Calm As a Mountain

25 08 2008

In his seminal work, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts tells a story of a friend who owned a tea plantation. The man decided to pay his workers double, seeing the impoverished conditions they were living in. Once he started doing so, the workers only showed up half the time, leaving his plants in a dire condition. The man asked friends in business what to do, and they offered him economic solutions. Watts concluded by writing, “No one seemed to understand that those workers valued time for goofing off more than money.”

A number of my students began practicing yoga to counteract the high levels of stress they deal with at their jobs. Indeed, I suffered from the same situation, until I made teaching my job. It was then I found out that service, economics, and fun can all work together, that there need not be a rift between who we are and what we do. In fact, that rift is a very large reason we are stressed in the first place — by the unhappiness of treating work as something done for money, and not for the sake of work itself.

You hear it all the time: “This is what I do for money, not who I am.” It begins with the process of “more,” or, as an old friend paraphrasing Watts said, to take the “in order to” out of our lives. For example: we go to school in order to get a job in order to buy a house in order to own property and save for retirement in order to retire peacefully… only when we retire, we find that we’ve missed life each step of the way, because during each step we were waiting for the next step.

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