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.

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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.

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 who you are is what you are

This morning I cannot resist writing about Jack Kerouac the man and Jack Kerouac the writer.  He’s been read and romanticized for decades now, but I have to put my two cents into the mix.   I read On the Road years ago, and I didn’t understand it, but recently I read Dharma Bums and then a biography of Kerouac written by Gerald Nicosia called Memory Babe.  Last night I just cracked open the original scroll of On the Road.

In terms of work, the subject of my blog, Kerouac was a dedicated writer.  He felt compelled to live, feel, and respond, to be a conduit for expression of emotion and the grappling of his generation instigated by the atomic age and paranoia around communism.  He also felt a need to write in an honest and personal way, expressing his experience in the moment as an art in itself; he needed to create new forms of literary expression to respond to the world around him and record his search for meaning.  I am inspired by people so driven as artists to grapple, learn, express, to feel and respond to beauty and mortality. An artist in temperament and vocation, Kerouac’s work was to be a conduit for life.

The thing is, his way of being and working required an extraordinary openness and vulnerability and honesty, and he drank a lot to cope.  Maybe he drank a lot to numb out and hide.  I can’t speak to that.  What I respond to is his sensibility and honesty, his friendships and development as a man of ideas and art.  I believe in his biographer Nicosia’s perspective here:

How he was in life and work:

“He was observing a complete fidelity to the moment, changing colors like a litmus as impressions flowed through him, simply registering everything, and, like Whitman, unafraid to contradict himself.”

The difficulty in his life and work:

“He was able to resolve nothing because he was speaking directly from a genius whose locus was outside his personality—a genius that might be triangulated somewhere between Riviera du Loup, Hollywood, and heaven.  He was a hillbilly scholar and a hokey saint, with Japanese mezzotints and works by El Greco, Rouault, Picasso, Van Gogh, Rousseau, and Gauguin sharing his bedroom walls with little pictures of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph and the crucifix above the bed.  He was determined to blast out from his very heart all the garbage of his age, the processed shit with which fifties American was stuffed like a Christmas turkey—even if much of the time he was flipping or weeping, really weeping—and to give his tortured and grappling nation a voice, even though the job would kill him; and knowing that, he had taken it on anyway, and there was no reforming him now.”

What I want to say is that Kerouac represents the artist to me, a role and calling that has always spoken to me.  And this immensely gifted, very complicated man pointed so strongly to life and death:  He does not let us forget either, challenging us to not hide behind convention or routine or fear but to acknowledge how we feel.  He worked with discipline, with heart.  He read and experienced and wrote.  He loved and attempted to paint pictures of characters bursting with life and confronting a world that didn’t understand them, like Neal Cassidy.  He responded to loss; he responded to the disillusionment of his time; and he wrote.  At the same time he knew, as Nicosia wrote, that putting oneself in the role of great American Writer, such a role was a “shuck,” a fraud.

He was torn by contradiction, felt the pain of his vulnerability and loss of love and optimism, possessed a keen awareness of mortality and a belief that artists must suffer.  He did not have a regular home life, perhaps fearing that such a condition would deaden the artist in him.  And still he loved and experiment, reflected and WROTE.

I can’t think of anyone more dedicated to his vocation, anyone who had more congruency between who he was and what he was.  He did directly grapple with issues of identity, self-worth, and vocation, and ultimately, religious questions.  As Nicosia writes, he and other Beat writers took on the spiritual task of “ransoming the nation:”

“Both the beat and the beatific get their revelations from intuition. Both are pushed beyond the limits of the physical and the rational by the horrors of suffering and death.  In the case of the Beats, the urgency of vision was poignant with their sense that America had lost its soul.  Their homeland was being sold to the colossus of industrial materialism.  The holiness in America had been beaten down and covered over.  It could be ransomed, Jack believed, only by people who had learned to speak not of themselves but from themselves, who had learned to tap those deep sources that are the fount of all religion.  This was why he wrote as he did, in the very same manner as St. John of the Cross had written for the salvation of his fellow men.  ‘When God speaks,’ Jack told Gioscia, ‘just take it down.’”

Man.  What a calling.  What a way to live and work.  I almost understand why he drank the way he did.

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