Category Archives: work

Befriending or battling?

Noticing how we are in relationship with whatever is arising in our current experience is an important part of our insight meditation practice. The most fertile time to do this gentle inner investigation is right after meditating when we have actively cultivated clarity and compassion.

Whatever thoughts come to mind, we can look at them — the people, the problems, the plans, the situations — and notice if we are judging, blaming, avoiding or treating them as an enemy. Are we caught up in a bitter battle or participating in a joyful dance?

Maybe what is arising is a health crisis fraught with worry, pain and self-blame. This was the case for one student in class this week. She was also frustrated that she wasn’t managing to handle it all more graciously. Graciously? Excuse me? We are not white gloved ladies trying to be well-mannered to appease our mothers. How easily we fall into patterns that don’t serve us and how challenging it can be to see them. In our practice we aspire to wise speech which is kind, truthful and timely. That is plenty challenging, but no part of the requirement is to diminish ourselves or to put on a false front for the perceived benefit of others. What is called for is more regular metta practice. With infinite loving-kindness, we hold ourselves in a truly caring way.

If this speaks to you — either as something you crave or fear — feel the full power of your innate maternal or paternal self parenting yourself with love and kindness. Even if this is not the kind of parenting you received as a child, you can do this for yourself now. This is not self-indulgent. We all need to be held in this way. We might wish someone else would provide this to us, but waiting for someone else to provide it is like diverting fresh spring water away to another source, thinking it’s more valuable when offered in a cup from the hands of another. We all have direct access to infinite loving-kindness. Practicing it on ourselves first is the only way to be truly loving to anyone else. Access the infinite, then become a conduit for it.

Another student noticed how much time she needs to spend calming herself down to deal with a whirlwind of responsibilities. Well, first, great gratitude and celebration to have developed the resources to calm herself down. May everyone everywhere have those resources. Whatever skillful things we can do to take care of ourselves in order to manage our lives are to be appreciated. Kudos for having a regular practice and the ability to notice when a little time-out self-care is needed.


Although this student has a uniquely complex array of details to manage in her work, all of us can relate to at least at times having to manage preparations for some upcoming event. We know exactly how heavily it all can sit on our shoulders, and how we can get caught up in living in that future time when the event is fully realized, rather than giving ourselves the gift of fully engaging in this moment. This makes us less able to do what we need to do, and more miserable about doing it.

These kinds of projects often loom large and shadowy. We expend a lot of energy procrastinating and nagging ourselves about our failure to meet the challenge. The compassion and clarity that comes from regular meditation makes simply doing what we need to do much easier. It’s suddenly clear that we just have to break the work down into incremental bits and get to it.

Finding the time to fit a project into an already busy life can be tricky. But assigning it a regular time slot in your day or week can help to formalize the process. If you have ever been on a meditation retreat, then you probably were assigned a yogi job, some small daily chore that contributes to the well-being of everyone. It might be chopping vegetables, sweeping a porch or cleaning a bathroom. It’s always a very specific task, and it’s easy enough to do in a meditative way.

I once was assigned the yogi job of scrubbing the showers in one of the dormitories at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. It was interesting to notice how day by day my attitude and thought processes around my yogi job shifted. The first day was all aversion: Ugh to the claustrophobic tiled space. Ugh to the repetitive scrubbing and bending. Second day I was more accepting of the task at hand, and decided I would be the best shower scrubber ever. Third day I realized that these were

the showers used by the retreat teachers, so I shifted from proving my worth to expressing my gratitude. Fourth day I let go of all of that. I simply sensed into the movement of my arms and body wielding the scrub brush, sponge and spray bottle. Fifth day more of the same but also the awareness of being part of a continuum of shower scrubbing yogis who had all been here and would all be here day after day, retreat after retreat, for hopefully many years to come, scrubbing earnestly, dealing with their own range of thoughts and emotions. There was a sense of community, camaraderie and a relief that it wasn’t all up to me to keep this tile shining. And there was something about that that woke me up to what it is to be alive and to participate fully in life, whatever we are doing. Can we be fully present with the work itself? Can we see our own efforts as part of a pattern of dedication and even devotion? The work we do, and especially the way we do it, can be experienced as life loving itself through us.

Whatever is arising in our current experience can be met in so many different ways. Pause and consider what challenges or struggles you are currently dealing with. How are you relating to the experience? Are you avoiding it? Making an enemy of it? Can you add compassion and clarity into the mix and see what happens? Please let me know how it goes!


Is this any way to make a living?

For the past eight weeks we have been exploring the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Now we look at Wise Livelihood. This is not only our work but our interaction in the marketplace: How we invest our money, where we choose to purchase things, and how we interact in these exchanges. With a growing sense of being not just interconnected but actually one seemingly infinite energetic and organic being, we begin to see how what we do affects this wondrous web of life. We’re not locked up in a limited view that believes it’s possible to ‘win’ while ‘others’ lose.

When you are making your living in a way that isn’t aligned with your truest intention, you can feel it in your body — the tension, the anxiety, the out of kilter sensation. If you don’t heed this valuable sensory feedback and make a course correction, you will make an unskillful adjustment to compensate.

You might, for example, compartmentalize your work-life. But then where are you if for a good part of the time you are going unconscious?  You end up living somewhere in the lapse between your truest self and this person who feels you must do this job. Your thoughts are full of justifications, self-blame, guilt and excuses for continuing on this course. You feel separate from what matters to you. Unethical living is painful. Persisting to live in this manner can lead to illness, addictions, depression, despair, falling out with those you love, and a general failure to thrive.

I know this from my own experience. I am a writer and writing is a good skill to have, but it can be put to many uses, not all of them wise. I was in advertising for a decade of my life. It was fun! I loved the creative challenges and the camaraderie. To the degree I was able I made sure my work was ethical, in that the clients I wrote copy for offered useful services. In the most traditional sense of Right Livelihood, there was nothing specifically wrong with my work. But at some level it felt wrong, and I didn’t feel I had the time to look at why. Instead I forged ahead, did what I had to do, and lost myself in the process.


Does any of this sound familiar at all? If you are employed, is your work aligned with your ethics? Or is there a quality of sacrificing ethics for the bottom line?

Beyond work, Wise Livelihood has us look at where our money is invested. Where are you purchasing your clothes, food and household goods? What is the impact of your choices in the marketplace? Are you mindful or oblivious in all these transactions? The world is so complex now that it is almost impossible for anyone to live in a manner that is impeccably ethical, even though most of our intentions are good. But to whatever degree you are willing and able, it is worth looking at your choices and seeing if they are aligned with your truest intention and your core values.

Years ago I received a small inheritance from my beloved grandmother, a tiny percentage of some mineral rights in the Texas Panhandle. Each time I got a $30 royalty check it felt like a loving gift from grandma. So I held onto the mineral rights for many years. My husband and I liked to joke that I was an oil heiress whenever the random check would arrive. It was all very sweet and innocuous. But at some level I was uncomfortable with profiting from the oil industry.

Protecting the environment is deeply aligned with my truest intention. I feel strongly that we can only solve all our human problems if we have a healthy planet to sustain us. While I have always felt this way, the increase in global warming really reminded me that I don’t want to be part of the problem. We switched to 100% Deep Green energy for our home. We leased an electric car to be our main transportation. And I sold my mineral rights. I no longer get little checks from grandma, but I have a sense of being true to myself. But I can’t be self-congratulatory, because I can look around and see that there are other areas where my interactions in the marketplace are not as aligned with my truest intention.  It is an ongoing process. But I try to make it a loving exploration rather than a reason to beat myself up. That’s important. When I was younger I had such a strong sense of environmental guilt that I felt like I didn’t deserve to take up space on the planet. I don’t know where that came from, but fortunately I was able to recognize that I am of this planet, and while I need to be mindful of how easy it is to use up way more than my fair share of it, still I belong here. I don’t have to erase myself.

I had a conversation this morning with someone who had dreaded looking at Wise Livelihood because she felt that her work would not meet the requirements. She was relieved to discover that in the traditional sense, it did. But even so she is still not happy with her work, but that discomfort seemed more related to Wise Effort, or the lack thereof. Like many careers these days, she is expected to be in constant communication from the moment she wakes up in the morning, with IMs (instant messaging), email and phone parvatticalls with clients and staff. We discussed the possibility of making sure she does a regular practice of meditation each morning, even if only for ten minutes before launching into checking emails. And then to make her workday like a dance, being so fully present, so anchored in physical sensation, so much about creating spaciousness with compassion, that she could actually perform all the interactions as part of her practice. If this sounds like a tall order, it certainly is. But she is a practiced meditator, and if anyone can do it, she can. It will be an interesting experiment.


I have written an number of posts on Wise Livelihood, shared below. But I have also added a link to a Wikipedia definition of ‘Benefit Corporation’, a new way of incorporating a business so that all participants benefit, not just shareholders. This seems like such a skillful trend!

Metta Beyond Measure

Following up on ‘Freedom beyond measure,’ the discussion of measure wouldn’t be complete without mention of metta, or loving kindness, and how easy it is to think that it is some meager allotment that we measure and dole out sparingly. Quite the opposite!

We practice meditation for the benefit of all beings. We end each class with a dedication of the merits of our practice, whatever they may be, for the benefit of all beings everywhere. This is such an important part of the practice, and is a wonderful way to end any meditation. Try not to measure the merits! I know I have been sorely tempted at the end of a particularly distracted personal meditation to dedicate the merits of this practice ‘such as they are.’ This is the traditional qualifier I learned from my father. Perhaps it was handed down from his Amish father, I don’t know. He used to compliment my mother at the end of a meal, saying, “It was a fine meal, what there was of it. And there was a lot of it, such as it was.” My brother and I found this very entertaining, but I doubt if my mother, having worked hard to create a nice meal, was all that amused!

When we dedicate the merits, we offer up whole-heartedly all our effort, intention and love, with full acceptance of all the ways we fell short of our own expectations. So we neither measure the value of the metta we are sending, nor do we pick and choose who to send it to. It is for all. That all may be happy, well and free. That all may know peace.

There’s a Buddhist story about a man whose wife died, and he asked the monk to send blessings to her. The monk agreed and said that it was their tradition to send blessings to all beings. Well, this didn’t suit the man at all. He didn’t want her to have to share the blessings received. He wasn’t sure she had the strength to claim her fair share. And anyway, there were some people he really didn’t want receiving any blessings because they were not deserving.

I know that mourning man character in me. For years, when my children were growing up and going out on their own and my husband was doing a gruelling commute every day, I would wrap them each in loving light as they left the house. This was before I studied Buddhism, so my own personally invented practice was to say, “White light all around, keep my baby safe and sound.”

It never crossed my mind to send this white light out into the world to envelope the whole world in it. Even as I understood its infinite nature, at the same time I held the belief that there wasn’t extra to expend on anyone else beyond my little chosen circle of family and friends.

That I could hold these two conflicting beliefs – the finite and the infinite – both at the same time is not surprising. First because this kind of conflicted thinking is common to the human experience. When we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to quiet down, listen in, ask questions and notice our own thoughts, how can we see that there is a contradiction there?

And secondly, this shift between the finite and the infinite is one we make throughout our lives, from moment to moment. We use the finite view, the right brain view, to do our bookkeeping tasks, to read maps, and other similar daily functions. Shifting into the left brain is less common, less sanctioned in our culture, and so we give it up as children. We give up gazing aimlessly at dust floating in the air. We give up spinning around and making ourselves dizzy, savoring all the sensations and the silliness. We are told to get into that right brain and be productive. And so we do. Sadly, we ‘put away childish things’ in favor of the solid finite world that seems to promise security and success.

Through the practice of meditation, walking without goal in nature, experimenting with art materials, dance and music in an open and curious way, among other activities, we again access that left brain. And it feels like coming home to ourselves. But still we don’t live there full time. We shift back and forth. And thus are able to hold these contradictory thoughts, like the one I held about the nature of loving kindness.

One day my inner contradiction became crystal clear to me. We were driving across the Richmond/San Rafael bridge on a particularly messy traffic day, and I wrapped our vehicle in white light. Suddenly that felt very tight and selfish. Did I want only our car to arrive at its destination unscathed? No, of course not! I wanted there to be no accidents on the bridge that day. I wanted all of us travelers to be safe.

And I suddenly sensed how that was possible. I didn’t have to rely on some statistical odds. It felt perfectly reasonable to hope that there would be no accidents anywhere in the world, that all people would be well and free of disease, that all people would be happy.

In my right brain thinking, I had subscribed to logic, facts and statistics to draw the conclusion that some percentage of the population would have to crash and burn. But suddenly, in a left brain moment, I could see through that tight flawed veil of illusion.
I saw how crazy it was to subscribe to the belief that there was some rule that some portion of the population would have to be sacrificed to the accident god, or the illness god, or the poverty god.

In that moment it seemed as ludicrous a belief as the one held by the Eloi in the 1960 movie The Time Machine, those people in the distant future who hear a siren and go into a trance-like state to sacrifice themselves to the Morlocks, the predatory monsters who live under the earth. I must have been thirteen when I saw that movie and that one scene has stayed in my mind all these years later. Yvette Mimeux, so alive and vibrant one moment, suddenly turns into a vacant sack of flesh tuned to walk with the rest of her people toward their certain fate.

So what kind of trance are we in when we assume that there is limited metta to go around, that someone will have to be sacrificed, but please don’t let it be me or someone I love?

When I was on retreat recently, I was reminded again that the statistical oddity of peaceful coexistence and well being is possible. When we quiet down, slow down, sink into the present moment and release any sense of need to get somewhere else, it is quite possible, even likely, for us to become aware, have a deep love and compassion for the whole sangha (community). Quite naturally peaceful coexistence arises. How lovely it is for 90 people to seamlessly move among each other, without words or eye contact, managing to not just avoid crashing into each other, but really towards the end of the week beginning to move as cells in a single organism, in concert with each other.

The funny thing is that if someone from outside were watching us, the way we don’t talk or make eye contact and move so slowly, they would think we were zombies in a trance. But it’s just the opposite! On retreat we are incredibly alive, alert, present, compassionate, sensing our connection to each other and all that is.

What if we all slowed down, relaxed, meditated? What if we weren’t operating out of fear of being sacrificed on the altar of poverty, disease or accident. Of course, we would be more considerate of each other, more compassionate and caring, more able to enjoy each other without feeling threatened. And how would that impact our health and safety? Less stress, less mindless behavior, less addiction – is this not a prescription for well being?

I am not saying we would not die. But what is death? Go out in the garden, out in the woods and ask about death. The tree that falls nourishes the forest floor and regenerates life. Is it dead? Only if it thought itself to be separate, but the tree is an intrinsic part of the whole. It doesn’t die.

What of disease? It’s not all caused by stress, addiction and mindless behavior. Well, in the world of plants, we can see that the life force has just taken a turn, that bacteria, virus, fungi, or whatever has taken the lead. Again, the plant is a part of the life of the garden, not diminished by the life force fluctuations in and around it.

I know this sounds a little woo woo. Okay a lot woo woo! But that’s just the right brain feeling threatened by the possibility of a saner way to live, a way that is open, expansive and inclusive. A way that is joyous!

I know also that sending metta as is our practice can sometimes feel crazy. May all beings be well, we say, while wondering how that’s possible. May all beings be happy, we say, while knowing that’s even less likely. We cannot imagine such a cohesive arising of well being in the world we live in. And all we have to do when we are sending metta and having these doubting thoughts is to notice and allow the thoughts to coexist with the well wishing. Really! We are not about excluding ANYTHING that arises. So acknowledge those doubts. They are a part of the moment.

Do I believe that when I send metta all beings will be well? No. I believe that if all of us sent metta, the world would be transformed in an instant. But this is just a waft of a thought that passes through, it is not my goal to change the world. It is my intention to stay present with my own experience, and I notice that when I send metta I am happier. When I send metta there is an internal shift that seems to create peace within and around me.

One of my students asked an interesting question upon hearing all this. She said, “When we see someone in dire straits, we can’t help but think ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ What do you think when you see such a person?”

I said, I think, “There go I.”

Because really that’s the way of things. We may believe we are separate, but the truth is, as modern science clearly shows, there are no edges to ourselves that can be discerned. The molecules in the air, the molecules in the body are all of a piece. So when we believe ourselves to be separate, it is just fear rising up within us. Fear makes us believe that we are alone in the world, isolated, judged, in danger.

If I believe myself to be separate from the ‘person in dire straits,’ I suffer the isolation and all the manifestations of that fearful thinking. I feel afraid of contagion, guilty, lucky, awkward, responsible and a host of other emotions. I want to get away, not just from the person, but from these uncomfortable feelings.

If I believe myself to be an intrinsic part of the world, not separate from it, then when I see pain, I feel the pain. I am not overcome with the pain, but I hold the thread of pain as part of my immediate experience. I hold it spaciously. I notice my thoughts and fears, and in noticing them they often melt or soften, leaving me more able to recognize the person beyond the pain. No person is all pain, and when we treat each other as if our situation is our being, we create more pain where we wanted to be helpful.

I know when I was going through hip surgery, there were some people who began to see me as my situation, and it was very uncomfortable to feel so invisible to them. Imagine how invisible I would feel if this were an ongoing situation or circumstance! Imagine if I didn’t see what was causing me to feel so invisible, if I truly began to feel lost and fading away. This happens to people all the time when everyone around them treats them as if they are their illness, their poverty, their addiction, etc.

So when I see this ‘person in dire straits’ if I can stay present with my thoughts, emotions and sensations in my body, I will be more likely to see that there is no difference between us. And from that perspective, my metta, my well wishing, is deeply rooted and authentic. Perhaps it will also manifest in some way I can be useful, but at the very least I have shared humanity with him, felt an outflowing of loving kindness, perhaps made him feel visible as an intrinsic part of all that is, made him less object, isolated and alone. This may sound like a small thing, but it goes a long way toward healing, and it helps in a way that bread alone cannot.

Incorporating Metta in the Way We Work
In our daily life we do so many things that are for the benefit of others. In our work, around the house, in our grooming, shopping, etc. – everything we do can either be a tightly held tit-for-tat measured thing or it can be expansive, offered up with loving kindness from a bottomless source.

I’m reminded of the other day hearing a young person complain that she does way more around the apartment than her roommate. I was sympathetic because she was suffering from feeling used and put upon. But how different would her experience be if she stopped measuring who did what, if she established the yogi jobs she would do, based on what is important to her to have done, and then did it with awareness and loving-kindness. In the first place, her experience would be more pleasant. She could sense in to her muscles working in concert to clean, lift or whatever the chore is. She could also offer it up as a gift to her roommate, herself and the universe. Truly, a yogi job done with awareness and loving-kindness is a benefit to all.

Without measuring, she might notice that her roommate does other things that are of value to both of them. Perhaps she does more of the cooking, the bill paying or the shopping. If not, is there some reason she feels she should do less? Does she live there less of a time, feels less responsible for the mess, etc.? Does the roommate feel it’s not her home, that she is only responsible for her own room? Why would she feel that way? Lots of room for interesting conversation, without accusation, but with curiosity.

Without measuring, our young woman might find that a change happens in the household. Perhaps cookies are made in the oven she cleaned and offered lovingly. Or maybe her roommate has been inspired by the cleanliness and begins to see what she hadn’t noticed before. Not everyone knows what clean is unless they experience it.

In every relationship there is this potential for measuring, being miserly and creating misery. We think, ‘I did this, so you have to do that.’ ‘I did this, so you owe me.’ ‘I did this, and you are a lazy good-for-nothing bum who is disrespecting me with this behavior. Why do I have to tolerate this? I deserve better.’

We each deserve the joy that comes from accessing the infinite source through quieting down, listening in, being present for whatever arises in our experience. We discover the benevolent nature of things at the core, and sense at last that we are wholeheartedly and forever loved and lovable, that we are not dependent on the love, approval or respect of others for our happiness. We recognize that we are made of that love and able to transmit loving kindness generously because it flows through us from an undepletable infinite source.

We all deserve to let go of our own misery-making measurements and start offering metta in all we do. Without expectation of a return on our metta investment, it becomes unimportant if all labors are matched equally. But often, out of the contagious nature of loving-kindness, the balance comes into harmony. Our minds expand and we see the bigger picture, the ebb and flow of energies and abilities, and how things all work out.

Back to that day years ago driving across the bridge and having that metta insight: I recognized then the possibility of that kind of peaceful loving coexistence that we have together on the Spirit Rock retreat. If all of us stopped withholding our well-wishing and loving kindness from ‘strangers’ and ‘enemies’, how different would the world be? What would be possible?

Here is a poem I wrote about it at the time.

Metta Cake

A careful baker, I measured metta,
leveling each cup with the back of a butter knife.
Yet the cake would fall or simply lack sweetness for no reason I could figure.
My frustration mounted. I raged at the miller, the leavening, the oven.
But cake after cake was politely nibbled or set aside
by my carefully culled guests at my perfectly laid table.

I suffered deeply the humiliation of failure,
not to mention the waste of expensive ingredients.
But relentless, I kept trying, needing so badly to be seen,
if not as a baker extraordinaire, at least as a
really hard-working good-hearted person.

One particularly painstaking night,
exhausted from my futile labor,
I fell asleep in tears of self-recrimination.
To awaken in a dream world of metta beyond measure:
Of infinite love boundlessly flowing,
of hearts open to give without depletion,
to receive without questioning their worthiness,
in an endless circuit of loving light.

I sensed the warmth of sunlight upon my salty cheek.
I rose and threw open the windows to the boundless morning light.
I waved at a neighbor passing by, and was met with a radiant smile.
Then I took a stroll in the garden, plucking a peach off the tree.
Biting into its juicy flesh, my tongue delighted in its sweetness.

Maybe I would not bake today, I thought,
but if I did, it would be a kind of boundless baking.
Like the generosity of a peach tree whose fruit ripens
without concern for whether it will be eaten. Could I bake like that?
As if my cakes grew from an infinite source where I am deeply rooted?

I breathed in the fragrant air of all life intermingling in a rich chaos
and felt an infinite and indiscriminate tenderness.
Why not? I thought. Yes, why not?

– Stephanie Noble

Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

For many of us, how we make our living is tightly woven into who we are. One of the first things people ask us when they meet us is “What do you do?” because how we choose to make a living offers people clues into many other aspects of our identity, including our values, skills and interests.

In inner exploration we discover that what we do is not who we are, yet the Buddha acknowledged the importance of our work life. It is the action we do all day for most of the days of our adult lives, so our work needs to be Right Action if we are to free ourselves and others from suffering. This is called Right Livelihood.

On the surface Right Livelihood seems pretty straightforward. The Buddhist sutras offer guidance on the kind of jobs that cause suffering, and if we adhere to them we should be set in this department. Check this one off our list! But as we explore this aspect of the Eightfold Path, we find that it is just as tricky and deep as Right Speech or Right Action because it has multiple aspects.

The first and most obvious aspects is to choose a job that is in keeping with our deepest values so that we are not fighting inner battles every time we go to work. I worked for a decade in advertising. The better I got at my job the more insidious it seemed. I realized that I was learning how to trade on people’s fears. In essence every ad ever written says,’ Without this wonderful product you will be less.’ Less attractive, less happy, less safe, less productive, less appreciated. Just less. A real dukkha making job!

I refused to write advertising copy for products or companies I didn’t believe in. I remember saying no way to a liposuction client. I had my limits! But even if every word I wrote was true, it didn’t feel like Right Livelihood to me. By the end of the decade I wrote an eight page harangue about how advertising was the root of all evil. I may have gotten a little carried away, but clearly it was not the profession for me.

I remember at one point saying to a co-worker, ‘I feel totally separate from myself.’ That would have been a nice clue to have heeded, instead of just laughing it off as a strange sensation. What my inner wisdom was trying to tell me was that I was being untrue to my own core set of values, as well as struggling to be the role I thought I should play.

I didn’t quit. In many ways I liked my job. It was often fun and creative, I enjoyed my coworkers, I was helping to support my family and secure our future. But finally my body spoke up. Illness as messenger. I came down with CFIDS (chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome). I write about this more in my book Tapping the Wisdom Within, so I won’t go into it here, except to say that I hope others in a similar position won’t wait for an illness to force them to quit a job that makes them feel ‘separate’ from themselves.

So how do we determine if the work we do is harmful to ourselves or others? Fortunately we are not totally on our own to figure this out. We have the Five Precepts to guide us. As you may recall from our discussion of Right Action, they are:
Refrain from killing or harming other beings.
Take only what is freely given, refrain from stealing, exploiting or deceiving.
Refrain from misusing of our sexuality.
Speak truthfully and kindly
Maintain clarity of mind by avoiding intoxicants.

And we have the Buddhist sutras that add a few specifics: It is not Right Livelihood to deal in arms, slaves, meat, alcohol, drugs or poisons, or in making prophecies or telling fortunes.

If you do none of the above, hooray! But we need to delve a little further. If we work for a company, we need to make sure that it adheres to the precepts as well. If we work for a large corporation, this is challenging, as corporations are legally required to make as much profit as possible for their shareholders. Between what is legal and what is ethical from the point of view of the Buddhist precepts, there is a lot of wiggle room. So we need to do some research about our own company, because our job is intrinsically entwined. Now if our company is not, in our view, living up to ethical standards, we have the choice of leaving or of staying and trying to change the ethical culture. But if we want to end the suffering of ourselves and others, we don’t get to say “Just doing my job, it doesn’t have anything to do with me.” Right View, that vaster vantage point in which we sense our connection to all that is, precludes pretending that we are somehow separate in all this and therefore not culpable.

So, say you’ve chosen a profession that is Right Livelihood, your company is highly ethical – yay! Now there is the way in which we do our job to consider. Bringing all the aspects of the Eightfold Path and the Five Precepts to bear on our interactions with co-workers, clients, patients, customers, suppliers, etc. means bringing loving kindness into every interaction. As always we start that loving kindness with ourselves, so we are not beating ourselves up all day every day. Then we send metta to each person we meet, each email we send, each voice we hear on the phone.

When we act as a conduit for infinite radiant metta (loving kindness) we transform our own experience and the experience of those around us. This is powerful stuff. In fact, power as usually perceived in the workplace – who gets to boss whom, who gets the fanciest title, the corner office, the most money and best perks – that kind of power pales in comparison to the empowerment of infinite metta. Think about it: The supposed result of all that power and perks is happiness. But being a conduit of metta brings immediate, expansive and true happiness. The other is just fool’s gold. Some perk!

All right, you’ve chosen a profession that is Right Livelihood, your company is highly ethical, and you bring loving kindness into your interactions at work. So now you can check Right Livelihood off your to do list, right?

Well, not so fast! Because Right Livelihood isn’t only about how we make our living but how we, by our behavior in the marketplace, set other people up to make their livings! If we don’t make our living by killing animals but we benefit by others doing so, i.e. we eat meat, poultry or fish, then that is not Right Livelihood. We are contributing to the harm, both to the beings who are killed and to the person we are encouraging to do the killing – i.e. letting other people do our dirty work for us.

If we raise crops using chemicals that poison the environment, that is clearly not Right Livelihood. But if we knowingly purchase those crops we are also culpable, because we are helping to create a market where it is not commercially viable for a farmer to cease using those chemicals.

If we employ people at wages that leave them and their families hungry and at risk, then obviously that isn’t Right Livelihood. But if we purchase the products produced by manufacturers who treat their workers poorly, then we are also culpable.

And then once we make a purchase, we are responsible for it. If we dispose of it in a manner that harms the earth, that is not Right Livelihood either.

As an investor, Right Livelihood asks us to investigate thoroughly what exactly we are using our money to support when we buy stock.

So Right Livelihood takes into account not just how we earn a paycheck but how we interact in the marketplace. It takes into account every person whose life is touched by our interaction, and the very earth as well.

Now this is a lot of responsibility! By this time in my dharma talk my students were ready to join a monastery in order to avoid all these complicated pitfalls! Stop and notice if you are feeling in your body any sense of burden or exhaustion. Perhaps you feel Right Livelihood is impossible, given that as consumers we are not often given enough information to make wise choices, and the thought of having to do the level of research required to do so.

So what do we do? We do the best we can. That’s going to be different for each of us at different times in our lives. But keep in mind that Right Livelihood is a guidepost on the Eightfold Path that lights our way to liberation, the ending of our own suffering. When we are suffering, we can look to it and see if any of our actions are causing this suffering. We might experience this suffering as being at odds with our true selves, having developed a schism between what we believe and what we do. At that point it becomes less painful to change our actions than to continue to suffer the schism. We just want to be done with the ongoing inner battle, and come into a sense of integrity, wholeness.

When we access Right View and see our deep interconnectedness, then we really get how we harm ourselves when we harm workers on the other side of the world by supporting the industry that oppresses them — when all we thought we were doing was getting a great deal on a cute shirt!

Living in that place where our actions and our values are not aligned is uncomfortable. I know this from experience. The process is ongoing. It starts with noticing not just our actions but the excuses we make for our actions, and in the process of observing with great compassion, we may begin to observe a shift. This shift into a more connected sense of non-harming, where we take responsibility for our actions in a more joyous way and let go of the punishing, sacrificing mentality we had thought would be necessary, is a lovely gateway to liberation. But it doesn’t happen overnight. If we beat ourselves up about it we slow the process and squelch the possibility of truly coming into alignment.

Once we come into some sense of alignment, it’s important to continue to be mindful, noticing our thoughts and actions. We may become unskillful in a different way, developing a sense of purity around this, vowing that from this day forth we will live in perfect Right Livelihood, and make it our mission that others do the same. All we can expect from such action is misery in our ambition, our striving and our failures; as well as misery for those around us who will tire mighty quickly of any proselytizing we do in our new conversion.

As the Buddha did, we find the Middle Way. This is not the half-hearted way, mind you, and certainly not the half-assed way! This is the way full of mindfulness and compassion for ourselves and others. When we allow this awareness to unfold gently and with Right Effort, we create joy and ease, and, to the best of our abilities, Right Livelihood.