Archive for August, 2008
Labor Day Musings on My Alienated Labor


So it’s Labor Day weekend here in the U.S.  Labor Day, of course, is the holiday that was invented to divert the American working class from celebrating May Day with the rest of the world.  Instead of joining in international class solidarity and remembering those who gave their lives in the struggle for basic things like the eight-hour day, we Americans go shopping, lie on the beach and eat mad cow burgers at barbecues.  It’s a big party weekend signifying the end of the summer – and one fleeting workday off from the misery of our jobs.

Right now the biggest obstacle I’m facing on my spiritual journey is my job.  I dread it.  I feel chained and trapped by it – it is feeding on me and dragging me down. 

I won’t belabor why my job sucks.  I will say only that it is as if I am a flute desiring nothing but to play my tune.  But my job uses me as if I am a can opener.  Dump trucks piled high with cans are unloaded in my cube each day and I am expected to have them all opened in a couple hours.  Then I am expected to write reports about how many cans I opened, how many cans I farmed out to the Philippines to open, what categories of cans were opened, how many cans are left to open in each category, what is the rate of all the opening, what is the rate of the reporting on the opening, how many cans do I expect to come in for opening in the future.  In between, I am responding to complaints about the contents of the cans. 

To top off the absurdity, no one wants the cans – open or closed.  The customers are demanding about them because they are paying my company a premium for its services.  But they don’t really want the cans.  They serve no useful purpose in the world. 

Just as using a flute as a can opener day in day out would be damaging to the flute, my job is damaging to me.

When I was a manager, I took work home literally and figuratively.  It took up residence in my head and pushed me out of my life.  Now that I have a scaled down job, I no longer take work home.  I think I am leaving it behind at the end of the workday, but I wake up in the night after a couple hours of sleep to find that my mind is caught in a loop of worry over what I have to do at work.  This is now happening six out of seven days a week.  My only night off is Friday.

So here I am back to square one.  I left my managerial job to reclaim my life.  I got a scaled down job thinking I could keep it in bounds.  For a while it worked, but now it, too, is growing like a weed throughout my mind, choking out my own plantings. 

Some people tell me I should not think twice about work – I should just come in, do what I can without stressing and, if it’s not enough, let management worry about it.  These shoulds join the other shoulds in my head.  The ones from childhood that tell me I should be a good worker and always meet or exceed expectations (even if wildly unreasonable).  All this shoulding gangs up on me, telling me there is something wrong with the way I am and how I feel.

A part of me feels like a failure for not being able to keep my day job in its place, but another part of me will not relent: I am NOT a can opener!  I refuse to spend most of my time and energy opening cans that no one wants or needs.  I don’t want to separate myself from my work.  I want to play my song.  I want my work to be a true expression of me and what I came here to do.  I want to work in alignment with my higher self and the evolution of the planet.

And maybe this is not a matter of dreamy escapist me being unable to settle down and get along in the world.  Maybe this is the truer part of me pushing onward and outward into manifestation.  And maybe if enough of us manage to manifest our truer parts, we will be the change we want to see in the world in sufficient numbers to change the world.  

I’ve been thinking about Kingsley Dennis’s comment on my last post.  He quoted the Persian poet Saadi:  “If you wish to find the Truth, dive into the ocean. But if you prefer security, stay upon the shore.”  Maybe I am trying to dive into the ocean while keeping a toe on the shore with a corporate ‘day job.’  An obvious contradiction – hence my discomfort in the pose.  Something has got to give.  I have to let go.  Somehow.

Handful of Sand & A Barrelful of Water

handfulofsand.JPGLucidity in a dream can be like a handful of sand. You have it – you’re looking right at it, but even while you do, it’s sifting through your fingers. When your hand is empty, you don’t realize it. You’ve forgotten what you were holding.  You’re submerged in the drama of the dream. 

Life on this plane is like a dream.Spiritual awareness is like lucidity. The handful of sand phenomenon applies.

To make matters worse, we are buffeted on all sides by a cacophony that would drown out our inner voices and by strong waves that would pull us back down into the dream.

It is challenging to hold onto that sand. 

In three of the podcasts I recommended last time, Christopher Moors talks about the need to first withdraw and observe your patterns without acting on them. Start where you are, he says, quiet the mind and observe without reaction. When the drama surges, let it pass by. 

I have been consciously trying to master my emotional reactions for years now with only limited success. I am a person with a whole lot of water going on. I have a big barrelful and I easily slosh over the top.I think a big problem was that I’ve been consciously trying. You cannot consciously master unconscious processes. You need to deal with the unconscious directly – in its own language. 

Listening to Moors talk about “letting it pass by,” an image came to me wherein I was sitting calmly on a bank at the edge of a wood watching a river rush by me. Somehow the image spoke to me on all levels, so I’ve adopted it as sort of a mental talisman.

This is a day-by-day, step-by-step journey. Some days are better than others. Nevertheless, with this image in my mind, I have been much less swept away by my reactions. Progress, not perfection. 

A test came in a family event some weeks ago – an annual event that I always dread because of the negativity that permeates it. My family is a bit oddball, but there is a very conventional couple in my extended family. They are financially well off, politically conservative and — in my view — narrow minded in their aspiration to middle brow American culture. I have nothing in common with them except this extended family connection that forces us to socialize at least once a year. 

The husband is basically good natured, but the wife is arrogant and judgmental. She sits aloof in a closed posture of arch superiority and provides negative commentary throughout the day. She doesn’t approve of me and makes it known with several put downs at each gathering. Since she is my mother’s age and this pattern goes back to when I was a child, her put downs have a powerful effect on my barrelful of water. 

In recent years – mainly since I quit my managerial job – her put downs have focused on my writing – specifically on my lack of what she would call “success” as a writer. She makes it clear she thinks I should stop my silly scribbling and resign myself to the “real world” (i.e. climbing the corporate ladder, owning a big house, raising kids, voting Republican . . .). 

This time my mother, my aunt and I were talking about email behavior when it struck me that “Reply to All” would be a funny name for a satirical novel about the contemporary corporate workplace. Unfortunately, I blurted the thought out, forgetting that my critic was sitting nearby. “And I have an idea for the picture on the cover . . .” I said playfully. It was all supposed to be a joke. My idea for the cover art was going to be the punch line. Maybe it would not have been funny in that setting, but that did not matter because I didn’t get a chance to finish. I had stepped out of line and my critic was already snapping back.

“But you don’t have the content for the book, now do you? There’s where your writer’s block comes in.” She was looking away with a smirk on her face – arms akimbo, one leg crossed over the other. Awkward silence fell around us. 

Does this comment seem mean to you? To my ears in the moment, it was sneering and dripping with contempt. In the past, I would have taken it like a kick to the stomach. I would have felt completely humiliated and worthless. 

This time I saw that wave coming, but I sat on the riverbank and watched it pass by. 

Okay – truth be told, I did muse to myself about how she is going to look eating crow at my book-signing party. BUT this wee bit of a MILD reaction is a HUGE improvement for me, sloshing barrelful of water that I am.


Um, did I have something in my hand a little while ago?    

Image by my husband, used courtesy of a marriage license