Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Why do we work?

Why do we work?
Aaah, a good question you may think (and no doubt one which triggers all sorts of gut reactions) - it's a fairly loaded word, "work", isn't it?

The Sunday moonday last month allowed me to go back to my original yoga teacher, the one who really got me interested in yoga and it's more spiritual side - found, incongruously enough, at my local weight-lifting/circuit-training-obsessed local chain gym. The funny story is that this class is sivananda style hatha yoga, but up until a few days before I went to India to take an ashtanga course, inspired by my love for this class, I was utterly convinced that this was ashtanga. Anyway I digress...
For quite some time I was a regular at this Sunday afternoon class, without really having much conversation with the teacher (N - a wonderful guy who looks for all the world like he just landed from another planet and is still trying to figure out what this one is all about - he is that spiritual. But after coming back from my first trip to India, all full of the joys of ashtanga, I quit my gym membership to spend the money instead on yoga classes. As I now always practice at the shala on a Sunday, there isn't really a chance to go back to his class apart from on the odd ocassion, like last Sunday's moonday for example. Well now that I am an infrequent visitor, and a yoga devotee, every time I do go to his class I am treated to a seriously amazing conversation with N afterwards. I wish I could suruptitiously record what he says, as I can't take it all in, but he has said some things to me in these conversations which have had quite an impact.
So last week, I took the class, which was wonderful (and let me say, as it is mostly the same each time, it's a great marker to see how my flexibility and strength has changed in the months since I last tried it) and afterwards he stopped me for a chat. "You look so well," he said, taking my hand, "What's happened? Did you get married??"
Well, funny suggestion, but no - I told him that I had a new job (and in the most part my "looking wonderful" was probably down to a lie-in and a post-yoga glow). So then we got into a discussion about work - when I say discussion I mean him talking and me listening, hoping against hope that I could remember it all and apply it later - but the essence of it was something like this (though I' paraphrasing of course).
Through our work we face the meeting of past and future - of our memories and our if something reminds us of a situation when we did the same thing before and it went badly (like chasing up money from a customer for example), then we remember the past experience and imagine it happening again in our future. To get the outcome we desire we need to remain completely in the present and not colour it with what has gone before or what we imagine might happen this time. Our work exsists to teach us an important lesson in our life - but if we are not careful, if we take our eye off the ball and sleepwalk through our hours spent at work, we risk missing the lesson, and "that is why we work, it's all about the lesson." And there was me thinking I just worked to pay for yoga ;)
He went on to talk about how people explain washing the dishes as a meditation, and how he watched an old film of Swami sivananda where he did everything with a reverance, a form of deliberate movement - tying this in with work, he decided to take a job (on top of teaching yoga presumably and - big surprise to me - writing film scripts) as a decorator, "because if I couldn't turn work into a meditation when I'm painting a wall white from one end to the other, then what could I?" Seriously - wow.
He said that this took him many years to understand, but once he realised it it held the key for him. He also spoke to me once in the past about how once you understand what life is (when we were discussing the yogic path) that it doesn't matter if you're sweeping the streets or having the corner office, because you can do either thing with a song in your heart, or a black cloud permenantly raining on you - the actual job is not important.


I was reminded of all of this this week, especially yesterday, as I am in Denmark this week as part of my training for my new job. The company I work for as a sales rep/account manager is based here, and they get all new employees to spend a few days (or a week for those lucky people based in Denmark!) working in the warehouse - the idea being so that we understand how it all works and won't make unreasonable demands on them later, haha! As my colleague was delayed in arriving by a day due to bad weather, I spent day 1 on my own, and our first task was unpacking a shipment of baskets which had just arrived from Madagascar. Surrounded by Danish people who spoke little English, I stood alongside them with my knife, slitting open the old rice bags used to pack the baskets, and thinking of N's words. In all honesty that morning, lugging these heavy bags, carving up my already sore and dry hands, having no conversation with my neighbours, was the first thing I have done since starting this job at the end of October which felt like "work" - as in, a hardship, something which I wasn't actively enjoying doing - not that I was unhappy, as I had all of N's words running through my head as I did it, but it defiitely felt like work in the traditional sense.

And surely that can't be bad? Having come from almost three years doing a job where I did very little but watch the clock and surf the internet, this is something of a revelation. And thankfully the unpackig section was just a short interlude before I was trained how to pick orders - but here there was another lesson. I was taken by one of the (english-speaking) staff on a cart like the one in the photo to be shown how to pick orders (it is done manually, travelling around the warehouse on the cart with it's attached trolley and matching up the orders to a handheld scanner) and let me tell you, I was terrified. These things can MOVE! And being a passenger was really quite scary - as was the thought that I'd be let loose myself before too long. But after the morning coffee break I was off, and after a shaky (and very slow!) start I was zooming around like nbody's business by the end of the day. When my colleague arrived today, I was the one who trained her, and yes I may have had a few crashes but I quickly had to let the fear go yesterday, to notice when my shoulders were rising up towards my ears in tension, and just to go with it and relax. And I couldn't have been more proud when the warehouse manager told me at the end of today that I had done a really terrific job and not made any mistakes with my orders :) And how did I forget to mention how much FUN we had?! Zooming around on our little carts, my colleague and I giggled our way through today - with the odd bang and crash to send us on our way. We decided to ask the warehouse manager if we might be allowed to come and work for them during our holidays, a thought which had us doubled over laughing, as did the moment when I stepped off the MOVING cart we were both on to look at a cushion I'd spotted, whilst saying "Oooh, PRETTY!". So after the fear, the fun :)
So I'm not entirely sure what my overall message is, maybe I don't need one, but just to say that sometimes you need to keep your ears and eyes open for the lesson that is there in your work. And one thing's for certain, thanks to N and my lovely new company, I have been reminded that work isn't just a means to pay for yoga holidays - though it helps with that too.


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  2. i've been going through a bit of a rut recently with regards to my chosen profession (I'm trying to establish myself as a professional photographer) and trying not to let the fears and anxieties paralyze me. So reading this post about work is rather serendipitous and illuminates a whole new way to think about work and how we define ourselves in relation to our 'job'. This line in particular, really spoke to me:

    "To get the outcome we desire we need to remain completely in the present and not colour it with what has gone before or what we imagine might happen this time."

    Thank you for sharing N's words, they really made a difference today.

  3. I used to love zooming round in a Fork Lift.If we ever crashed into anything, everyone else would shout "Wrecker".

    Can't imagine seeing the we love the company at this place, that's for sure. 7 months to go

  4. Danielle, I'm really glad this came at a good time for you, it's funny how often we stumble across exactly what we need to read at the right moment isn't it? I suppose it's to do with keeping receptive, but it does seem to happen quite often.... I'm also glad that N's words resonated for you, he always seems to say at least one utterly profound thing each time I see him now. Actually when he was my only yoga teacher (in my pre-ashtanga days) I was going through a difficult time, and post savasana he sat quietly and said "if you can hold this feeling inside you, nothing can touch you" - and it literally changed me on the spot - I felt like I had a forcefield and went into work the next day with a new resolve & a new attitude. That's pretty powerful stuff. But in terms of the challenges you are facing right now, it's easy to forget that "being present" is (in my opionion) one of the biggest challenges we face both on & off the mat, but a lot of the time it's the only one that really counts. Have faith that the universe will provide (trite, but often true) and just keep on remembering to be present. Believe in yourself! :)

    Susie - so much fun! Though I had to conquer the fear first, and a lot of this job is about that...letting the fear go to realise it's fun. I am working at my edge a lot of the time, but I have learnt (am learning, I should say!) how to do that on my mat and so I am allowing myself to do it in real life's good to know that all this practice actually helps in the real world ;)

    Kevin counting down is not staying present! Maybe you could come & work here on the trucks ;) (no ashtanga shalas for miles around though)

  5. Mel, I Would love to work somewhere like that, just going into a building without it meaning depression for 8 hours.

  6. You are lucky to have come across a company who seem to treat their staff to Gross Domestic Happiness compared to our Gross Domestic Misery!

  7. Love this post, thanks for posting, really useful, keep it coming x