Heart of Life/Coeur de la vie: Day/Jour III

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Heart of Life/Coeur de la vie: Day/Jour III

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!





By | 2018-11-14T14:08:56+01:00 novembre 14th, 2018|La pratique Zen, Retraites au coeur de la vie|22 Comments

About the Author:

Enseignante Zen et poète, Sensei Amy “Tu es cela” Hollowell est née et a grandi à Minneapolis, aux Etats-Unis. Arrivée en France en 1981 pour étudier la littérature et l’histoire, elle y est restée, s’installant à Paris, où elle élève ses deux enfants et gagne sa vie en tant que journaliste. The Zen teacher and poet Amy “Tu es cela” Hollowell Sensei was born and raised in Minneapolis, but came to France in 1981 to study literature and history and has lived in Paris ever since, raising her two children and making a living as a journalist.


  1. Rui 15 novembre 2018 at 12 h 03 min - Reply

    Hello from Porto to everyone!

    Livelihood is not a subject that i’ve been thinking much recently but its true that is always there…I have the fortune to do what i love (even “other” jobs i had were quit curious because i didnt like much, is true, but i finished to like them…).

    Even if i dont earn much money, my chalenge with what i do is to do more and to really deep it more.

    In a strange way, life always offered me lots of time that i didnt managed well – dont know quite well why is it like this but its more peacefull for me right now.

    So i wont waist more time;i stop writing and writing to you all;and go to work (this morning to read and do research).

    A good day with big heart, big silence and big good work to everyone!

    See you son! Gasshô

  2. Isabela 15 novembre 2018 at 2 h 06 min - Reply

    estrablin-vienne-lyon-paris-the village i live in
    striking stones making fire for us

  3. Beginners Mind 15 novembre 2018 at 1 h 04 min - Reply

    Right livelihood… has the same goals to me as the precepts i took, it’s an asymptote to what I feel I should become, the paradox of Zeno in every day. I try to reach balance, to keep connected, balance between work and family, ego and non-attachment, compassion, trying to be always aware and not get lost in the making, mind too much mind, so many times just to stop aware of what already is. Wabi Sabi work in progress.

  4. Tiago 15 novembre 2018 at 0 h 59 min - Reply

    Thank you, Amy and fellow participants, for your words and experiences — it is an inspiration to read you all!

    Looking at what is work for me and what work I do and what is life and what living it is I found sometimes they intertwine so much it is difficult to say what is what. I am an art conservator and for a long time, I thought I was merely cultivating greed in other people’s minds. « They want this repaired so they can sell it and make a profit from it », I thought. Later I realised people had feelings for the pieces they owned (even if temporarily) and often shared their stories with me. The relationship formed around a piece of porcelain made me see less of myself in the equation of « work » and more of the other. I came to realise that in seeing the cracks in the pieces I repair I see the cracks in myself and others, through study and learning and practice.

    So today I finished the repair of an old Chinese vase to be included in an exhibition somewhere in Oxford, a part of a donation to the local museum. Through this « anonymous » repair others will have the fortune to see it for a long time to come.
    Today I also cooked and cleaned and did laundry. I fed my loved one and myself, we went for a walk and then some exercise. Just before writing these lines I still have a little time to send an email that needed to leave asap.

    I see livelihood as Mia Couto sees cooking « just another way of loving the other », or to use another word, ‘to serve’ the other. I see/feel how the various courses come together at this banquet we are having and look forward to the next course!

    Off to bed to give my body some rest. Tomorrow is another day 🙂
    Love to all.

  5. Telma 15 novembre 2018 at 0 h 57 min - Reply

    Dear all,
    But most important dear roshi Amy,
    You cannot imagine how your words had ressonate in me, that is why i must let you know they did. A lot.
    Livelihood is a central and sensitive subject to me for a long period of my life and in the present moment. I’ll save you all from details.
    Right here, right now, i just want to honour the livelihood i have since i left college. I’m grateful to it because thanks to it i practice zen, i learned and still do about mySelf and i have só manny things that someone next door to mine doesn’t.
    I still search for what lacks but i’m grateful for nothing missing.

    Thank you roshi Amy for your generosity.

  6. Tomás 15 novembre 2018 at 0 h 52 min - Reply

    Tomás, in Vesancy (France), close to the border with Switzerland. Is it already “tomorrow”? Or still “today”? Anyway, now is the time that I’ve finally been able to fully join you all on retreat, as my livelihood/work obligations – a particular deadline – kept me working non-stop on a report since Sunday. So much that I had forgotten the retreat and had to be reminded by Roshibon Monday during Dokusan!! This in spite of the unusual sight of seeing my wife lighting incense and sitting early every morning while I struggled to get out of bed after another long night of tapping at my computer!! But it all feels right now, and felt right then as well, I just had to do what I had to do! And still blesses by moments of beauty in the stillness of the street outside my office after midnight every day – recollection/remembrance that I was on retreat 🙂 Hapoy to finally sit now with all of you, and grateful for living this life with so many blessings and love 🙂

  7. João 15 novembre 2018 at 0 h 32 min - Reply

    João, in Cova da Piedade, Portugal.
    Just after reading today’s proposal about livelihood, my first thought was «Tough assignment, this one!». I work as a proofreader/translator, so the purpose, in the form of a movement or concern towards others, is not very apparent. Furthermore, I love what I do, and the investment over the years in excelling myself and the competition has payed off, if not in terms of pay, certainly in terms of having my work valued (not only by others but also by myself) and in great demand.
    This has always been obvious to me, but was never enough. After a year and some months of very undisciplined organization of time, work, family and free time, it finally dawned on me: neither this is right, nor the way I was doing it before was right. By being right I mean it was not balanced, it was far from the right amount, because there was no meaningful purpose such as I found in formal practice, that movement towards others, service for others, which I’m not afraid to call the ultimate purpose, and of which the intricacies become more and more with each day but which I’m happy to face.
    Grateful for Roshi’s post and for your comments, especially today (never read them before writing my own comment, except today). Really helpful. Feels like I’ve taken some big step today.

  8. Frédéric WEMBANDJU 14 novembre 2018 at 23 h 23 min - Reply

    Hello everyone,
    Trying to be a conduit
    Letting go of my different obsessions
    Thank you all
    thank you roshi

  9. Catherine 14 novembre 2018 at 23 h 05 min - Reply

    I have been working for a paycheck for more than 30 years–my entire adult life. At times I felt that’s all I was working for, quite a bleak thought, especially considering how much I work. When I first graduated from college my high ideals of meaningful work were overblown and felt out of reach, so I settled on becoming a lawyer, getting paid to use my brain, even if I didn’t particularly identify with what I was using my brain for. I was still getting respect for my title, and a good paycheck. I still enjoy and feel reasured by all these things, but finally what I like the most and get the most out of is the human contact in work. I like influencing people, encouraging people, working as part of a team with a sense of common purpose. That’s what makes me grow and feels the most meaningful. Recently I finally got approval to work from home once a week and I am in other ways trying to drive a bit heavier on the non-work life balance. And even if my work doesn’t contradict my values, I wish it more squarely advanced them, and the creation of the world I want to be part of.

  10. Christine 14 novembre 2018 at 23 h 01 min - Reply

    Good evening everybody,
    just have a look at the blog now, as I was busy taking care of my children all day who are not in school on Wednesdays, doing the laundry, cooking lunch, bringing them to their activities, making dinner, and tonight teaching parents prepare for a natural and joyful birth of their twins. A good day filled with work, some moments of rest in the warm and gentle autumn sun, no meditation apart from the 1 minute stop at noon, and a fulfilling work that I love so much and that allows me to meet so wonderful people. There aren’t yet enough clients to make a living of it, and I wonder how things will evolve. It’s a good feeling to be independent financially, but not good enough to get back in my old job.

  11. Filipa 14 novembre 2018 at 23 h 00 min - Reply

    Stuttgart, 4*C.
    I have no idea what would be the right livelihood for me. No idea at all. I’m changing careers and trying to live from this new chosen field, which I love and would work for for free (and I already have been doing so for free for the past year and 11 months). I have to thank the “system” the existence of an unemployement subsidy that allows me the time to do this search and investment in myself and in my future. I sometime feel the shame of being unemployed (mine and the one others feel for me) BUT when I stop I know I’m doing what feels right, and all the work I’ve done all this time will surely turn into something good. Im happy I was forced into unemployment it gave me the strength I needed to go and do something else that I really really love ❤️

  12. Susanne 14 novembre 2018 at 23 h 00 min - Reply

    Late in Hamburg. Late because I worked and worked, writing protokolls and invitations, answering emails of my collegues, going to a place in Hamburg with my 24 students where they could do researches about professions that they might take over in their future.
    I love my work, I love my school with all my nice and loving collegues, with all the different students I have of different ages from 12 til 16. I love the fantastic different jobs I am able to go for at my school: gardening and being outside, handcraft works of all kinds, kitchen work, and teaching art. Bacing cookies – 2000 – for 500 homeless people that they get when they will be invited to a grand festive meal and and and. Of course I am overworked and I try hard to stay healthy by having enough sleep and eating good food and spending time outside with my dog and seeing my grandchildren at least once a month 🙂 and having good fone calls with my daughters. My livelihood maintaines my life well and I dont have to turn the penny, even not if I had to buy a new washing mashine. That was not like this all the time and I am a little proud…. My life is my work and my family and I have never been more into it then these times. Gute Nacht, es ist schon spät. Love to you all and have a good night sleep.

  13. Miguel 14 novembre 2018 at 22 h 45 min - Reply

    Today i sat for many hours. How wonderful! That’s my « work » and today my main day of « work ». I live in a cabin so that i don’t have to pay a rent and don’t have to work, (much). I don’t see this as work, but surely it’s my livelihood, among other small things. I find myself in it, in that being there, in that here and now, as much as it’s possible for me, with the ones that sit with me or want to learn meditation, or need help to maintain presence to things that are difficult to deal with.
    I’m very grateful for this!

  14. céu 14 novembre 2018 at 22 h 01 min - Reply

    Today I was working all the time in a new experience from lacto fermentation products, but also I was thinking that this work is me. Today I was choucrute, I was a Keil and all the ingredients, mirtill, passion fruit, aplle, pepeer, geniévre… all this ingredients press togheter until no oxygen is inside. Really a beautiful process like creativity. It was mi day and it was me.
    Lisbon sun, good whetter

  15. Antonio Jose 14 novembre 2018 at 19 h 54 min - Reply

    Work! Work?

    Those are the only two stages in the development of the individual. Fortunately, some have the will to power to move directly to the second stage.


    A Gallup poll, conducted in 155 countries in 2017, found that « only 15% of the 1 billion full-time workers in the world are engaged in their work. » There are about 850 million people who, throughout the world, do not feel fulfilled or motivated to carry out the functions assigned to them.

    So, you can imagine that there is a lot of suffering there even among those that are « fulfilled or motivated to carry out the functions assigned to them ». Because, as Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”. Even academic research in this topic corroborates Gallup’s findings. Those interested might find « The Stupidity Paradox » by Mats Alvesson & Andre Spicer a stimulating read.

    From « Ordinary Preliminary Practices Meditation – Practices, Part 2, » David Germano (from Coursera):

    « We are the living dead. Those who inhabit the mall with its prefabricated desires and deathless monuments. Those given over to resistance and denial and conditioned structures. Those who are ridden with anxiety because they are unable to cope with the simple fact of change. Those given over to the repression of death and all signs of decay. Those who mask their conservative fixations with a language of values, standards, pragmatism, laws, institutional norms. Those who are in love with their own habituation. We have been trained to die in life by repressing our energies, our expression, our sensuality, our malleability, our imagination. And this is connected further to an instinct for mastery. If we can reduce the infinitely complex flux to a finite number of objects, we think we can manipulate them to establish the illusion of fixity, stability, and control.

    The contemplation of death, thus, aims to motivate us to learn to live, to value the intensity and depth of awareness. To pull us back to the inherent flux of life. To learn to live in the present, you have to learn to die. To embrace the intensity of self-awareness of change in its most intimate forms rather than its dissolution into television, gossip, and toxins, and tedium of our lives.

    Meditation upon impermanence and death, undercuts our nostalgia and fantasies about the past and future, to bring us to the present, and a sense of urgency about the project of self-awareness and self-understanding. It gives intensity to our existence, sharpens and refines it. Allow us to live rather than constrain and distort our vitality out of fear of the realities of life.

    Thus, the meditation aims to motivate us to contemplative practice. »

    As Jung said, « Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. »


    Agostinho da Silva, a 20th century Portuguese philosopher said that « Man was not made to work, but to create ». Each individual is unique. No one else knows what it is like to be you, except yourself – that’s why the study of consciousness is The Hard Problem – you can wring the subject from the object of study.

    So, in the end, you are alone. You have to decide what you want to be remembered for when you are no longer among the living. Matthieu Ricardand David Henry Thoreau – just to name two well known individuals from different fields of knowledge – made their choices. But this was them. You don’t have to follow their steps. Or their path.

    As the Buddha himself said, in the « Instruction to the Kalamas »:

    The criterion for rejection

    4. « It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias toward a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them. » This is beautiful.

    Enlightenment manifests itself in so many ways. À propos, Mary Oliver’s poems « Moments » and « The Old Poets of China » come to mind.

    I wish you all peace.

    Carpe diem.

    Upon the temple bell,
    a butterfly.

  16. Portal 14 novembre 2018 at 17 h 41 min - Reply

    I write scripts and I love it. But I barely earn money with this activity and I need my husband’ salary to live the confortable life I am lucky to live. This situation is very stressful and prevents me from being as happy as I should be.
    I am also engaged in an association where I teach french to immigrants. I do this as a volunteer so I don’t feel any pressure, only a pure satisfaction. Some of my students had high value jobs in their countries and lost everything. However they are just grateful to be here, safe even if this former lawyers or economist teachers are now maids in hotels or in families. It sometimes makes me feel ashamed of myself.

  17. sarah 14 novembre 2018 at 17 h 18 min - Reply

    At last ….I bike from one class to another, along the canal breathing in the trees, leaves, twigs, boats, ducks, swans and rubbish strewn on the towpath, my path to ‘work’. I am teaching – even though as I step across the each threshold I wonder if I have anything to teach…once in I am faced with friendly faces ready to play Yoga with me. What an honour! Some classes are with people who are 70 to over 90 years old. Some classes are with and for deaf (a bit like me) people only. Having taken so very many years to allow myself this space, to let instinct and interest steer my direction in work… now that I am here….right now this moment I find myself thinking….is that it?

  18. Guillaume 14 novembre 2018 at 16 h 47 min - Reply

    Paris, late afternoon.
    I do research in computer science. To me work have felt like a constant running after more knowledge and more production: greed. I still feel like I know too little and progress too slowly. That is because I want to work on topics that are intellectually interesting, so I need to look interesting to future potential employers, be « competitive » (which I very much feel I’m not). Last summer I worked as a cook at our retreat. It was a great experience. One big difference with my job is that I didn’t feel like I was doing it for me. It was just for a week and during a zen retreat, it was easy to put « me » aside for just a week. I threw everything I had into it, and I wasn’t trying to take anything out of it for myself. I was exhausted by the end of the week but happy. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how this can be transferred to my job.

  19. emmanuelle 14 novembre 2018 at 15 h 59 min - Reply

    Here is the pain-point for me. For many years now my work is split in two : the work i do for living, which is not unpleasant (UX designer) and the one i do because i « need » to (writing scripts). I like both of them but not the environnement of my livelihood work (media company). But it’s comfortable and i don’t have the courage to cut into comfort. It’s a big inside struggle. Three years ago and a half, i lost my husband and felt and touched the courage, his courage facing the disease and mine. I wanted to bring this courage into this work issue, mostly for him. But i’m at the same point today.

  20. Debbie 14 novembre 2018 at 15 h 36 min - Reply

    Ahhh, work, one of my favorite themes.I’m retired now, but I was a school teacher. I worked in a middle school in a pretty rough and tumbling neighborhood, a job that presented itself quite by « accident » and ended up being the first vehicle I encountered to becoming aware of myself and the people around me. I think up til then I assumed I was all alone in the universe. But teaching, transmitting knowledge and skills to another human being, is, in my opinion, the way, par excellence, to experience oneself and the other as not separate. I loved it, and it made me hungry for more.
    These days I volunteer for Les Petits Frères des Pauvres, an organization that serves seniors. I’m trying to learn how to be with older men and women the way I was with the kids in school – that is, present for them rather than caught up in myself. I’m not always there, but we sincerely like each other which is the first step.
    Thanks for the question on purpose, Joa. It’s a good idea for me to keep that in mind now that I’m free to use my time on anything I want, to make sure I know what I’m picking and why.

  21. gary macdonald 14 novembre 2018 at 15 h 02 min - Reply

    sitting, sitting, sitting through a difficult time.
    I supported my dad as he was dying through the late summer. It was a terrible and wonderful experience that filled me with questions about my life and work (I started writing my « work and life », as though the work part is more important!), especially after he died in the Fall. I had been off work for almost six weeks and, coming back to it, i no longer know where i fit and am shocked by how much of my perception of my value is based on what i do. And on how much time i feel i’ve wasted.
    Is all work equal? How much is enough? What about my responsibility to my colleagues who depend on me for their work, as well?
    I found the first two days of the retreat extremely difficult. I soooo badly want to edit my life when sitting calls for just writing/breathing.

  22. Joa 14 novembre 2018 at 14 h 51 min - Reply

    It took me two days in this retreat to finally find a moment in order to write down few words here. The nature of my livelihood, being a freelance writer for communication agencies, means that sometimes I need to work under great time constraints and I then have very few moments to do anything else. This has been the case lately.

    I certainly don’t complain. I’m actually very grateful that I’ve managed to organize a setup for myself that allows me to go on retreats, sit most days and dedicate a rather large amount of time to study and practice the dharma while making a living.

    I keep this setup under close scrutiny: it is still right? Could it be improved? Does it still serve its purpose? And actually, what’s the purpose? What’s my purpose? Right livelihood is my means to allow me to do…what exactly? I leave these questions open, as lively koans. I look inwards and let myself be inspired.

    The danger is to be swallowed by the work, loosing a sense of purpose. And also to fall into traps: when a client rejects my work, asks me to look at it again, the temptation is then strong to receive this notice as a devastating narcissistic attack. When it happens, I can feel a gap forming inside myself: me looking at my defeated self. So I pay attention to these arising feelings and go back to the task itself. Just being one with the task, doing the job that is being asked. Without a gap. Livelihood is the market place where dharma practice is embodied.

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