One thing I have learned on this journey of life is what work is – and what work is not.
I come from a family of hard workers. My father worked long and hard hours in the gritty, noisy, dangerous land of a steel mill. On weekends, he had a second job as the security guard in an apartment building that was home to professionals. My grandfather worked in a foundry. Uncles grew crops, picked in orchards, and raised pigs. I loved them all, as different as I am from them.
I grew up in a different time – the generation after World War II, those privileged years, and even though I come from working class, hard-working roots, my work has been of a different sort. I have been privileged enough, and smart enough, to get an education and to land a professional job right after college. I almost did not make it through college; I dropped out in my senior year, uncertain about what I really wanted to do as I entered the adult world. When I graduated, I carried with me a BA in English, that “jack of all trades” degree. Still, I was the first generation in my family to go to college. My parents helped that happen by giving me room and board – at home – while I commuted to university.
By temperament, I didn’t fit into my working class family. From the time I was young, I was a dreamer, and I loved words. Mom couldn’t understand why I didn’t “go outside” during the summer, why instead I spent hours melted into a chair, a book in my lap, my eyes in the pages, my imagination immersed in the worlds I found there. She understood my reading, and encouraged it. She didn’t understand my introvert’s ability to lose myself in what I read, although she was an introvert herself. Sometimes, though, we read the same books and talked about the characters as if they were real, pointing someone out on the street, the character we knew so well!
I grew up in a different time, when the values of the 50’s, of the nuclear family and what that meant were being questioned and even discarded. In the spring of my first year of college, universities were closed during the spring semester after demonstrations against Vietnam grew violent across the country. I loved university much more than high school. In a way, my life began then, when my books gave way to intellectual thinking and exploration. I was made for that world! I was a free-thinker, and I was also careful and uncertain about my own life, and so I did not explore much of the world outside my intellect.
My world opened up, I think, when I began to explore the inner, rich world beyond my senses. In my 30’s, uncertain about how to really live my life, how to engage in relationships, how to be happy, I began to explore my feelings and motives. I discovered the spiritual world, a fit for me. I made an adventure of going to 12 step meetings, retreats, healers, and therapy. I was motivated by my pain, which is truly the door to inner exploration. Something about life as others live it isn’t working, and so the inner world beckons.
To me, real work is inner exploration. I call it growth. I have come to see that as we grow outside the bounds of all the restrictions we were taught were “reality,” and “truth,” we actually grow, we expand, not only intellectually, but emotionally, and in power. My journey has been a deep journey of inner exploration, and I join so many other spiritual and therapeutic teachers of the world – Merton, Helen Keller, Jung – in that regard. My journey has not been easy for me, but I am grateful. I know what it is to be grateful even when the times of my life are tough.
My real work has led me to one place, only. My real work has led me, simply, profoundly, and beautifully, to myself. I am grateful that I have companions on this journey, because to have no companions at all would be lonely, so lonely. Some of my former companions, those who I love still, have not taken the journey, and so I find my ability to be with them limited not only in time but in content. In a way, I miss them. I love them, still.
My real work has led me to relate my life to God, whatever God is. I surrender the ego, when I can, and when I reach the edge – again, and again, and again… >>>>…
For one thing I am eternally grateful. I am grateful that I have found my call, and that although it is a lonely call in many ways, I am grateful that there is a community of fellow journeyers on my path. Some I will never know personally, but I know they have taken the journey: Dag Hammarskjold comes to mind; I know he is a fellow pilgrim. And I am grateful that this journey has opened my heart to the world, to the suffering of all other human beings. My journey has led me to understand that we are all the same, inside, and that we are perfect as we are.