The Story of Your Job!
One of the most powerful stories a person will embrace will be their job in life. Let’s examine how to shape the story of your job rather than having your job shape your story.
A Job to be Done
Let’s start with a poem:
broken bones of those before me
of those working underneath
Taking the raw energy
Infusing the coal
with the miner’s raw energy
Living in coal mines
—- of my mind —-
Living in jobs
This is a coal mind
Breathing industrial fallout
of our own labor
keeping us in labor
Whether working in deep mines or your mind, avoid burning away as meaningless labor. Burn as an engaging flame of life: even when toiling. Living doesn’t stop with a job; living stops when you accept labor as being meaningless.
Looking from Another Angle
A person can work having their labor taken away,
so the world can burn brightly.
— or —
A person can work and assume their labor,
to personally burn brightly.
It’s the same job both times, yet the result ends up being vastly different depending on the perspective of each person.
Taoism drifts towards the third path:
Just be yourself
At times, work can become meaningless, repetitive or empty. When this happens, make it something different: At this point, it can become a mantra to aid the process of reflection.
To illustrate this: Once my job had become dismal and the general attitudes of co-workers desperate (some were literally in tears over the daily problems). The experience crescendo-ing into my nearly resigning at exactly 1:12 p.m. My mind switched into a calmer mood, pushed over a boundary, thinking about leaving the job, doing the math of all the debts and responsibilities, accepting that tomorrow I would deal with each problem, one at a time, to rebuild a new life. While starting to write a resignation letter, something else filled my mind. At that moment, I happened to look out of the 11th-floor window: everything was crisper, the buildings in the view appeared as if each were a stone. The buildings were moonlighting as black mountains, outlining an empty space three city blocks in size. At that moment, a seagull drifted thru the empty space between the manmade stone-skyscrapers. The bird flew in curves, defined by invisible hills and valleys of wind and air. The bird knew this terrain, its flight thru, illuminated an entire empty space, showing me something as a man myself I could only feel in sharing with a seagull. In that moment, the entire space became a Zen Garden, illuminating the empty space of my own personal frustration with a job. The stones of skyscrapers, a pebble of a bird, the lines of flight, the simplicity of a vista… left me at one with the whole moment. I didn’t leave the job, as any other corporate job would have been the same, but within this job I had found, within a most crazy situation, a time of reflection and peace in a personal Zen garden which had manifested itself.
Now, this last paragraph reads as rambling run on sentence. Shift the experience. Change the angle by reading it out loud as a story. A simple shift in approach modifies everything. Similarly, simple alterations in work style can change a long tedious job into a poetic experience (- to a point -).
Life and work aren’t packaged in neat sentences; they run on for us to experience.
Many monasteries use hard repetitive work, such as constant cleaning and maintenance of the monastery, as a form of meditation. A job doesn’t have to be just a job. It can be the source of more than just cash if we are willing to be awake to other possibilities. Even the most mundane job can open realizations within ourselves. The key isn’t to lose our personal identity to the control of something else!
I have a goal to help meld the spiritual practice of meditation within the western work environment. At times all jobs are empty, hard, boring or meaningless → yet with a slight shift of the mind, the same emptiness can illuminate a whole new vista of self-discovery.
I got this question this morning:
I have been reflecting on what you were saying last night about jobs having the potential to become monastic. I was wondering…what do you consider to be the elements of work that is monastic?
Monastic work falls under several categories:
- Work that is geared to support the monastic community
- Work that helps teach a person about grace/potential
- Work that helps to teach a person how to release attachments
- Work that can be considered towards the divine
It is possible to take these elements and apply them to the workplace. It must be stressed that the definition of how 1 – 4 will vary from person to person and from religion to religion.
Lets look at this from a Taoist perspective.
#1) In any job I performed over the last 30 years, my priority was always towards the making sure my coworkers were in good spirits and able to connect in a meaningful manner. As a result, in most of the jobs I took, I always worked also quietly to my Taoist principles. Helping my coworkers find the strength to make it through absurd tasks or teaching how to bind together as a family to help transcend the work experience into something enjoyable, since it became a community effort. To play in humor and show potential, to flow around obstacles and instead show how together we are indeed a larger unity. To show it wasn’t just about the job (the destination of the product) but rather even more about the community, and as a whole how together we created something and what gets created is a reflection of us. To take the time to reflect and use the work itself to help each other succeed in our larger life.
This leads into number 2)
I made sure any job I was part of, had potential, and was fun. I helped teach how even absurd acts in jobs can lead to potentials that could be useful. That in all jobs, some form of potential is being built up, and we can use that in our own life to examine how we live and make our own life better.
This leads into number 3)
At some point, most work becomes meaningless, especially work geared only towards consumption. That the absurdity of only living to “consumption base work ethics” leads people to a crisis of personal faith. In this, it becomes possible to release many attachments from “luxuries”, “Job Benefits” or “Consumption” or “chasing after goals”, that helps a person discover their own heart and gives them time to re-start and look at their life fresh.
It is no coincidence I am seeing more and more people suffering from a midlife crisis in our culture. Many of the jobs in our culture ironically force people to the point of crisis by performing meaningless work. That can be a good thing since it also opens up the potential to release “meaningless consumption” and helps people start truly seeking a life-based in their heart.
This leads into number 4)
To be divine is to be one with the essence of yourself and the larger world around you. In working thru 1 to 3, you discover connection and how we are all part of a larger universe.
So yes it is possible to turn any job into a monastic experience.
I can give many other examples of how elements of monastic life could be duplicated in a job. The point being life is what we make it be, and yes, it’s possible to turn any job into a vastly different experience than just work.
Unemployment is hard. I have a full article about being unemployed in our midlife section.
Facing A loss of a Powerful Story: Your Job
When this article was written, over 1 in 5 of people will be suffering by not finding work or not fitting into a society that is folding in on itself in times of “recession”. As a result, many readers will be feeling down since you don’t fit in with a “job”.
Now I teach people how to live in potential. Good or bad are just relative terms. I teach how to flip potential about: to take a bad potential and flip it to becoming a good potential. Potential represents the core of how I live and think. In this, we must understand our down times to balance out our life with positive times.
Life is to live and we take it all to become our nature. But good vs bad…
That is a personal choice on how to hold the problem or situation.
I got an email today from a friend and student, lost, so very lost because she is unable to find a job. She can’t define her life to normal social terms. I have to remind her to love herself and to move a day at a time. Putting together what fits in her life. To feel down right now is part of the process since it is showing her where not to go.
It shows her not to define herself to something that doesn’t exist in her life: “a job” since to do so tears down her very nature to be nothing also!
With this simple change of how to look at the problem, it becomes possible to live towards your life now, rather than get depressed by defining yourself to something you don’t have. No one can live to nothing. So part of the potential is to understand how we live fully to our life with what we have now, working with the options closest at hand while working towards potentials of greater benefit later. But not to define yourself by what you don’t have either!
When we lose a story, it undercuts more than we would think. Losing a job is losing one of the more important stories in your life, because that story is helping you survive. You have to be patient to reinvent yourself and story.
For example, many people will lose their pride when losing a job. Here is an interesting article from New York Times talking about job lose and pride.
While some might think pride as a negative emotion: it isn’t. It’s false pride that is the negative emotion. False pride is a delusion and dangerous. Real pride in work well done is an emotional measuring stick many use to help define their life.
Pride represents accomplishment that connects to others and then back to oneself. In the current economic situation too many people can easily lose that pride when losing a job. That could be the start of depression and other problems, especially when pride is the last major positive event in a person’s life. It’s strange how pride at times can be the last reminder of the past a person will hold on to. That is a testament on how powerful pride is to emotional connection of a person’s achievements.
While in Taoism we don’t spend much time in pride, as a person, when I do something extremely well, that feeling of pride comes up to help give note to the moment. We won’t dwell in the pride. To dwell in pride leads to other problems, (a house of cards so to speak) but when you do a kick ass job in something, feel the pride in the heart, 🙂 smile and then take it to the next place of life. Use the pride to move your life onward and not to get stuck on the past. It’s the emotional prodding stick, telling a person: see you did do it once, now you can do it again! It’s just that people forget to take it forward.
Instead of losing your pride when not having a job, let it be a moment of gaining a new pride of how you redefine your life outside of a job. Discover a new pride in how you can now reinvent your story to be new and better.
As you walk in life, always witness the reflection of your steps to gain a deeper connection to everything around you. You might be surprised at the hidden world, as a zen garden itself, you can discover from your own steps of living. This can lead to insights and ideas that lead you to a better life.
Look into the morning dew
finding a soul’s shape
reflected in your footsteps
Casey – 2004
Regarding my story in Chapter 23, this video made years later by someone else shows in part what in my mind I saw that day. As the birds flew, I saw the hills and valleys of the air itself. So when watching the video relax and witness the hidden terrain of the air that extends beyond the clouds.