Sunday, October 30, 2011

My dreams

Recently someone made a comment about a dream coming true, and the thing they had dreamed off seemed so far from anything I dreamed of, that it gave me occasion to ask myself what are my dreams. I came up with four (though the first two overlap).
  • Live in a solar house.
  • Live in an eco-village with my family and friends.
  • Feel healthy.
  • Not have to go to a job which drains my energy and goes against my values.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A world filled with splendor

In her October 3 blog post Fields of Flowers, Sherry Boas writes, "We live in a world filled with splendor. To enjoy it, all we have to do is open our eyes to the ordinary as well as the extraordinary."

It is easy to forget, and good to be reminded. I am reminded each evening when I sit out on my balcony for my daily meditation. Indoors, I get caught up in worries about work, chores, and health. When I step outdoors, I am immersed in the magic of trees and sky.

Soon, it will be too cold to practice meditation outdoors, but I hope I continue to find ways to see that we do indeed live in a world filled with splendor.

Struggling along the wrong path, looking for the right path

In my work, I see many people trying to pursue a particular path. Many succeed at it, but many others fail. With those who fail, it is often clear to me that the path they are pursuing is not a good fit for them. It takes them longer to see it. They have in their mind that they have certain goals, and they persist at those goals despite all the difficulties. That's what our culture tells us -- if you work hard enough, you can be anything. But the problem is, we can't be anything. We are ourselves, and can't be someone else. Sure, we can develop capacities in areas that are not our natural strengths through hard work, but there is only so far that hard work will take us. It won't change our fundamental natures.

I see these people pursuing a path that is not right for them, and I see them blaming the environment. They say it's the fault of the system for making it so hard. And I can't suggest to them that maybe this path is not right for them, because if I do that, they will see me as part of the broken system, they will say that the problem is that I don't believe in them, they will say it is not a supportive environment.

Then finally, they decide to change paths. They cast blame on the old failed path for not welcoming them. But that's not what happened. What happened was they did not fit the path they were pursuing. And when they change paths, suddenly they are gliding into success and happiness.

I have been through the same thing. At the first place I worked after college there were a handful of us who were recent college graduates, working as administrative assistants at an organization that did worthy things. We were there because we liked the organization, and because we needed jobs. We never wanted to be administrative assistants. And so we complained and crusaded about how poorly administrative assistants were treated. But those who really were career administrative assistants, they didn't have such complaints. The problem was not that administrative assistants were treated poorly. The problem was that we did not want to be administrative assistants.

Later, I had an internship that I was unhappy with. I complained that they did not let me take much responsibility, they did not let me get involved in interesting tasks, but relegated me to menial ones. In retrospect, I realized the work they did was not a fit for me. If it had been, I would have been drawn by it, I would have become engaged.

Then I was looking for jobs, and no one would hire me. Later I realized, I was looking for jobs in a field that did not fit me. I ended up with a job that I didn't have to struggle for, a job that I glided into easily, that I loved.

But now, many years later, I am still in the job I once loved, but I no longer glide into it. It no longer fits me. Now, some things have changed, and I think the place I work is poorly managed. But is it really poorly managed, or is it just that what I am doing no longer fits me?

I have been experiencing a great deal of fatigue at the office. After recently taking a few vacation days and finding myself feeling much stronger while on vacation, I became suspicious that something about my physical office environment was contributing to the fatigue. Then yesterday, I found that when I was at a meeting in another building, I did not feel as much fatigue as I do when in my office. Today, I kept my office window open all day long, and found that I did feel better that way.

So maybe the problem I have been having with my job is not that it is poorly managed, and not that it is no longer the right fit for me, but that I have been physically affected, and that has made it difficult to get engaged in what I am doing.

I am still struggling to figure it all out. It seems like it should be so obvious to us when we are on the right path and when we are on the wrong path, and yet it's not. I feel like we are all so blind about our own situations sometimes. Sometimes, the perspectives of others can help us see what we are blind to. But that is hard too. Different people have different perspectives, and we don't know which ones are right. We believe the people who tell us what we want to hear, and disbelieve those who tell us something else.

It has been more than five years that I have felt not right in my job, and have been looking for a niche where I can earn a living. Yet all the things I look at, it seems they don't welcome me. The activities which I glide right into, which I can do for hours and hours during my free time, are things I could never earn a living at. I don't think there is any rule that says that for every person, there exists a way of earning a living that is a good fit. Maybe it is a futile search.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Looking to the future

Every moment marks the point between the past and the future. Because we tend to forget this, we have seasonal holidays to remind us. When life events mark transitions in our lives, that's another occasion when we often reflect on what we want. One example of such a transition is that of getting a house. In recent weeks, I have noticed a number of related comments from family members:

My sister-in-law: When we get a house, can we get a piano?
My brother: When we get a house, can we get a new towel?
My mother: When we get a new house, I want to get a new mattress.
Me: When I get a house I want solar power, both passive and photovoltaic.
My sister: When I get a house, I'm going to have goats and chickens.

When my sister reported to my mother what I said about solar power, it came across as what I was going to do when I grow up. My mother thought of the things she wanted, and she said in her case, "I don't want to wait until I grow up."

Then she remembered, she is 64. It might not be such a long wait until she grows up.

We all have goals for the future. These goals change over the course of our lifetimes. Holidays remind us to take stock of our current goals and work toward them. Sometimes we do have to achieve our goals in a certain order. For example, moving out of a city apartment would come before getting goats. Sometimes we find ways to get around such pre-requisites. For example, someone living in a city apartment might make an arrangement with someone who lived on a farm to spend time on the farm caring for animals.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Following your dreams does not always work out

Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford has been all over the place since his death was announced yesterday. In his speech, he tells the graduating students to follow their passions, to trust that doing so will put them on the right path, even if they can't see what that path will be.

One of the many places that this speech was quoted was on tonight's edition of Marketplace. Also tonight on Marketplace was a story called "The economy as seen on a bus ride down Sunset Blvd." In this story, Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal speaks with a senior at UCLA. Upon learning that she is an English major, he says, "So you're screwed?" and she replies, "Absolutely." With regard to her choice of major, he asks, "What were you thinking?" and she says, "I feel like they kind of counsel you into do what you like, do what you love, if you enjoy it, you're going to be good at it. And so I just picked English and then later on realized that maybe that wasn't the best choice."

Kai Ryssdal also speaks to a single mother, raising her children and working full-time to support them. She tells him, "I want to go back to school, I want to make more money, but just not possible right now."

It's easy for Steve Jobs to say follow your dreams. Following his dreams worked out for him. But it doesn't work out that way for everyone. And if a person's life is not all they dreamed of, that doesn't mean the person failed to pursue their dreams. Maybe they did pursue their dreams, but it didn't work.

Occupy Wall Street and participatory decision-making

Yesterday on Morning Edition, there was a story called Occupy Wall Street: Where Everybody Has a Say in Everything. It described the decisionmaking process of the Occupy Wall Street movement. There are working groups for the various areas that need to be worked on, and those groups decide how to organize themselves. Every evening, there's a general assembly where everyone meets to discuss things. Anyone who wants to speak takes a turn speaking. They have no megaphones or sound system, so the way they carry the sound is that the crowd repeats each thing the speaker says, so that all can hear. When people are done speaking, they vote by waving their hands.

I want to be part of a community based on participatory decision-making. This is fundamental to my values. This is a very Quaker thing. Quakers believe that there is that of God in everyone. They allow everyone a chance to speak. Decisions are made by the community, by consensus.

Yesterday evening on Marketplace, I heard the story Movement on the March. They found an expert on social movements who declared that "the movement has to find leaders, create a structure and identify villains." It seems to me that is a very establishment point of view. The establishment says things have to be a certain way. A movement is something that shows they don't have to be that way.

I want to live in a world where you don't need leaders, structure, and villains. I want to live in a world where we all work together to make this better.

This is my ideal. In practice, I know it can result in a lot of disagreement and indecision. In practice, I don't think I really like to be haggling with people all the time about how things should be. But in spite of those practical concerns, I think this ideal is my fundamental value.

This is what I want to do with my life, to be part of a community that show its respect for all its members by including them in decision-making. Every time I go to my job, I put myself into a community that violates this value. I have applied to jobs at places that are consistent with this value. They have not wanted me. So, until one of those communities wants me, I am stuck here. What can I do where I am?

You can't turn an apple into an elephant, so you may as well not die trying. I am not going to overhaul the entire culture where I work. But in my corner, I can live according to my values. I can treat the people around me with respect, and ask them for their input. When I notice people who are a positive force, I can lend my support to them. And I can get involved with others who do share my values outside of work -- the Quaker Meeting, and the Transition group.

That's the ambitious version. But there's another factor. There's the reality that I'm tired, sick, and antisocial. Sure probably a bit of that comes from the fact that the negativity of my situation drains my vitality, so it would be alleviated as I did more positive things. But it wouldn't be alleviated that much. Tired, sick and antisocial are a reality of who I am. For years, I have been coming up with ambitious plans about what I want to do with my life, but the plans ignore this reality. As a result, the plans don't get carried out. So yes, I can seek ways to live out my values. It's something to remind myself of as I go through each day. But I also have to remember what is actually realistic.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Manifesting beauty

Today at the farmer's market, I paused to listen to a busker. As I stood there, a man in a suit passed by, looking happy and competent in his role as a professional.

I was thinking the other day that maybe if I dressed more professionally, I would be treated with more respect at work, not only because of how I looked, but because I would feel more professional, and would comport myself more confidently.

I saw the man in the suit, and I saw the busker, and I knew the world of the man in the suit is not the world where I'm meant to be.

The busker is named Thaddeus Gaffer Venar. His life is not what I want either, but he does provide inspiration, in showing that there are lives out there beyond the models of success inculcated in me when I was in college.

One function of a druid is to be a bard. Many modern-day musicians are so highly commercialized that they don't fit with my druidry. (There is no One True Way in druidry, so I speak only of my own druidry. Others may have a different way.) Gaffer exemplifies my vision of a bard. He says, "It's all about manifesting beauty. And there's so many opportunities in the corporate world to manifest ugliness even without consciousness about it that finding an opportunity where I can feed a lifestyle that abuses no one and simply exists to put beauty back into the system is tremendously rewarding."

It's a beautiful sentiment. I admire him for "manifesting beauty" in his music. I also admire the organic farmers at the farmer's market, for food is essential to life. There are so many ways that people can support themselves doing something positive, such as growing organic food, building solar houses, making clothing, mentoring and teaching others, collecting and disseminating knowledge, and making music that inspires people. I have only a finite time on this earth. I want to spend it doing something good for humans and for the earth. But I also need to survive, and I'm still searching for a way that I can earn a living that is compatible with my vision for my life.