On a Right Livelihood Quest

Today’s Reflection is about quotes and passages, while exploring this : fascinating, and often elusive, theme of Right Livelihood.

It is not “just a quest.” Rather, The Quest perhaps, on the journey of this subtle and elusive theme of Right Livelihood, Vocation, Life Purpose. At times, inspiring and fulfilling, though, more often than not, annoying, frustrating, and challenging. This is work that I have been deeply and passionately engaged with for a long time, and it is now, perhaps “finally,” is emerging as a cohesive and almost-coherent process. With distinct phases, inquiry processes and experiences, while also birthing itself as my research/dissertation phase of my PhD studies in Eco-Psychology.

There are two groups of participants currently going through the process, The Quest, in parallel, and it will culminate in two weekend-long retreats in the second half of August. One for each group.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

The first phase is the reading phase, whereby the participants are invited to read at least one of five recommended books. The second phase lasts four weeks, leading up to the retreat (or, as they call it, the Right Livelihood Intensive); during this phase, they get weekly questions to contemplate and inquire into, and also activities and experiences in Nature (from the Eco-Psychology domain). Then, we meet face-to-face for the retreat, dive deep in, and connect the dots of their inquiry and experiences.

In this Reflection, I am focusing on the first phase, as I thought it might be a good idea for me too to review the books I recommended to my participants. Imagine that! While I have read most of them over the years, coming back to an old book, like reconnecting with an old friend, with different eyes often allows one to discover something new about something “old.” Here are some of the new thoughts and ideas that jumped at me from these old and dear friends: “Callings” by Gregg Levoy, “Let your life speak” by Parker Palmer, “Crossing the unknown sea” by David Whyte, “When all you’ve ever wanted isn’t enough” by Harold Kushner, and “How, then, shall we live?” by Wayne Muller.

The naming of who we are will set the course of our life, determine what we love, how we live, and what gifts we will bring to the family of the earth. – Wayne Muller

We cannot hold for too long to an idea of self; it is all in flux. Who we are changes with every moment, every breath. The roles we play can remind us that we are always changing. There is nothing solid. – Wayne Muller

“The man pulling radishes pointed the way with a radish.” What we love becomes our language. – Wayne Muller

In naming the benefits of Right Action, the Buddha does not list “Right Result.” There is no such thing. We are in charge only of our actions, not the fruits of our actions. We can speak honestly and work diligently and still never be rewarded with worldly success. We can meditate daily and pray without ceasing and still be stricken with bodily illness. The fruits of the practice are not the results, only the practice itself. The benefit of Right Action is having performed action. Nothing more, nothing less. – Wayne Muller

Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it. – Harold Kushner

Without some kind of fire at the center of the conversation, a sense of journey through work, life becomes just another strategic game plan, a way of pulling wool over the eyes of reality while we get our own way. – David Whyte

In work, it has always taken courage to follow a unique and individual path exactly, because making our own path takes us off the path, in directions which seem profoundly unsafe. A pilgrimage into the night and the night wind. The territory through which we must travel to make a life for ourselves is always more difficult than we could first imagine; it takes us to the cliff edges of life. – David Whyte

To find the roots of our responsibilities, we must go to the roots of our abilities, a journey into the core of ourselves where we can put together an understanding of how we are made, why we have the responsibilities we have, and, just as important, the images that formed us in our growing. – David Whyte

The punishment imposed on us for claiming true self can never be worse than the punishment we impose on ourselves by failing to make that claim. – Parker Palmer

Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.” – Parker Palmer

Calls, of course, beg the question “Who, or what, is calling?” … Whatever or whoever is addressing us is a power like wind or fusion or faith: we can’t see the force, but we can see what it does. Primarily this force announces the need for change, and the response for which it calls is an awakening of some kind. A call is only a monologue. A return call, a response, creates a dialogue. Our own unfolding requires that we be in constant dialogue with whatever is calling us. The call and one’s response to it are also a central metaphor for the spiritual life, and in Latin there is even a correspondence between the words for listening and following. – Gregg Levoy

If we don’t ever choose, however, freedom is just an illusion, an idea in the mind. If you are standing at a crossroads, with paths going off in all directions, you have, in theory, great freedom. Until you actually make a choice, freedom is only potential energy, energy in abeyance, in waiting. As soon as you head off in any one direction you’ve not only limited your freedom but you have also given it a body in motion rather than a static body. You have turned the potential energy into kinetic energy, energy in use, freedom that you’re now exercising with every footfall. – Gregg Levoy

For now, it is still the reading phase for the participants, as well as me. In a few short weeks, though, The Quest will move into its second phase, turning that potential energy into something more focused and tangible. Here’s to the journey!

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.

Simon Goland