When the Work We Do Seems Soulless
I knew I needed to make some changes, but, damn.
Not too long ago it became apparent that there was a block in my life. The same things kept coming up. When that happens to the point that personal growth stagnates, something is going on. It’s not the nature of Nature to stagnate. Nature is dynamic. Death happens, but it happens for a reason. Leaves die, but they fertilize the earth below the tree. A baby possum croaks, falls into a berry patch, and the berry plant uses the body to feed itself. The deaths I was experiencing seemed to just go into more death. In other words, my leaves were falling like they are supposed to, but then they weren’t doing anything very productive on the earth. My possum seemed encased in hard plastic.
That’s not to say I wasn’t doing good, making an impact here and there, sometimes dramatically. I mean, I’ve worked with some great people over the past couple years and they’d say our interaction was the start of a deeper understanding for them, a new path, a healing, a healthier direction. There was a community beginning to gain some momentum built around unity and love and nature, made up of people I adore. There’s Steph and Kevin and Todd and Robert, Erika and Cindy and Katie and dozens more, literally. They wanted a sweat lodge, and after 8 years of Sun Dancing, I could have poured an authentic Lakota lodge. I’d planned on it. Besides that, workshops, retreats, and more ceremony was being requested; consciousness-changing stuff, you know? I’ve written some truly inspired stuff, too. Ideas that didn’t come from me. That’s when I know I’m really writing; when what I write informs myself. And I could have kept doing it.
In short, the Dream was valid. IS valid.
But in my own life, I’ve had this block that I haven’t been able to shake. In “First Reformed,” a recent (and very good) Ethan Hawke movie about a pastor having a crisis of faith, an associate says, “Sometimes a pastor needs a pastor.” Well, sometimes a “nature-based spiritual practitioner” needs a … well that’s just too many words to write, but you get the idea.
One of my blocks, it’ll be no surprise if you know me, is around money. I’m very conflicted around it. On one hand, I know I need at least some of it. I don’t have the skills to just go move to the land I’m buying and live on it, 160 acres in the mountains near Weed called, “Eagle Mountain.” Besides, I’m making payments on it. Obviously, that alone takes cash. I don’t know how to grow my own food, either – not in Bend, anyway. I could do it in the Valley, and maybe Eagle Mountain, but I don’t live either place. And gas takes money, and it’s going to take quite a bit to turn Eagle Mountain into the retreat center I envision. And my kids… they need some help from time to time.
I mean, there are reasons to have it, right? Good reasons.
My block is that I abhor the things that I, and humanity in general, have to do to get it. That’s the
problem. People sitting in cubicles, their talents being marginally used, if at all. It seemed like a spiritual block is almost required to survive well in this world, in many instances. Besides that, it seems like too much money goes to a machine that’s addicted to war, conflict and separation. The block I Have even includes the poisonous food we are forced to eat for the simple fact that we either can’t afford good food, or increasingly, can’t find it.
And then there are the things we spend money on that seem incongruous to a sense of deeper meaning; the conveniences, the mortgages, things that have become necessities that were never meant to be. In short, our need for temperature control has become a means for behavior control. We don’t have time for our own democracy.
Some would say this is by design.
To me, it all comes down to a metaphor: sitting in a classroom while a mean teacher sits in the front of the class, scowling. He insists on obedience to random rules that ultimately serve only him, and that demand my silent compliance. But I sit eternally next to the window, and it’s a beautiful day outside, and my friends are furry mammals, and I am just beginning to understand their language, and the sky is my favorite shade of blue, and there’s just enough danger to make it fun. It’s not sterile. It’s not safe. And it’s definitely not temperature controlled. Rather, it’s real life. And it’s out there. But if I do what the teacher says, I have to stay “in here.”
So, I lived in a tipi. I could appreciate the summer, because I knew the winter. I lived minimally and loved that I was flying under the radar in a way. The government didn’t know my physical address. (Still doesn’t.) I had a job that allowed me to make just enough to go financially backwards at a slow pace, but I had a lot of free time. I dodged taxes and debt I didn’t think I owed. My credit went to hell but I don’t use it anyway; the idea that you have to have it in this culture was just another thing to despise. Work-wise, I made my own schedule. I could work late if I needed to, so if inspiration struck, I could write. It wasn’t easy living, but the job was challenging on occasion and I was hoping I could grow it for my friend (it’s his company). I made a real effort there, to no avail.
And from time to time I’ve taken chances, chasing the bigger dream. I took a low-paying job at a
magazine so I could write. I interviewed amazing people and wrote articles that were distributed the world over. While there, I had a side job selling yachts, supposedly. I took a shot, but nothing turned out as advertised. Nothing. They ran that magazine like a hobby, not a business. No one came in to buy yachts at that place. This is the kind of thing you don’t know until you get there.
The result was familiar, however: failure.
Not long ago, while looking within and asking the Universal Inquiry (sometimes abbreviated as, “WTF”), I realized I was asking for money, yet pushing it away. The Universe doesn’t do conflicted requests like that. To make matters worse, the Universe takes our words into account, but also our actions and our thoughts. In the end, they’re all prayers. But when they conflict, the Universe seems to say, “OK, as soon as you figure out what you really want, you can have whatever you point at.” In other words, a rifle approach is needed. A shotgun… she no work for Universal approbation and assistance. A rifle requires specific aim. A shotgun is more general in its approach. With a shotgun one can be sloppy and successful, within reason. A rifle has one bullet, and one target.
The Universe appears to be a deer hunter, not a waterfowl hunter.
Seeing this conflict, I “put it out there” again, but simplified this time. “I need to make money. Period. That, Universe, is my prayer.”
Do I want to make money as a writer? Do I want to help others? Do I want to live a sacred life? Yes, to all. But what I HAVE to do, right now, is make money. That became my number one prayer. I was starting to get real nervous about my tax situation. The entities that think I owe them money are as strident in their belief that I do as I am that I don’t – and I was getting tired of dodging them. And I want to help my kids.
And bam! Job offer. Start in a week, making well over twice the money I was.
I’d told my friend I was working for that there was a hard stop coming up if we couldn’t ramp things up, fast. And it came. And I jumped.
I actually really like the actual work. I’m building a commercial building; something I’ve never done. My boss, who works from his office in Gervais pretty much said, “Here are the plans and specs. Ruth is going to help you with whatever you need from her office in Albany. I’m a phone call away. Find us some subcontractors and get this done in 3 months.”
This is what they call, “a tall order.”
But I love the autonomy. I love that he trusts me to get this done. I’m working with some great local subs, too. But the final outcome, what I’m building, goes against so much of what I believe. In some ways, I’m like that person in a cubicle, or the little version of myself stuck in a classroom.
So, what do I do for money, now? I build fast-food restaurants. I’m building a freaking Burger King in Brookings, Oregon. Next job is a Taco Bell in Coos Bay, I hear. Tasty but bad-for-you food raised in an unsustainable way, sold for cheap to people that don’t understand (or want to forget for the moment) that we are what we eat.
You don’t wanna be a Burger King burger, yo. Tasty or not.
It hurts that I moved here to Brookings so fast there was no time for goodbyes. I left people I love and respect, and that love and respect me. No one knows me here, and I know no one. I actually stopped a guy that looked Native American the other day, while walking into the busiest Fred Meyer in Oregon. This is what I said.
“Hey, brother, I know this is possibly offensive in 50 ways…” At this point he stopped and looked at me, quizzically. “…but you wouldn’t happen to know of any sweat lodges around here, would you?”
He laughed and said no, he didn’t. He was good about it, even though it was a tad awkward. At least he was actually Native. Afterwards it occurred to me how desperate I was for the connection to the earth and to spirit that I had left behind.
And this is the whole point.
It’s the point of the move, and it’s the point of relationship, another major and consistent failure in my life. It’s a microcosm of the point of Life: to find spirit, soul, wherever we are. To take it with us, because it is us. To understand and embody the fact that we never left home, that God (“God”) is always with us, if we look. To know from experience that consistently taking a small practice with us to the workplace, like a smudge stick, or a sacred stone, or a cross, is every bit as valid as piercing up to a sacred tree in a Sun Dance ceremony.
In fact, it’s the same thing. Just a different application.
The simplified idea with both might be said to be, “keep your eyes on the Tree in the face of discomfort, allowing change to happen while concurrently sending roots into All That Is.” This is a great dichotomy, the like of which often accompanies the pawprint of Eternal Truth. Put another way, I am to stay focused on the Unchanging while appreciating the state of constant change that characterizes human life.
So, this is what my new sacred work looks like. It’s the same as everyone else’s. Certainly, we are here to create. When involved in sacred work, this is easy. But real lesson might be to realize it’s ALL sacred. Sure, some things are more overtly sacred than others, but if we’re able to bring our practices into whatever situation we find ourselves in, we are never alone, never disconnected, never without soul. We have our situational preferences and that’s ok, but we really never have to suffer.
So, I’ll build the most sacred Burger King the world has ever known. I’ll look around and find Tribe here, somewhere (I’ve already identified a metaphysical bookstore as ground zero for this search). I’ll find some cool people and make some new friends, before I’m down the road to the next American monument to belly-fat. I still hope to make my living as a writer and teacher one day, but this is what I have at the moment. It’s my responsibility and challenge to accept that, and make it as sacred as I can.
Maybe my possum won’t be encased in plastic for much longer.