Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of April 19, 2010

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Right Livelihood

(Aspect 5 of the Eightfold Path)

In considering the meaning of Right Livelihood, the point of view of spiritual practice divides the question into the two great domains of what we do and how we do it. The first issue in this regard concerns how we find our particular niche in life. Much has been written and a whole industry exists to help us answer that uniquely individual question through aptitude and interest testing, career counseling and coaching, internships and job placement services, and so on. Navigating the task of choosing or changing careers also requires that we pay attention to our feeling, intuition, and judgment regarding how well it suits us and how well it will fulfill our responsibility to support ourselves, our family, and our society. To our great good fortune, we live in a highly elaborated society, which affords so many possibilities and career choices that we can tailor to our own unique nature.

To all of that we can add the condition that what we do for a living must not go against our conscience. The difficulty lies in the gray areas. If we are continually needing to justify and rationalize to ourselves why what we do is ethically and morally acceptable, then our unsettled conscience is telling us to beware. Staying in an ethically-challenged career forces us to harden our heart and ignore our conscience, effectively blocking our spiritual path and chaining us to the material world.

Turning from the question of what we do to how we do it brings us squarely in front of opportunities to spiritualize our livelihood by our inner work, opportunities which fall into three areas: presence, excellence, and service. The practice of presence in the workplace need not detract from our performance on our job. On the contrary, presence can improve our performance by making us more alert, more interested in our work, more appropriate and less reactive in our emotions, more forthright in our dealings with coworkers, vendors, and customers, more aware of our creative impulses, more perceptive of opportunities for improvement, firm when itís called for and supple when thatís needed, better at dealing with the subtleties of our job and the relationships it entails, and more able to do our job despite any reluctance we may feel. Presence also improves our memory because the more alert we are in a situation, the better we remember it later. All this adds up to a powerful practical argument for working at presence as we work at our job. But dwarfing all that is our true reason for practicing presence: its enormous benefits to our spiritual path and its inherent service of transforming higher spiritual energies and defragmenting our will.

The main exception where the practice of presence could detract from our job performance is if our job is a life-critical one, demanding our full attention. For example, we want our surgeon totally focused on our surgery and our bus driver just driving the bus. By the demands they place on attention, such jobs carry their own inherent benefits for the spiritual pursuit.

As with Right Action, the practice of excellence plays a fundamental role in Right Livelihood. To strive for excellence in what we do for a living serves us well, both inwardly and outwardly. The challenge of excellence calls us to pay careful attention to detail and to the bigger picture, to opportunities for improving both what we do and our ability to do it, to creative possibilities, to our own inner state and how it affects the quality and productivity of our work, and to keeping what we do aligned with the actual purpose of our work. The effort of excellence benefits us broadly, for a job done well brings satisfaction, which spills over into the rest of our life in positive ways. A half-hearted effort at work leaves us half-hearted in other areas of our life. Dealing with the obstacles we encounter to fulfill our job responsibilities, not minimally but to the best of our abilities, aligns us with our conscience, strengthens our will, and increases our being. To work with excellence requires discovering what excellence means in the context of our particular line of work. Thus the effort of continuously improving what we do and how we do it, engages our body, our heart, and our mind. So the practice of excellence and the practice of presence support and enhance each other.

Jobs that pay offer some service to society in exchange for the value society places on that job. The better we do our job, the better we serve. Holding to this reality of service as the ultimate reason for our employment places our livelihood outside the domain of self-serving egoism. We do what we do to serve. And the primary personal benefit of serving, even more important than the financial compensation it brings, consists of the meaning it imparts to our life. In serving we fulfill our role in society, adding the measure of our own abilities and efforts to the general good. We have a deep-seated need, based in conscience, to be useful, to do something that matters. Performing our job meets that need, because in doing so we give back to society. But the material blessings we receive from society and from this Earth far exceed our personal capacity to give back. So we are humbled by all we receive and we feel the obligation to serve.

Fortunately, our spiritual inner work offers us another, uniquely human way to serve society and the Earth by serving the sacred, through the transformation of spiritual energies, through the purification from egoism, and by living in accord with conscience. Right Livelihood also supports that inner service, because accepting that we answer to others, whether a supervisor or a customer, helps purify us of egoism and prepares us for opening to the higher will of the sacred spirit in our periods of prayer.

So earning our place in the world and earning it well directly ties our livelihood not only to our own well-being, but also to that of our family, our society, the Earth, and the Sacred. For this week, reinvigorate your approach to making your livelihood right.


     

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