Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Work and Meaning

There is an awful lot being written about how to make a living doing what you love. There appears, in fact,  to be an entire industry being spawned around facilitating, teaching, and coaching the depressed and often despairing masses how to do just that. 

Now, I'm all for spending the time and effort to discern what our gifts are and then figuring out how we can ensure we are giving them to world in the best way we can. But I feel I need to speak up and put out a slightly dissenting viewpoint. I'm going to state my position, and then spend a bit of time explaining it.

So here goes:
It is not our work that gives meaning to our lives. It is our living fully, deep in awareness of our Being, our values, and our vision, that gives meaning to our work--regardless of what that work is. 

A lot of us have been conditioned to believe that our self-worth is hugely derived from what we do and how much we earn. (A University Education--is seen as the panacea and cornucopia for an abundant and meaningful life.) Many people suffer endlessly because of the pressure and force of this belief system. A simple life is devalued. Simple skills unappreciated. Much of the work that actually makes life worth living is seen as largely irrelevant and of low value in the modern marketplace (parenting, caring for the elderly, lonely, isolated, growing food, cooking daily meals, cleaning, creating celebrations and community events, mending and repairing, art, music, spirituality...)

To help explain my position further I need to dip into that last one: spirituality. 

There comes a time in the life of each dedicated spiritual seeker when the bottom drops out of the world. Sometimes it's know as encountering The Void, sometimes as the state of groundlessness, sometimes as the dark night of the soul, or even The Rot. Whatever you call it, all of the underpinnings of your life, your beliefs, your values get shaken, trashed, burned, swept away. And there is this moment of profound insight that nothing matters. Nothing. None of it. It's all meaningless. 

This is not a pleasant moment for anyone. It can happen at any time--and often in the most inconvenient. (Not that it's ever convenient to be rendered non-functional.) Along with it comes a natural and inherent terror and often despair and confusion that can become life-threatening.   It's good to have experienced friends at a time like this. What you need to know is to keep breathing and don't resist.

For those who don't immediately pack it all back up into Pandora's little box, wrap it with chains, label it with dire warnings and stuff it the hell back down into the 'disowned things i'm not prepared to deal with' pile, there is a treasure here. For those courageous few, who are willing to simply sit with meaninglessness--to allow it into intimate contact with their souls and psyches--to be harrowed, winnowed and refined by the terror--there comes a dawning. A dawning that the opposite is equally and more compellingly true. It all matters. All of it. Equally. Endlessly. Infinitely. 

In the profound illumination of that moment, all striving drops away and what is left is a pure note of choice. And the understanding that meaninglessness is the root of Freedom and that taking responsibility for what matters most--to us--is where fate, duty, and free will intersect. 

So what has this all got to do with work and meaning? 

When you understand that ultimately all work is inherently meaningless, you are stunningly freed to choose to imbue any and all work with absolute meaning. And where does that meaning come from? You. Your heart and soul. Where else? Your true nature, Being, shining through in each and every choice. 

We have all met people who have made this choice. Some consciously, some instinctively. The janitor that cares so much that we can feel it every day when we enter our school/business/offices; the clerk at the store that always gifts you with a smile and a sense of belonging somewhere; the social worker that keeps on connecting with you as a person instead of bowing in despair to a broken and unjust system. 

I've offered workshops on doing what we love for a living; I've coached people through career changes; and one of the first things i do is to look at how they can start right where they are. Once you know what you love--once you are clear about what matters most and what YOUR vision is for a better world--how can you begin, today, this very moment, to embody that?

It changes everything. 

Meaning in life is created by living fully. Nothing less. No job, no work, no matter how wonderful can give us that gift. It's something we find and create for ourselves. Starting right where we are. Now. Today. With the work that is in front of us. By daring to bring all of who we are to the table every moment. No small order. There is a lot of work that needs to be done by people with heart and soul all connected. 

So there you have it. My little rant for the day. You can worry and strive for years to find work you can love or that brings you meaning. Or you can start right now and begin to bring your love and your meaning to the work that you do already. And then see what happens ;-)


Liz J said...

Beautifully written reminder that it is illusory thinking to try to get to some magical place to start feeling OK about things. :) You always have to start where you are. Thanks!

Lynne B said...

And in the void at the deepest darkest place is where you connect to the light.

Julie said...

You just opened my heart even further beautiful woman.