This Friday's love bhakti was inspired by a tangent in a discussion on another friend's journal. (Her awesome mom's comments lent me the title of this post.) In talking about day jobs and survival, we were talking about the importance of the perspective you take towards it, and how to be happy in a job that's not at all your great calling in life.
There is a Rumi quote that says, Let the beauty you love be what you do.
I interpreted it, initially, as a "follow your bliss" kind of statement-- find what it is you love, and make it your life. I still see it that way, and still value it for that wisdom and for the "permission" it seems to give, encouraging the reader to live with purpose and joy according to their heart's delight.
But at some point I suddenly read it differently-- like seeing one of those pictures where it's either an ornate vase or the silhouettes of two people's profiles depending how you look-- and I thought that it could also be read from the other end, as it were: Look at the things you do as something beautiful, something worthy of love.
Have you ever gone someplace, like say a gas station or convenience store or a truck stop dive, someplace unglamorous and maybe shabby and awfully pedestrian, and encountered someone who works there who just seems to be in a great mood, chatty and smiling and radiating contentment? It's striking, isn't it? We've all heard the doomsayer's warning about those who don't do well in school ending up pumping gas or flipping burgers, like those are the most demeaning experiences on the planet. So when I see someone working in a setting like that who seems perfectly happy at the moment, it really affects me. I always leave smiling and feeling like the world is a pretty good place.
Random and I, for a while, were making an (admittedly unhealthy) habit of going to our local McDonald's when he worked closing and I picked him up, to have a late dinner "date". There was always the same night manager there, a thin little man with a scrawny combover and big glasses. He started recognizing us and greeting us warmly when we came in, but even before that I noticed him. Because, here's a guy working the late shift managing a fast food joint-- which to most people would qualify as having failed at life-- and yet he always seemed peaceful and pleasant, not forced. If we picked a table while we waited for our food, he'd take the tray to us when our order was done, before we could get up for it. He seemed like he took pride in what he did, and that impressed me a lot.
And it makes me think, can't I do the same thing? Granted, I like my job a lot now anyway, so it's not hard to let it be "the beauty I love". But it's something I try to work at in life. People might think you're crazy for trying to look at a pile of invoices to be processed as something to feel lovingly towards; but in the end, what leaves you feeling better at the end of the day-- burning resentment and hatred of a task, or good-humored fondness for it?
Robert Fulghum-- he of the "Everything I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten" fame-- wrote an essay once about ironing. About how it was his favorite household task, about how he'd been taught to do it like an art. How he sang while ironing.madlori
just reviewed a book I must read, by an itinerant dishwasher who wanders the country getting by with a couple of days' work here and there as a "sudbuster". He sees dishwashing not only as a means to an end, but as an art form in and of itself, as his calling in life.
When I clean house I like to put on dance music, preferably something I can also sing to. Cleaning might not have been my top choice for what I wanted to do with that time-- it rarely is-- but once I get started, if I can take my time with it, it's not too bad. The exertion reminds me that a little elbow grease is good exercise. The sparkling surfaces, the warm glow of wood rubbed with orange polish, the clarity of everything is beautiful to me. I make my spaces beautiful because I love my home and I love moving in clean, organized rooms. The music makes it more fun. Sometimes I find one of the countless banana stickers that the Kitten stuck all over the house, and it makes me think of her with great love as well, and smile, and clean carefully around the sticker.
At work I make my cubicle a cozy little haven, with my Provence calendar to remind me of plans to travel and a crayon drawing from a small child in one of our classes and bits of things that remind me of love, of my movies, of friends, of the stars. I almost, oddly, look forward to some of the rote paperwork. I make coffee as a little afternoon treat, sometimes put on some internet radio very softly, and let myself go into the trancey state you can sometimes achieve doing tasks that don't need thought. Processing checks to mail? Moving meditation. My mind wanders the landscapes of plot ideas, dreams, random quirky thoughts. If I come back to the paperwork, I can choose to see love in these papers...the artists who hug me when they see me, who are grateful that I get them their money quickly and dependably; I can look at these checks, just paper, but see the artists paying their bills and buying food and happy to have been paid. It's not what I intend to do with the rest of my life. But it's good work. It has meaning and value. I can be happy doing it.
There is joy to be found anywhere, if I intend to find it. Morning commutes or running errands are a chance to listen to my music, to drive, to enjoy the seasons moving through trees and gardens. Waiting in lobbies or offices is time to let my brain relax. Grocery shopping is a chance to anticipate wonderful meals, or to chat with the cashier or other customers, or just to contemplate how amazing it is that there is always such an abundance of food, every kind of thing I could possibly want, just a few minutes from where I live, and to feel blessed and grateful for it. Even driving or walking in DC-- which is not a city I particularly care for-- is still interesting, lively, often full of unexpected treats or islands of great beauty.
I won't go so far as to claim that *no* task or situation ever bores or irritates me, that I never get grumpy or resentful or fed up with things. I have to work at it, have to try to be conscious of choosing how I want to experience life. But it's become easier. I find I am overall more patient and tolerant than I used to be, not so bitter and cynical, that I will now and then suddenly become aware of feeling a rush of love towards something I'm doing, that people seem in general friendlier. It's more of a habit now to look at where I am and what I'm doing and who I'm with and to try to see what is lovable and beautiful there.
And I'm happier than I used to be. More optimistic, more energized. It follows naturally, I think. Love energy is a positive charge. It's like how when you run your car, you're charging the battery. Putting love out into the world, be it towards tasks or people or things or places, charges the soul's battery. Infuses the whole self with energy, alertness, initiative, joy. Hate, resentment, apathy, frustration-- these are drains. Running the headlights or the radio without running the engine. There's no Source to draw on. You run down, feel dispirited and weary and used up and exploited. You burn out. Need constant jump starts to keep going. (I'll stop beating a dead metaphor now.)
The fact of the matter is that most of us have to spend at least a portion of our day doing things that are unexciting or even that we dislike, and although in some cases the obvious solution is just to get rid of unpleasant people and situations, sometimes we can't. Most of us have to, at some point, wait in a doctor's office or clean house or poop or figure out bills or be nice to obnoxious Uncle Drunky. So, going on the premise that we can change our perspective and our attitude about a lot of those things, does it do more for our lives to grudgingly tap our limited reserves in order to endure them, or to access the unlimited energy of Love and let it run through us and infuse what we do with joy?
Let the things you do become the beauty you love. Bloom where you're planted. Let joy be your natural condition. It is, after all, one of our strongest human drives.
A reminder: if you want some love-mojo for yourself or someone you care about, please feel free to comment or email me and I will include your wish in my Love devotions this week. Please ask with loving intent and without violating anyone's free will, but otherwise, wish away-- whether you need a job or money or better health or more love in your life or greater beauty or world peace or whatever it is your heart desires. I will never disclose anything given to me privately and I will offer Love on the condition that the recipient-- consciously or subconsciously-- accepts it.