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.

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.

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.

My yoga career as a template

child pose eliza snow istockHave you had a lot of satisfaction in your career?  A sense of mastery?  The ability to make things happen?  Those are questions I wonder about, for myself and others.  Mostly because I have not found such attributes in abundance, at least not in my office jobs.  But I did experience them as a yoga teacher.

If you are imagining me as that advanced student, as master teacher demonstrating extra-advanced poses in my trendy yoga wear, let that picture go.  It’s not applicable.  Here is the real story:  I ordered a couple of half-price yoga pants online, incorporated some comfy tie dye t-shirts, and went looking for gigs.  I applied to various institutions, a recreation center, the local hospital, a corporation, and a drug court.  I was inflexible, shy, and naïve about yoga.  But I loved it and had to do it.

Teaching was excruciating for me for several years.  Sitting before a group of people and conveying something I barely understood was uncomfortable to say the least.   But darn if it wasn’t compelling, and I listened to feedback and learned.  I felt my way through, literally, in my body.  In this job I could move, demonstrate, engage physically, mentally, and spiritually.  At the same time, my yoga teacher told me that people would just be grateful to be led through a class, and her comment helped me relax.

I developed a sense of myself and a sense of my vocation as a yoga teacher.  I saw ways to integrate yoga into institutions, and I became a good promoter.  I felt motivated from within, energized by my work.  As I ventured into various organizations, I was not discouraged that administrators knew little about yoga, instead I became a translator between the institution and the practice, the fitness world and the mindfulness world.

About eight years in I became really good at teaching yoga, something I attribute to having lived and absorbed it and to the inspiration of a teacher who taught me what I most needed to learn.   From her I learned that yoga was more about undoing patterns and waking up, and I was able to guide people through that process.  For me, it was about educating the body, mind, and soul.

In my career I learned many skills, like teaching methods, communication, promotion, translation, conveying material through multiple modalities.  I used many of my strengths and learned to work better with my weaknesses.

In time I changed and began to explore the idea of educating about integrative medicine.  For a while I lost my bearings.  Yoga didn’t seem like a resume building skill, and my other skills had faded into the background.  Forgetting about the success I’d had and the many folks who expressed gratitude for my classes, I felt “unmarketable.”

And yet it is my experience with yoga that is coming back to me now and informing me in a visceral way.  I realize that yoga has taught me what was most important in my overall career.  I remember that feeling of vocation, of commitment, of mission, and I remember the willingness to barrel ahead even though I had little experience in a field.  I know that I can come up with my own proposals, contact folks who might need my skills and knowledge, translate my heart-felt sense of contributing to my stress-ridden society.

I sense the fertile ground available to me and my opportunity to create something new.  And I continue to do my own yoga and meditation practice so that deeper wisdom and steadiness might accompany me on the path.

Magical connections occur, a sense of possibility surfaces.  I feel my muscles, my conviction, my confidence in my ability and my right to assert myself in the world and offer what I’ve got.  If I do not fit in a particular job, that’s okay, I still have my mission, my contribution to make, work to do, and spiritual lessons to learn.

To sum it up, yoga gave me a sense of myself (this being who knows the connection to mind and body), it gave me some inner knowing and some muscle, and it gave me a bridge to the medical and mental health realms which are so in need of change.  It provided me with connections to individuals that educated and supported me, and it gave me a meaningful role in my community.  When I feel like there is a hole in my “career” experience, I remember how satisfied I was, how much I grew, and how much I gave.  I know I built new bridges, and I know I provided something there, under the radar of the institutions, that woke people up a little.  If not to spiritual or physical mastery, to just knowing their bodies a bit better, knowing how to move more easily, knowing how to be embodied on the earth for this short time we’re given.

When I was a yoga student with the right teacher, I felt like I was getting the single most important education of my life.  I hope some of my students felt that way, and I hope I don’t forget what I learned.

Core beliefs revisited

IMG_1162I am so grateful for the comments on my blog on core beliefs.  I read more than 100 notes from people who are also questioning inner and outer belief structures, from people who seek more balance or simplicity in their lives, and from people who experienced awakenings in their minds and hearts through practicing yoga, dance, or martial arts.  Thank you so much for the kind encouragement and for letting me know you are in this process of reexamination too.

Some asked what my core beliefs are, and that is a good question.   I am talking about core beliefs in relation to my unconscious psychology, some of those beliefs that I formed as a kid and that shaped the way I see and experience things.  One is that I lack worth or a right to be myself, a perception fairly common in Westerners, from what I read.  I have constructed whole stories about myself and who I am, what I can and cannot do, around this sense of being inferior.  Stories like, I can’t have enduring good work or a decent salary, that I am an outsider.  With an underlying assumption such as that, how could I ask for help, or envision myself in lucrative work, or join a community where I could be involved in mutually nourishing connections and endeavors?

But that core belief has slowly changed in me and has been replaced with the sense that I have the right to be here and to take up space.  Mindfulness practice and yoga, as well as good relationships and time in nature have eroded my old beliefs.  I observed them in action as a hakomi body-oriented psychotherapy student and client, as a yoga and Feldenkrais practitioner, as a wilderness walker, in meditation, and I have seen through them.  The movement, mindfulness, and kind interaction with other people helped untie the knots around them, and they are loose now.  I see them kick in quite often, but I am not defined by them, I do not always react through their lens.

I am in love, I have deep friendships, I have rewarding part-time work, and I am writing.  I ask for help when I need it, and when I feel myself succumbing to the old core beliefs, I can often practice a little internal yoga, feel my feet on the ground, and release them.

Yesterday I watched this video discussion between a couple of people (Bari Tessler Linden and Ben Saltzman) examining how our core beliefs kick up around money issues: Enneagram Video.

Ben, a business and career coach, talks about how the Enneagram focuses on nine types defined by core beliefs formed in childhood.  He says he began to examine his own core beliefs when he experienced the pain of mismanaging his money and energy and how he changed by observing and unraveling his beliefs and related behaviors.  So whether it be money, relationships, work, illness, or other challenge that starts us on this path of examination, we end up in the same place:  Learning about who we are and what we believe and how that serves or hinders us.

We’ve been through the age of psychotherapy, and it seems like we are now into the age of mindfulness and community building.  Many of us are unraveling these beliefs and choosing new beliefs more consciously.  People wrote to me and said they believe in love and interconnectedness, in simplicity, sustainability, and health, in practices like yoga and how they transform us, taking us closer to our true selves and leading us to more conscious living.  Wow!

What are your core beliefs?

IMG_0042A decade ago I moved from northern Virginia to a small town in Colorado with just a carful of belongings.   I left behind a marriage and a job and joined some good friends who were living what I saw as a conscious and sane life.  A part of me was looking for time in the mountains to deprogram and start afresh.  With more space and quiet, in a gentler town, perhaps I could get down to some wiser ways.

Did that happen?  In many ways it did.  The East is so dense with people, buildings, and culture that a girl sometimes can’t separate her own values out from those of the society.  In the cacophony, the quick pace, the getting and spending, one doesn’t even have time to think.  The attitudes of society soak in through her pores and affect her thoughts and behavior.

When I settled in Colorado, I found a job with odd hours, and I hiked up many a mountain.  I sought out yoga classes, then a yoga teacher training.  Slowly I began to unwind my physical patterns, my muscular tension and my defenses against the world.  In a hakomi, or body-centered psychotherapy, training I sat with peers in mindfulness and observed my core beliefs emerge.  I found an outstanding yoga teacher whose classes took me on an ecstatic journey, and after all this, I could feel my feet on the ground, my animal body engaged in the world, my heart open so that I engaged more easily with others.  I hoped work and love would flow more easily.  And they did, especially love.  Work?  I’m still progressing on that front.

Presently I find myself wondering how we in this country developed the mindset we have and the belief that we must work excessively and purchase new gadgets regularly.  I wonder how our environment, healthcare system, and political system all became so toxic or dysfunctional.  There is an armoring and network of habits at the national level just as there is at the individual level, of course.  We buffer ourselves against remembering another set of values by escaping into entertainment and the pursuit of status, or things.  I see a clinging to old beliefs and habits.  I see a belief in the dominance of a market economy above all.

I turned to history to understand more, and I read about the founding fathers and their ideas, about Christian fundamentalism, about the decline of intellectualism, about our perspectives on the body and about the evolution of psychology.  How, I wondered, did we become so materialistic?  How did a business mentality so thoroughly permeate medicine and education?  How did we get to this place where we must work such long hours and commute such long distances to have enough money for expenses?

At the same time I wonder what might help us to loosen hold of those beliefs and reconsider.  Let some new ideas in.  Would it be a change in education?  More yoga and less time on treadmills?  More time in nature?  That’s my prescription!  But each of us thinks we know what would be best, and none of us knows the whole truth about our troubles and what to do about them.

The good news is that younger people are coming up with new ways of doing things.  Whether it is because they are facing less abundance than their parents or just seeing what the world is now, they are already trying something different.  Generation Y, for example, is said to want a shorter work day and more time for family, more flexibility in their jobs, and meaningful work or lifestyle that includes work.  They want to support their communities.

I see this trend evolving in this small town I landed in.   Many young people are starting small businesses, collaborating to build a counter economy.  There are people making a living as web designers, social media managers, artists, and healers.  They find ways to network, or share office space, to promote one another’s businesses.  When our society can sustain these folks well, or if they can sustain themselves, we will all be healthier.

There is so much that is rich in life that becomes buried in business and striving.  I am a baby boomer with the values of Generation Y.  A yoga teacher in need of a job, a job in which I work with others for something I believe in and yet also have time for family and creative work.  Time to be outside.  Time for prayer and mediation and the study of history.  We need to really think about what we believe, what we feel in response to the world around us, and where we need to go.  Because if we don’t change course, we will pay a big price.

Can we not examine the bundles of assumptions and beliefs wrapped around us so tightly that we can’t notice?  It is time, right now, to slow down, to look both inside and out and consciously choose the values we will live.

Hit in the head

IMG_1545A coworker of mine recently fell backwards in her chair and hit her head.  Hard.  So hard she had to spend the night in the hospital and take a long break from work.  Six weeks later, she still needs to remain quiet, but she and I have been emailing each other.

The scrambling of her brain has had some positive effects, she says.  It has basically changed her mind.  For a while she could not think of the words she wanted to use, and the speech she did muster up came forth painfully slow.  She’d get headaches from slight efforts to think and communicate.  But she also felt a great deal of peace.

Have you ever heard Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk on Ted.com?  She is a brain researcher who had a stroke and relates the story of how her left brain went off line while her right brain came on stronger than ever, manifesting in peace and wellbeing and a sense of her place in the world.   My coworker said she has had a similar experience, particularly that she felt serene part of the time, and that as the swelling in her brain went down she continued to perceive differently and to experience new interpretations of situations in her life.

Basically my friend is seeing her own life path differently.  A musician who has worked in social services for many years, she is suddenly having new insight on her self, her work, her ex-husband, and her boss.  She sees longstanding patterns in herself of being a buffer for people without many social skills, of picking up the pieces after someone else’s derailment or inattention.  She is aware of the stress this lets into her life and body.  She sees that she tends to be right-brain dominant and that some demands of her job take much effort because they demand a different mode of thought.

For some reason, perhaps given that we are the same age, have worked together for two years, and work in this unusual situation serving people with disabilities, I too am gleaning some transformative sparks.  I am seeing different aspects of myself and my situation, noticing long-standing patterns, opening to the unraveling of my karmic knots.  I too am starting a new chapter, entering a more visible part of a gradual metamorphosis.   After a long period of focusing on yoga, I am turning toward some new interests and considering changing careers.  I’m letting my mind and emotions travel a bit, allowing them to experiment with new conclusions, like the knowledge that I have some technical ability.  I am not so quick to limit myself, but as in yoga practice, I experiment with new behaviors and tasks, and I observe the results with as much detachment as I am able.

I know very well now that I do not have any interest in teaching yoga as exercise, that I see yoga as a medium for exploring ourselves and what it means to be human, and I know that environments that stifle that playful aspect of yoga are not for me.  I also perceive technology differently:  Instead of seeing it as something to run from, I know that it can be an amazing tool.  Think of assistive technology for disabled people, and the creativity in connecting through social media or designing things in Adobe’s Creative Suite.

My friend wants to put together her own business and use her creativity.  She wants to extract herself from the buffer role.  I want to find a way to teach yoga as creative exploration, and I want to use my mechanical and creative energy to design, to communicate.

What seems most important for the two of us is this freedom from old ruts, this shedding of old perspectives and perceptions.  It reminds me of the “birth” of new butterflies:  We are emerging a little pink, a little soft, new and vulnerable.  But we are really here, as more complete people, or as people bringing forth a new dimension of ourselves.  Whether through a hit on the head, or an opening through the body in yoga, or through hitting a dead end and growing frustrated, a shift occurs, one that leads to new ways of being in our world.

When the shell cracks

I’ve been wrestling with my job in a disability center since I started it a year and a half ago.  Once I went in to the boss to quit, which led to a surprisingly good outcome:  She clarified my job description for me and then for the staff, which seemed keen on having me do parts of their jobs.  But I continued to struggle with defining my tasks for each day.  All the while I’ve squirmed with my role in a free-form environment with a complex clientele.  To top it off I felt a disconnect between my identity and the role.

Yet this complex situation has taught me more than the jobs that felt like a natural fit.   I’ve learned to stand up for myself, to really assert what will and won’t work for me, and I’ve learned to let go of my ego, my previous way of defining myself.  Sound paradoxical?  Yes, and true, and the beauty in the paradox is more evident to me through the help of yoga and mindfulness meditation.

Here is one good lesson:  When new to the job, I met with three women working in similar positions at an organization in a town nearby.  These folks have created elaborate social activities for their constituents.  They go out to restaurants, take vans of people on weekend trips.  Made me want to run the other way if those things are part of my job.  But I’ve built my program with smaller support groups, based around assistive technology and other topics, leaving room for some sharing.  I started a yoga class.  And I carved out some time to retreat to the computer for record keeping, newsletter creation, and website management.

I’ve been able to find ways to serve that are compatible with my more introverted temperament.  Instead of den mother, I am behind-the-scenes facilitator.  I water flowers, set out recycling, demonstrate use of assistive devices.  I participate in community gatherings and parties through setting up, clearing up, socializing.  I connect more deeply with those in my yoga class.

I watch myself respond; I honor my nature; I let go of some resistance.  And the environment accommodates me.  Whatever this job is in terms of career development, I cannot yet say, but in terms of spiritual development it is filled with fruit.

This strange little job has cracked me open while yoga and meditation kept me grounded.  I have been witness to the lives of those with disabilities, and I have been part of a community sharing experiments on healing, on living with limitations, on finding our roles in the community.  It is an unusual job in a unique environment.  I love my alone time as much as ever, but I also love this way of being connected.  I love having the chance to experiment.

It’s been very uncomfortable and rewarding at the same time.  I move out in the world, and yet I am authentically quiet and gentle, finding the background when I need it.  The stories I tell myself shift; my experience in the world transforms; my body and mind soften; my feet stand steady; and my heart engages.  That yoga and mindfulness practice has taught me how to feel, how to open, how to free fall:  It is pretty smart stuff.

Looking back to move forward

I have been reading Jacob Needleman’s book American Soul:  Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, and I’m finding it makes me think intensely, particularly about work and our current political conflicts, but for this blog I will focus on work.  Needleman, a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University, writes,

From our nation’s beginning,

“America embraced the necessity of hard work not as an evil but as an expression of self-respect and independence.  Americans have always understood the obligation to ‘pay one’s way,’ but in its origin this attitude toward life was inseparably connected to the sense that human beings were on earth to serve some purpose far greater than their own satisfaction or comfort and even greater than what is ordinarily understood as love or charity.  To be free and independent was to be worthy of a task placed upon us by God; all our functions and capacities—physical, mental, and emotional—were to be engaged.  It was understood that our life was not given to us for ourselves alone and that human beings would be granted a certain greatness only to the extent that they sought to be able to serve God and their neighbor.”

I find it almost startling to remember that early Americans thought so deeply about virtue, service, and the inner work of conscience, given our lack of thought about such things in past decades.  We truly came to focus on profit, more profit, material goods, security, and status.  At least that has been our predominant mode.

“In absorption into action and doing America entered a long adolescence at the beginning of the 19th century,” says Needleman.  He describes our motivation as being a “tangle of unnecessary desires and unstable standards of self-worth.” I see these statements in my own life:  Though I have been a bit out of step with the motivation of money and status, I have been alienated and isolated.  It has only been in more recent years that I have been facing myself and my attitudes, searching for my true gifts and how to serve society’s need.  I think others are doing the same.

I have been driven by a desire to be part of a changing paradigm for health and mental health care.  But these ideas noted by Needleman provide me with an even broader and deeper sense of work, what it means to be human, and what it means to be a member of my community, my country.  They point me toward a sense of calling, of meaning.

Needleman says ancient wisdom, and its echoes in the words of the founding fathers, point us inward to work on understanding our desires and motivations and acting from our higher selves.  To quote him again: “ . . . the ancient wisdom has always sought to free us precisely through hard work within ourselves and outside ourselves.”  That freedom allows us to engage more fully in work, community, and the building of society that allows us to live together and find fulfillment.

Our economic downturn has shown us what shaky and illusory ground we were on, and it has spurred new thought and behavior in work. While the old paradigm of achieve/buy/build status/buy more/buy bigger fades away, we are building a new one.  We inquire about the meaning of our individual work and how to respond to job loss, and some of us are propelled to create something new.  I am excited to see things like a local work coop where people do their own work but share ideas and resources, inspired to see business models and missions change to more collaborative endeavors and more green practices.

We really do have a cool opportunity to redefine our work and communal lives. We have a chance to consider what our gifts are, what calls us, and what needs we can meet in our society.

We know it is necessary to our survival on the earth to rethink vocation and work.  To consider community and sustainability and to work together to create new models of healthcare, education, and ways of doing business.  It may be that grass roots movements like Occupy, or many of us making individual and institutional changes, cause our government to pay attention and work for the common good as well.

The founding fathers were influenced by ancient wisdom as well as modern metaphysical thinking, says Needleman.  They saw virtue and inner work (or self-improvement) as foundational to the American experiment.  They perceived of government as providing protection and freedom to exercise our conscience.  Where have we been all these years?  What has meaning to us now? Were do we want to go next?  Perhaps turning inward will provide the answers we need.

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