I have drive?  Yes, I feel an enduring and deep motivation to investigate what it means to be healthy in mind and body, to live from spirit and humble inquiry into what spirit means.  Do I work hard and persist?  I think I do:  I work hard to integrate yoga into healthcare, and I challenge myself to work with others, learn from others, about what they need to be healthy, what helps and hinders.  I explore models of health and mental healthcare.  I keep writing and stirring up conversation on the issue.

I do relate to ambition more in the original roots of the concept, “to go around [canvassing for votes].”  I travel about, looking for like minded people, listening to people struggling with illness and pain, investigating organizations that were set up to help but may or may not be.  I read history and Eastern philosophy and explore various healing arts to learn more about where we came from, about our imbalanced institutions and professions and what might be missing.  I work in different institutions to learn when I am too idealistic and to compare notes with others.

What a different meaning the word ambition had originally.  The current meaning is one I relate to in this sense that I have of drive, but I am wary of how distorted, or corrupt it can become.  My driving question is, How do I live this one life that I have?  What do my head and heart say?  How does my body want to engage?  What makes me a better person, more present?

I want to be present, internally motivated, a healing presence.  I love this life.  I want children to grow up being honored and feeling free to follow their passions and to align those passions with their ambition rather than living a distorted or destructive sense of the term.  I want to enjoy my connection to the earth and to my loved ones.  I want to create and share.

You see, my friend’s comment made me think of lifestyle and motivation, but it also lead me to the idea of archetypes.  My partner is an artisan, and I also see him as a “husband” in the old sense of the word:  a master of the home who can construct the hearth, build the fire, feed his family, cultivate a garden, fish the streams and care for the earth.  What does a man like him do with ambition and pressure to succeed in the material world defined by the current version of Western civilization?  From my perspective, he is a companion, in the archetypal and practical sense.   Me?  Perhaps I am a rebel, visionary, or storyteller:  I am a person seeking to bring deeper wisdom to our society and our healthcare system.

It seems to me that once you touch into these archetypal energies, once you think of a life unfolding, ambition can show itself to be misguided energy.  For me the intrinsic motivation is the gem of a life, something more like the idea of the “daemon,” or forces of nature, or the gods themselves guiding us strongly and surely and shaping our outer life.  A deep and driving force inside us, something ambition, fear, and conformity can stifle.

Sustainable Food Jobs

Connecting You with Current Job Opportunities & Resources

Kendall F. Person, thepublicblogger

where writing is a performance art and every post is a show

Community Solar Blog by Clean Energy Collective

Community solar makes solar easier and available to more people than ever.

Mindbody Way

Somatic approaches to health and wholeness

grapplingwithfracking

Loveland resident reckons with Big Oil at her door

Evolving Health

Eyeing the chemicals that we call food, nutrition, poison, and medicine through the lens of evidence and evolution.

THE ONENESS of HUMANITY

For Global Truth, Justice, Peace

body divine yoga

unlock your kundalini power, ignite your third eye, awaken your inner oracle

Master Of Disaster

Cure for the creative itch!

Traditium

Comments on the Culture

sweeping leaves

a path of mindful living

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 291 other followers