58 years ago at this time I was in the second trimester before my birth.
In only a few months I will come into being for the 58th time.
So much has happened since I was first conceived.
I continue to change and evolve –
Into a being who is genetically predestined by choice.
I am the paradox.
I am the quandary.
I am the essence of joy and sadness –
Working out my own salvation with care and understanding.
My own manifest destiny.
When the door is shut in your face, you are in a unique position to reflect on other opportunities you may not have previously seen or considered.
Not all opened doors lead to betterment – even broom closets have doors.
I’ve been reading SEEDTIME, writings from the notebooks of Swiss poet Phillipe Jaccotet. His writings about the swiss countryside bring back so many memories. Memories of growing up on the farm near Kidron, OH (USA) So here are some thoughts of my own:
Murmured Lowing. Distant cowbells. Waking sparrow.
The light is dark at dawn.
Blue-black sky. Green-black landscape. Summer morning.
Fence post sentinels line the pasture lane.
Early to bed, early to rise. Morning chores beckon. Lids heavy slow response.
The bed is warmest when waking.
My Grandfather used to make trips to Switzerland our ancestral homeland and in 1948 he had a set of cowbells made that covered at least two octaves on the western musical scale. Here is an image of one of our family’s cowbells that I’ve been able to salvage. Not sure what happened to the rest. Bells were cast in Bronze, included the family name (Geiser), date (1948), image of a cow and decorative Edelweiss flowers, the text “Made in Switzerland” and name of the foundry where bell was cast (Barinotto Co. Fonderie La Chaux De Fonds)
And what do cowbells sound like? What sound became so familiar to me during summer?
(fyi – there is a 20 second gap in sound near the beginning).
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” ~ Jesus [Matthew 7:3-5 NASB]
I’ve been trying to get the logs out of my own eyes for years – and will probably keep working on it for the rest of my life. It’s funny how easily our perceptions are blocked [log-jammed] and muddied by emotions. Emotions are a fact of being human – and self-control of those emotions is key. I find it interesting that one of the characteristics of “love” in the Bible is “self-control” but that characteristic is seldom preached – maybe because it’s difficult to look at oneself with the critical eye of awareness. Many people seek to control others and define their happiness in that context.
I’ve read a lot of wisdom literature over the years and have found (even in my own experience) that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is fickle. Happiness is something people constantly strive for only to see it slip through their fingers like sand. So what do we do when we aren’t happy? If we are seldom happy is that a bad thing? How do we cope, or what emotion is happiness replaced with when it skips merrily on its way?
I have found that happiness is the wrong thing to focus on (contrary to what all those self-help gurus say) When we are happy we naturally relax and enjoy the moment. But once it’s gone we immediately try to re-capture, control, and try to manipulate external circumstances to get back to that happiness state. Many people, unfortunately, despair and long for past happiness (“I remember when….”). But this is the mistake.
On September 29, 2014 I woke up early from a dream I had. I wrote the dream in my journal. I thought I knew what it meant – turns out it has multiple applications (for me). Now for the dream:
In my dream I was fighting a fierce dragon. It was boastful, conniving, cruel and threatening. I only had a sword. The dragon didn’t have to move around a lot. It was so much bigger than me it just seemed to mock me as I searched for its weak point. The dragon started to yawn and I seized the moment to go for the mouth. With one eye open the beast snapped its jaws down on my sword and with iron like strength just held on. I couldn’t move that sword no matter how hard I tried. I wasn’t going to let go either because the sword was my only weapon. We were at stalemate. Neither one willing to budge. I decided that instead of pulling the sword out – an impossible task – I would try the opposite and push it further in. I pushed with all my might and with a snicker the dragon opened it’s jaws wide and I went tumbling into its mouth. With one self-satisfied gulp the beast swallowed me. Inside I could hear echoes of its satisfied, mocking laughter. It all happened so fast, and caught me by surprise. I was tumbling down its steamy, moist throat just trying to get my bearings on the long journey despairing of my loss and my situation. I came to an opening which I presumed to be the dragons stomach and expected to be digested and totally consumed. Instead I noticed in this opening, fresh air, a breeze, sunshine the sound of birds and children laughing. It was a whole other universe. Familiar yet different. I saw clear skies and saw people enjoying themselves just like the world I had come from. It was magical and different – somehow better. I just stood in wonder and amazement asking myself who had really won – the dragon or myself and its other victims?
So what do you do when happiness is gone? What is the cause of your unhappiness? What emotions replace happiness? Anger, envy, jealousy, bitterness, fear, hatred or despair? Maybe it’s a combination of these emotions. How do you deal with these darker emotions? I recently (again) have lost my happiness at work. In fact I would say I hate my job. It is not the job I was hired to do. And after some corporate restructuring things seem to have gone “haywire” and all akimbo. I’ve dreaded going to work and have been stressed, frustrated and angry. So I have some decisions to make. Do I look at the situation and blame management, the union, or other people for the loss of my happiness? Or, do I look at myself? Do I look at my blocked perception and try to “fix” myself instead of something I can’t possibly win against?
On November 14, 2014 I wrote in my journal:
All things come to an end. But when one thing ends another begins. Happiness never lasts forever. When happiness is gone, what replaces it? Is the thing that replaces happiness worse than the thing that displaced happiness in the first place? I’ve been fortunate to know happiness in the past. Now that happiness is gone – do I get to choose what replaces it?
Initially I interpreted the dream as: whether I am facing an enemy or adversity I will remember the dragon. Because whether I fight or surrender the outcome is the same. One life is merely changed for another. I live on either way.
And I keep a small note on my computer monitor at work now with the words “remember the dragon.” This has helped in my work situation. I can see that the dragon is my work environment. And since I’m in the belly of the beast It may not be as bad as I thought. This interpretations definitely works on one level but I came to realize some other things.
With my understanding of the dream and recent questions of happiness I started asking questions about the perceived source of my unhappiness. The questions themselves began to evolve.
Do I need to look for another job? Yes.
What will I do? At 54 I don’t even know anymore. There’s nothing I “want” to do. Nothing I need to prove anymore.
What kind of work can I do? Same as above
Can I do the job I have now? Absolutely!
Is there benefit to the job I have now? Yes, I can eat and pay bills.
What would the consequences be for taking another job with another company? Answer: most likely, based on past experience, starting at lower pay than I’m making now and eventual dis-satisfaction.
Do I need to look for another job? No
When I was in my teens, 20’s and even my 30’s I thought I could, would and wanted to change the world. Now that I’m in my mid 50’s I realize I can only change myself. Change my perceptions. It’s been a long difficult road and I’m sorry for any harm I’ve done along the way.
So, back to work. When I realized I didn’t need to look for another job the next task became – how to survive my current work situation. I remembered that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is not a requirement and need not be a benefit of doing a good job. There will always be times I hate my job. And having “processed” all this before I went to work yesterday – it changed my whole day. Work was the same, all haywire and akimbo but I had changed. I was less stressed and when things were “thrown at me” (figurative) I may have been frustrated or even angry but I quickly got over it and moved on. I stopped seeing the company, management, union, co-workers as those who were making my life miserable. And realized they were just doing their job with their own frustrations, stress etc. It was all ‘n all a good day which is about all I can hope for until happiness returns. Just being less stressed made such a HUGE difference. I’m not perfect so I suspect on Monday I’ll have to remind myself again about this lesson.
While happiness seems to have escaped me and things may not be pleasant right now – the good news is, I believe that happiness, being fickle, will return. And I will enjoy it when it does. In the meantime I know that I can be less stressed, less angry, less frustrated, less fearful, less hateful and more tolerant at work. While I may have removed only a “splinter” from my own perceptions – there are plenty of logs (wrong perceptions) left for me to work on. All by the grace of God.
Thanks for reading. I hope it may benefit someone.
“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
At the age of 53, I can tell you that I have had many jobs. And over the years I have read many job search books and spoken with job coaches. Every single job coach I’ve heard and every job search book I’ve read has said to “Do what you love.” They appeal to the narcissism that exists in all of us – something most of us deny about ourselves. I think the biggest harm is that this approach raises unrealistic expectations – i.e. if you do what you love you can expect to love what you do. And I’ve done that – I’ve taken jobs doing work that I loved. So why have I ALWAYS been disappointed? Why do I always end up hating what I loved? Those are serious question and they are not addressed in any single job search book. Job coaches just dismiss the questions saying that I just haven’t found what I love yet. But, what if the point is to just work and it doesn’t matter what you do? What if you can find some sort of peace, satisfaction and consolation in what you do even if it’s not what you love? What if it’s not the job you do but HOW you do your job? The longest job I held was for 15 years. It resulted in a near nervous breakdown and personality shift. That was a job that I started because I loved that type of work. What job coaches and books fail to recognize that the work you do is not important because it’s the people you work with that make the job enjoyable and you can actually come to love those people instead of the work itself. It’s the people that make the job lovable or hateful and miserable. And unless you learn how to deal with the different personalities of the people you work with, accept them in spite of their values and practices you will never be happy no matter what you do.
At the time I left my previous job that I held for 15 years, I started to read the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. It was in these Buddhist writings that I started to explore the ideas of mindfulness and adding that to my Christian faith. It not only helped me understand myself but from this also evolved the notion that it doesn’t matter what work I do. In spite of the tasks I can find enjoyment, happiness and even love based on how I was mindful of others and sensitive to their needs. Whatever emotion you attach to it – the job becomes meaningful because of relationships not the task itself.
At the time I came to this realization I was unemployed, between jobs. Disillusioned, tired, depressed and unsure of what I did want, I decided to look for work that I COULD do instead of work I wanted to do. It opened up a whole new realm of employment possibilities. The first thing I did is go over previous performance appraisals and made a list of two columns of things that previous employers thought I did well and things they thought I sucked at (although they would label it “needs improvement”). There were contradictions which is understandable because of two things. 1) We are contradictory beings in nature. 2) When you ask 10 people about something you’ll get 10 different opinions. Being fully aware of the contradictions and differences I started looking for work that would be acceptable based on the abilities perceived by others. I’d see a job description and ask can I do this job well based on my abilities and skill set. If I could answer “yes” to that question I would apply – even if I didn’t have the education degrees that the employer said they wanted to see. While an educational degree is helpful it does not ensure success in either obtaining a job or successfully doing the job. Once I had the interview I answered the questions by talking about my experience and skill set based on what the employer was looking for. Now, I’ve always hated interviews. But I found that since I already knew what I could do that it didn’t matter if I got the job or even loved the job. What mattered was I knew I could do the job and it was up to the employer to decide if they were going to take a chance on me or not. I took the same mindfulness approach in the interview which relieved the stress of the interviews.
What happened was something I was not expecting. I took a job doing something that had never appealed to me and would never have previously chosen because I would not have seen it as something I could love. I have found the job rewarding, challenging and just what I needed. I’ve worked this same job now for 5+ years and do not have any regrets about taking this job. Sure there are times when I wonder, “What the hell was I thinking” but that happens in every situation in life. Sure there are things that make me angry about work but I’m able to move beyond that not let it affect my work. It’s the people that matter more than the job itself. When I keep that in mind everything works out.
Now this may seem simplistic and like a bunch of malarky. But its worked for me.
(fyi – the art in this post is #77 from my Messages From The Future series which will be published in book form in 2014.)