Write Livelihood

Paintbrushes_200705LI spent this afternoon in our snow-covered maple woods, tending the fire beneath the sap-boiling pan.  I find this a mesmerizingly “zen” task;  watching sap boil has the same calming effect as staring into a campfire.

With my journal on my knee and a pen in hand, this peaceful landscape brought clarity of mind.  Peering through the steam that rolled off the surface of the boiling liquid, my mind focused on the present and leaned toward the future, curious about where I might direct my life.  Initially, I my thoughts were directed by the fact that I need to finalize a “practicum proposal” for a leadership program in which I’m participating at the office.  “How can I most benefit from this program?” I wondered.  What project would expand my experience and build my skills and allow me to explore some new avenues without overwhelming me with too much additional work?  What do I want to BE when I grow up?!

Instead of focusing on work, however, my thoughts quickly noodled off toward the rest of life.  In his book, The Great Work of Your Life, author and yogi Stephen Cope uses the Bhagavad Gita to explain and explore the importance of “honoring the Gift” of our unique abilities, our dharma.  Seated in the maple-scented sun on an icy terrace we’d carved into a snowdrift, I found myself pondering, “What IS my dharma?”  What gift is so integral to my being that I can’t imagine a life purpose without it?

For one frightened moment, I considered that perhaps I have not identified an intention for my life.  But self-esteem jumped in to truncate that thought, and I began to write down words that came to mind:  Nature-related work.  Writing.  Art.  Yoga.  Family.  While my formal work feels aligned with my values, the dharma vision in my mind consisted mostly of the things I do outside of the workplace.  Might it be important to consider the broad spectrum of my interests within and beyond the workplace as I design this practicum?

Gil Fronsdal offers many wonderful thoughts about wise livelihood.  Combining the ideas of wise livelihood and dharma have led me to begin exploring new angles not only for my practicum, but also in my search for outside employment.

The writer Agatha Christie is quoted as saying:

I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming that comes when you finish the life of the emotions and of personal relations;  and suddenly find- at the age of fifty, say – that a whole new life has opened before you, filled with things you can think about, study, or read about … It is as if a fresh sap of ideas and thoughts was rising in you.

Perhaps my right livelihood is ready to blossom in a new direction, and this new chapter in life will I haven’t solved any puzzles yet, but I begin to feel like I’m at least getting the pieces sorted by color!  Happily, my workplace efforts connect nature, writing, and some measure of creativity.  So maybe the idea is not that something is necessarily missing, but rather, as Christie suggests, that it is ever evolving.  As my children approach adulthood, I have begun to feel the impending arrival of this new springtime, this “second blooming.”  Truly, it’s a thrilling thought!

As the pan of maple sap steams away at a rolling boil, I contemplate the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

As the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, so should you stop off your miscellaneous activity and concentrate your force on one or a few points.

To a certain extent, this second springtime in life comes without the gardener’s tending;  no amount of wishing prevents our children from growing up and moving on.  Nevertheless, the gardener has the opportunity to trim and shape the next phase so that connections with our newly adult children grow in a new way, while the considerable energy of child-rearing is redirected back to the main stem.  What a thrill to peer up into the barren spring branches, imagining the possibilities of the coming season!   “Where attention goes, energy flows.”  Honoring the mystery of the future, while fully bathing in the present moment, I declare that I am ready to refocus my attention, redirect my energy, and see what comes of it!


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