It’s Day III of our retreat. Heartfelt thanks to those who have posted experiences and reflections. We are nearly 70 participants in this retreat (the most ever!), and we’re all grateful for your words. If you haven’t posted yet, please take the plunge – for you and for the others!
Sitting down at my desk with a cup of tea this morning, thinking of the work ahead, I feel joyous: I love to work. I love to work because I love (most of) the work I do. Today, on this sunny Wednesday morning in Montreuil, my work includes writing and posting this text for you from notes that I made yesterday. It also includes studying and making notes in preparation for the text I will write and post tomorrow for you, as well as preparing a proposal for a writing workshop that I’m organizing with several colleagues.
In Bernie’s mandala, the third course of our meal is livelihood (les moyens d’existence): « Once we have established the clarity that comes from stillness and study, we can begin to see how to prepare the third course, which is livelihood. This is the course that sustains us in the physical world. It is the course of work and business – the meat and potatoes. Taking care of ourselves and making a living in the world are necessary and important for all of us, no matter how ‘spiritual’ we may think we are. »
(« Une fois établie la clarté qui vient avec la tranquillité et l’étude, nous pouvons alors commencer à réfléchir à la préparation du troisième plat, les moyens d’existence, » Bernie écrit. « Ce plat nous permet de nous maintenir dans le monde physique. C’est celui du travail et de la vie professionnelle – la viande et les pommes de terre, pour ainsi dire. Prendre soin de nous-mêmes et gagner notre vie dans ce monde sont deux activités nécessaires et importantes pour nous tous, quelle que soit l’image que nous avons de nous-mêmes eu égard à notre degré de spiritualité. »)
Too often we have a twisted view of livelihood, of work and business. We often think we live to work, when in fact it’s the opposite: We work to live. We work to sustain ourselves, our family, our community. Working to support and enrich our lives changes everything. But, as Bernie notes, our livelihood « has to be more than a way to merely make money. The livelihood course also has to include portions of all the other courses. When our livelihood lacks – or contradicts – our spirituality or study or social action, then we won’t savor our work. When that’s the case, we end up feeling malnourished and burnt out.”
(« …nos moyens d’existence doivent être plus qu’un simple moyen de gagner de l’argent. Le plat des moyens d’existence doit aussi inclus des portions de tous les autres plats. Quand nos moyens d’existence manquent de spiritualité, de travail intellectuel ou d’action sociale – ou s’ils entrent en contradiction avec l’un de ces éléments -, nous ne savourons pas notre travail. Et quand c’est le cas, nous finissons par nous sentir mal nourris ou complètement épuisés. »)
We call this « right livelihood. » Among the characteristics of « right livelihood » is that it minimizes suffering or harm. But it’s also important to note that it’s not the business, or the work, that makes right livelihood. It’s the way we do the business or work.
I used to work full-time as a journalist for a major international daily newspaper. I once approached this work from an ego-centric position, looking to advance my personal ambitions and interests, seeking to enhance my own image, with my name at the top of big stories, hoping to meet and be recognized by famous people, wanting my superiors and everyone else to think I was The Best. Of course, it would never be enough, so I was in a constant state of stress and dissatisfaction, even seeing my colleagues mostly as rivals. And then one day, not long after I began my Zen practice, it all changed. I realized while interviewing the Dalai Lama that it wasn’t about me. I was just a conduit between him and the readers, and my job was to use and develop my skills in order to bring readers information as clearly and as completely as possible. It was for them, it wasn’t for me. Not long after, I reduced my hours so that I could sustain myself and also devote more time to my family and Zen practice. Through meditation (Zen’s secret ingredient) and Zen study, I was able to find the right amount of work, spirituality, study and learning, social action.
Long story. What’s your story? Look at your livelihood today. You might note the needs that your livelihood satisfies and those that it doesn’t. And keep sitting!