A question about Spirit

I’m looking for feedback, a conversation, ideas, thoughts here–

If someone wants to explore Spirit and serve the spirit world, what sort of work, job, career, profession, vocation could they do? If you were a career-counselor, what would you advise?

Give me your ideas in the comments. I’d love to get a conversation going on this. Thanks!

“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly-that is what each of us is here for.”
                      – Oscar Wilde
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21 Responses to A question about Spirit

  1. i don’t think you will need a little to define your self with,,, having a tittle almost governs ones ability to full express … just be who you are and see your self as such and the world would react to what you carry your self as…..

    • tlongacre says:

      I didn’t say anything about having a title and I see what you mean. But unfortunately, it is hard to eat by just being “who you are” and it seems very easy to fill one’s time with work that distracts from exploring the spirit world.

  2. Susan says:

    Love your questions and openness Tracy. I don’t think there is a separation between serving the spirit world and serving the world…I guess for me it is all about service…focusing more on opportunities for transformation (in small and big ways) rather that serving the status quo or ego. I love the profession of spiritual direction. I meet with a Spiritual Director once a month for support and accountability for living the most authentic life possible, for living the life I was meant to according to my unique skills, abilities and passions. My work has always been two-fold, leading psychiatric facilities-helping employees (executives and direct service people) to feel great about their work and to provide excellent services AND retreat and spiritual leadership-helping individuals to find and offer transformation outside the mental health world…through community and compassion. 90% of what I see is people serving the world in some way.-trying to make a difference. That is serving the spirit world in my book,

    • tlongacre says:

      Susan,

      Yes I think service is a critical component. Thanks for that. And to me, your work is clearly focused on serving Spirit. Even when you are working in psychiatric facilities, you seem to be working on the Spirit of the place, of the people working there. And the work outside those facilities seems to be an extension of that. Personally, I yearn for such coherence and integration.

      May I ask how you got into the mental health work? Is your background in psychiatric medicine? Or human resources? Or consulting?

      Thanks, an example like this was the sort of thing I was looking for. I find I have an almost total lack of imagination in this domain.

      • Susan says:

        Hi Tracy, I have a MA in art therapy with a focus on family therapy. My work right out of grad school was as a family therapist and I fell in love with systems theory which seemed to apply to the work system as much as the family system. I ended up in management because I kept wanting to improve systems and volunteered for tasks and then it turned out I was good at such things so I got more job opportunities. But I have to tell you, it has been my task to keep my own compass/direction which sometimes I have lost due to workaholism or idealism. Even when working in big systems with big money at stake, I needed to navigate the realities of good management, with my hearts passions. Sometimes I felt at odds with financial goals or shareholder needs but mostly as I remained grounded in principle and my own accountability to the Divine, I found the ways to be authentic, be a good example, to model financial success that served others. I am just saying that sometimes the serving of spirt was something not so obvious from the outside but my compass kept me moving in the right direction and was responsible for new doors being opened to me. Again, when I felt my work was at odds with my “calling”, my Spirtual Director was invaluable to my process of seeing the big picture and re-membering who I was. So, I am curious, from what I know of you, you have always been about service and the work of the spirit; what is different? What are you longing/hoping for? I am a total advocate of putting your desires out there and networking, building synergies….maybe by the next CSC newsletter in spring, you could write about this (your work, your future desires). and see what bubbles up amongst those peers. You are such a courageous woman Tracy, thank you for that example.

  3. “If I were a career counsellor”, (I can feel a song coming on!) I would say choose a career in the overall area that you are passionate about. Don’t get hung up on the job description and don’t get attached to how little or how much you will be renumerated. Never do anything “just for the money”. Then do each assignation to the very best of your ability. Put your heart and your soul into it, no matter how trivial or how daunting it may seem. Do it with passion, with conviction, with care and with love. Let the Spirit blaze in you, flow through you and keep moving. The Spirit of love can never be defined or confined.

    • tlongacre says:

      Hmm, there must be something about how I posed the question because I didn’t say anything about a title (as the first commenter talked about) nor about a job description as you are talking about.

      The question is this — the “passion” is exploring Spirit, serving the spirit world. That’s the passion.

      You say, “then do each assignation to the very best of your ability” — *what* assignation? How do you get one? Where do you look? What do you look for?

      The issue here is that there is nothing into which to put heart and soul.

      • Perspective is mounting and Spirit rising! Thank you for your reply. I am suggesting that ‘Nothing’ is a beautiful canvas on which to create ‘Something’. The challenge lies in keeping the passion burning, regardless of the ‘how’s and the where’s. Interesting how the word Spirit has so many connotations. Personally speaking Spirit and Love are synonymous. In love, truth and service. :)

  4. tlongacre says:

    Christina,

    So you don’t have any ideas to contribute to the conversation? I am literally looking for ideas about how people have done this in their lives or seen others do it or something. Have you ever heard of a human being constructing a life focused on exploring Spirit and serving the spirit world? If so, what did it look like?

  5. tlongacre says:

    Susan,

    Thanks it is helpful and interesting to see a bit of someone’s journey. Ya know — you see people where they are today and it looks a certain way, but I often have no idea how they ended up there. Interesting to see the tensions/balance in your life between organising/management and art/reflection. I can see how it would be easy to tip over into one side and forget about the other.

    I understand what you are saying about how I appear and I think there is truth in that. But I would say that I have been serving the world and not particularly concerned with Spirit in the domain where I work and certainly not the spirit world. I have done a lot of spiritual exploration but so far it has all been about my own spiritual journey. The way I have been living, I have kept things in separate “silos” and there hasn’t been much crossover.

    Now, I had been thinking that I wanted to basically keep doing the same kind of work (development work in Africa), just different and better. But I’ve had a bunch of experiences over the last few months that I’m wondering if they aren’t pointing me in an entirely different direction for the second half of my life. A direction like being explicitly focused on exploring Spirit and serving the needs of the spirit world, rather than the needs of this world. It’s a bit vague I realise. But how’s this — my interpretation of what you seem to be doing now is bringing Spirit *into* the mental health facilities. And exploring Spirit more openly and directly with the retreat work. (I don’t know if that is how you would interpret it, but it might shed some light on how I’m using those terms.) What I think I may be being called to is something like — exploring Spirit for some purpose bigger than just my own peace of mind or enlightenment or whatever, though I don’t really have any idea what that bigger purpose is or might be. But a traditional interpretation might be — a contemplative monk who writes books (a la Thomas Merton or Thich Nhat Hahn), or a Latin American shaman who “journeys” to heal her/his community. Does that make any sense?

    Except that I don’t really think I would fit in even an Episcopal contemplative community (I could be wrong, but I’d be surprised) much less an RC one. . . But I know there are other ways of doing this that people are actually engaged in. I did this course with a guy in the UK in August, he used to be a skydiver and then got injured and went through this whole exploration process, including studying with Tom Brown and stuff and now he leads these retreats in the woods. There’s you with the workshops and retreats that you are doing now in addition to your work in the mental health field. There’s Richie and Amira who teach college. I’m trying to fish around to see what might “click” with me. So far (this has been the story of my life for the past 5 or so years), I mostly get “hmm, not that, not that, not that”, but I’m trying to generate a lot of examples to see what is possible, to expand my mind, my perspective. Because when I think of the few things I know and they really don’t fit for me, it’s a bit depressing, like it’s not possible. But I really think the issue is far more my own lack of imagination than the reality of what’s possible in the world.

  6. Hi, Tracy. I hadn’t seen this post until today, and I’m glad that the discussion has continued long enough for an update to catch my eye this morning.

    I believe that no matter what I am doing, it becomes my lifework –my spiritual lifework–when I am mindfully in practice of prayer and study that nurtures my soul. I believe this because of my own experience, and because I’m aware that my ‘charisms’ are so much in synch with those of the Dominicans. I turn to the Franciscans for the models on connecting my heart and mind with the beauty of creation. It took me over ten years after finishing my D.Min. with UCS to find my “Order,” and I’m in the process of writing it into a workbook. I had to live the unbearable dark night path of the negativa for several years where I was unable to pray except to pray for the ability to pray again. It was incredible irony that the deep ecumenism of that wondrous experience led me to the conviction of “one river, many wells,” but also to the “many cups, still thirsty.”

    I had been studying Matt’s work since 1980 when I arrived at UCS, and was studying for a Masters degree in Organizational Consulting when I first heard his name and of his books from Dominican seminarians at the Newman Center at the University of Buffalo. I came to the “reinvention of work” from a place of study and questioning rather than a desire to reinvent my work. In the midst of all the fervor and sharing of paths at UCS, I was confronted with what I’d encountered a decade earlier when studying the sharing of native American spirituality with individuals with no native American indigenous heritage–that capitalism and a profit motive had crept into the experience of spirituality. I’d forgotten Shirley MacLaine’s vow that she wanted to prove people could make money from spirituality.

    There is no “if” I wanted to do work that used my spirituality. It’s a given. It is something I do every single day–recommit to this reality and hope I remember to open myself to the opportunities to do it each day. However, I have also found that there must be space not only for prayer, study, contemplation and teaching (the old Lay Dominican in me)…but for art. For creativity. Julia Cameron’s “artist’s way” is on the right path–but for me, not in getting me to find/discover/accept that I am an artist, but to remind me that art and creativity are integral parts of my human (embodied spiritual) life. My practice of Judaism can remind me of this as well, with shabbat a time when creativity ceases. Yet another irony–that given how I work, I often find the sabbath the time when I look to be creative and practice musically or artistically what I fail to do during the week. My lesson there is that perhaps the greatest gap in my life is the one that I did not see. And it is perhaps the most revolutionary: not talking or thinking spirituality, but finding a way to work artistically no matter what I am doing. In that, there is a joy and restoration of something very intrinsically spiritual in me, and my work is transformed. Still, it’s radical–and seen as ‘play’ in a world where work and play have been cast in binary opposition and competition–and where capitalism has further distorted the values of the two.

    This year is the year I’ve committed to restoring the artist in me, not as my job, or as a source of income or product, but as my very nature. We are two-legged animals who have been given the gift of creating along with our Creator. How readily I have abandoned this in favor of habituated and robotic, unconscious and repetitive, non-creative routines and scripts. In order to find this restoration, I’ve first had to find a practice in prayer and study to which I committed–letting go of the randomness of an immature postmodern spirituality. Once it became a habit, there was a slow emergence of stability from which my artist-self could begin to govern my activities. And I do mean ‘govern.’ My every choice in this material world to be viewed with my artist’s eye, rather than a divorced agent of efficiency and productivity. It calls me to develop ‘bitachon,’ the ontological trust that I am not in charge of my life path, only my daily choices. paradox.

    I’m happy to be on this journey with you from afar. If you were one of my students, I’d ask you to stop actively thinking and begin to observe what draws your attention from your heart-space each day, and to notice how those things that do not can be converted to expressions of light and creativity. I committed in 1986, when I received my Ph.D., to never ask of my students what I myself was not willing to do or had not already done. So I just thought of this little assignment and delighted myself with the answer to my own conundrum of practice today. I struggle with the fact that in my work we are called repeatedly to speak negatively about others in the name of critique or evaluation, whether when hiring someone, selecting students, or conferring on a student’s progress. I have made a commitment to the practice of smiras haloshon–avoiding harmful speech. Still, my work requires it, and I am made aware each day that if I wish to practice this (and I do), I must find a way out of the conundrum. I’m not sure how I will do this, but by turning to creativity, I have decided that prior to speaking, I am going to seek the haiku in the moment. And I’m going to carry a small notebook in which I will write these verses.

    Big picture transformations have always occurred in my life as gifts. It’s the little pictures I make each day, that I take each day with that image-recorder in my mind, that are much more important to how I experience and interpret what I am doing.

    Thank you, dear friend and sister.

    -Amira

    • tlongacre says:

      Amira,

      Thanks for your contribution. Though it didn’t really directly answer my question, there is a lot in there that is very helpful and rich just about how to approach life.

      I can see that it is quite difficult for those of you who are in your chosen profession, who are in a paying job that is the job you want to be doing, to see this question from my perspective. Because I am trying to ask — if you didn’t have any work now, or if you were advising someone without a job, someone looking to change careers or a student just starting out — they tell you that what they are passionate about is exploring Spirit or serving the spirit world — is there some job/profession/career they could pursue that would allow them to do that?

      Yes, I realize that if you are in a job that is your passion, then bringing your spirituality to it is something anyone can do. But what if you have no job or the job you have is not your passion. And what you can articulate as your passion is the above?

      Personally, it would seem obvious to invite them to consider religious life of some sort — priest, minister, nun, monk, guru, etc. What if they are not drawn to any single tradition? (Although I think you might say they really ought to choose one and delve deeply into it, if only for the discipline of it, which I get from a spiritual point of view, but it’s a bit different to commit your life to the Institution as you would in a formal clergy or professed post).

      Perhaps it is an impossible question. As if I am asking what is the best knife with which to eat a grape. . .

      Partly, I was hoping that some of my more “woo woo” :-) friends might tell me how they’ve pieced together a life. Actually one person did — he’s a Vision quest guide and a massage therapist and a few other things, too. The reason I am asking such a “down & dirty” question is that I literally seem to have no imagination in the domain. I can’t seem to think outside of very traditional boxes, none of which are even close to fitting me. Except just recently, well today actually, wherein I had a wonderful fantasy about being a chaplain to the homeless and those on the streets somewhere in the southern part of California. . . I find that idea really exciting. Maybe the way other people find the idea of teaching or leading workshops or writing or performing exciting.

      It seems I must be a really odd bird because most of the sort of role models that are held up or the things I see other people doing hold no interest to me whatsoever, including the work I myself have been doing for the past several years and the jobs potentially available where I am. But I know, at least intellectually, that there are “thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the ground” — and that’s what I want to know about.

      • Tracy,

        Did my response to your response arrive to you? It just disappeared from my screen–

        I’ll try to write again later. Basically it was addressing the fact that I have, indeed been living a life with no stable employment through most of my career until the position I have now. I suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1987, and as a result, I have had to look repeatedly for work and in every instance attempted to find a way to work my spiritual purpose into what I was doing–only have been aware that there is an energy of karma in my life that makes the choices less the focus than maintaining an awareness and vision of the now and the yearning.

        I may have to retire early if the TBI adjustments don’t accommodate the same type of work this position requires–and that may be the sign that I will finally be able to carve the life I’ve been wanting to live since I was a teenager. I’ll share later if you didn’t get my description of that which I wrote just now but which I accidentally erased…an interesting event in and of itself. ;-)

        Blessings,

        Amira

      • I don’t know where my replies are going…or if you’re seeing them…but something weird is happening when I write.

        Do what nurtures you and see what appears. You have a very needs-assessment approach to the whole matter, and I wonder what would happen if you trusted the experience to come to you by simply doing what you love on a daily basis. You have been blessed with the evidence of a providence that has taken you to amazing places and having incredible experiences. This same providence will provide for you the way you have provided for others through the service you’ve done.

        If being with the homeless would feed you, then put it out there in your meditation and see what arrives for you.

        -Amira

  7. tlongacre says:

    Ah no I didn’t get that other response, so please do share more.

    I see what you are saying about maintaining an awareness and vision of the now and the yearning. A little bit. Sometimes I am there, sometimes not. It helps when I’m clear what I’m yearning for, which at the moment I’m not so much. . .

    When you were repeatedly looking for work (the story of my life as well), did you have anything you used to guide you?

    • Great question. I found that releasing what I was doing at the moment always preceded the awareness of the next opportunity and step. As a guide, I would guess that I used mindful synchronicity.

      What I’d do if I weren’t employed as I am right now is find some way to be part of a regular contemplative community that shares an order together–where I am part of a lay community somewhere that doesn’t require major highway travel to see the other members of the community.

      I would lead creativity & writing workshops and write/perform, have a small cafe and host salon events and performance/poetry events–…and know that this is the time in my life right now to begin sowing those seeds so I do not try to be a flower without ever establishing roots for the sort of work that most feeds me on a regular basis. It’s about noting what I do naturally, without an external authority or structure telling me to do it–the work that flows from me as an expression of who I am, as opposed to sensing a ‘need’ that detours me, despite the worthiness of the work this moves me towards. Learning to serve from within, rather than as ‘duty’ is my next big step…the call of the elder.

  8. tlongacre says:

    Hmm, well I’m doing that but it’s a rather slow process.

    And I’m frustrated. If I stay with myself, I am totally limited by my ability to imagine what might be possible. But when I try to ask others, all I seem to be getting is “follow your passion”, “God will provide”. All I was trying to do here was get some ideas, here how/what other people have done in the hopes that it might broaden my thinking. It’s hard enough trying to not just “be my résumé”, it’s even more difficult when they only thing beyond that I can concretely imagine is being a parish priest or nun, both of which I’m fairly certain don’t suit me.

    • DO WHAT YOU LOVE. It appears to me that you love asking questions and diagnosing, that you have been avoiding a repeated sense of ‘call’ to a form of religious life. If you let yourself, and I DO mean ALLOW yourself to let go of all the mental work you do on this theme, you may find the breadth you desire. By continuing to return again and again to the notion of options and weighing alternatives, etc., it appears to me that you are treating your life as if you were one of your clients. What if you were a client of God’s? What if you let God be your consultant, rather than trying to be your own? I struggled over the last several years to find a way to pray that fed me again…and it was very difficult to get out of my own way so that my soul, rather than my habituated mind, was leading my voice.

      Alternatively, IF you were your own client, what would you tell someone like you? And are you willing to let go of feeling you are seeking?

  9. tlongacre says:

    Ha! That’s quite good, quite helpful. I also feel very much wanting to be part of a contemplative community. And part of what I am realising just now (like in the last couple of days) is that it may be far more important right now for me to be surrounded by the right kind of people than *where* I am. That is, to be around people who think in a certain way that would be very helpful to me, to build a community of friends, and somehow from that cauldron might emerge whomever I am meant to be next.

    And yes, I am seeking exactly what you are talking about — that which comes naturally to me, that is no effort, that I would do whether anyone paid me or not (though being homeless and hungry isn’t really what I’m looking for either). I struggle with judgments about how any of those things could allow for me to get fed, clothed and housed, though. (Like — what do I do effortlessly now? Run, meditate, yoga, connect with friends on FB). I think there may be more, but it hasn’t had time to bubble up yet. The chaplaincy/hanging out with the homeless thing is the first thing I’ve seen that fits any sort of notion I might have of paying work.

    Anyway, thanks for jumping in and moving this forward.

    • I didn’t say it to hurt–it was perhaps a projection of the process that I have found most helps me when I am ‘stuck.’ Undesirable repetitive patterns are undesirable repetitive patterns because they are repeated. Getting ‘stuck’ for me has often been due to an unawareness of how I do what I am really good at, and used to, when it’s not called for…like a wheel spinning in mud or ice. Other times, I am simply in the way of the real caretaker, who waits patiently for me to get out of the way so I can hear the ‘still small voice’ rather than read the ‘big bold signs.’ Sending you love.

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