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Sneaking back

September 13, 2009

It’s amazing how much clarity of perspective can come to one when camping, waking with the birds and spending all day focused on taking care of one’s physical and spiritual needs. It’s also amazing how fast it can fly out the window as soon as one has spent a couple days back in one’s regular work routine. Especially as that routine double-times into the busiest season of the year for a synagogue employee. I’ve been stressed enough lately that I’ve actually woken up with the shakes, a couple of mornings in a row last week. And when I’m honest with myself, this has far more to do with attitude than with the actual work load, which is just manageable. Truth is, I’m tired of what I’m doing and I want to do something that’s meaningful to me.

I spent a good amount of time this trip clarifying my values. I identified four major areas of my life that I really value and want to deepen. These four are calm, ecological sustainability, intimacy, and flow.

Calm is deliberately vague. I called it that to separate it from “peace”, which could refer to geopolitical peace as much as an inner sense of quiet well-being. I certainly intend to work for peace in the world, but right now I feel a greater need to work for calm in my life. This is about my values now, not as I might like them to be sometime in the future.

Ecological sustainability is specific, but complex. I wrote down “mutually beneficial interactions among humans and environment”, and looking back I think I meant “non-human life and natural resources” by “environment”. That means first, do no harm, but more than that, do good. Every living thing has a role to play that contributes positively. We humans cannot settle for just standing aside.
Right now it sometimes seems that even just standing aside and doing no harm is impossible, but I think that’s because we’ve been thinking about it as standing aside and doing no harm, rather than finding a positive contribution to make with everything we do. I think it’s actually more possible to do the latter than to have no impact. Of course we must have an impact; we exist in an embodied world, a physical world, and we are physical beings in it. I think permaculture is about making that impact a positive one rather than a negative one.

Intimacy refers to the deep emotional and intellectual connections I form with my friends. This value can easily go haywire—I’ve often tried to meet it by having dinner out with people far too often, and I’m no longer interested in spending so much of my money that way. I can more efficiently support this value with deep conversation over tea or walking in the park or cooking and eating a meal together at home.

Flow refers to a sense of creative absorption and total engagement with the task at hand, with minimal or no emotional resistance to the task, so that all one’s energy goes into getting the work done and very little into wrestling one’s fleeing thoughts into submission in order to make oneself do it. It is joy in work—effortless focus, even though the task itself can be very challenging. I’ve noticed I find flow when I’m doing creative work—design, writing, or big-picture planning.

My job doesn’t serve these values very much these days. I’ve begun actively exploring several avenues to get where I’ve decided I want to go with my skills and interests. I want to design life-changing educational encounters between people and the natural world, particularly in parks, nature centers, botanical gardens, and teaching farms. To this end I’ve begun job searching, but also making plans to go back to school half-time. It’s helped me feel more hopeful as I do the work that’s before me now. It’s also helping me take charge of my life, which is something I’ve been having difficulty with since admitting to myself that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my museum degree.

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