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Mindfulness and Meaningful Work cover picture.Mindfulness & Meaningful Work: Explorations in Right Livelihood

Claude Whitmyer, editor and contributor. Foreword by Ernest Callenbach

Published by Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 1994.

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The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line
between work and play.

Arnold Toynbee

No work, no eat.

Pai Chang


This anthology explores the integration of mindfulness and ethics in the workplace. In these pages some of the leading thinkers and doers of our time -- Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy, Sam Keen, E.E Schumacher, Gary Snyder, Shakti Gawain, Shunryu Suzuki, Robert Aitken, Tarthang Tulku, Marsha Sinetar, Rick Fields, Ellen Langer, and many others -- share their insights on the practice and value of working and of finding work that is meaningful, life-affirming, and non-exploitative.

Mindfulness and Meaningful Work deepens our understanding of the concept of "right livelihood;" shows us how to go about overcoming the obstacles in our path so that we can find and maintain meaningful, satisfying work; and encourages us to live in a way that increases our inner peace, self-worth, and purpose.

Claude Whitmyer, the editor of this volume, is co-founder of meaningfulwork.com in San Francisco, where he serves as a business and livelihood coach. Mr. Whitmyer is also co-author of Running a One-Person Business (Ten Speed Press, 1994, 2nd edition) and editor of In the Company of Others: Making Community in the Modern World (Tarcher/Putnam, 1993).

From the Introduction

I emerged from the shower, greeted by the smell of freshly brewed coffee. I dressed, a bit reluctant to put on yesterday's clothes again, but having no real choice until payday. I had landed a job as an apprentice civil engineer, which meant days divided between drawing plot plans in the office and laying them out in the field so the bulldozers could begin grading.

I threw the bed covers up over the pillow and double checked my pockets for wallet, knife, and the few bills of lunch money that I had left for the week. I made my way into the kitchen arriving just as my older brother turned off the stove to let the percolator come to a halt. We had enjoyed mornings like this, my brother and I, since I had joined the ranks of the working men in my family. Up early to share a quick breakfast, and then off to the work of the day. Sometimes it was work that required thinking, and sometimes it required sweat. It helped support our family, and we received a kind of status from it. We worked, we made a contribution, and we were proud of it.

FINDING RIGHT LIVELIHOOD

Sometimes it seems that work is something I've always done. For me, working is basic, like eating and sleeping. I've never considered for a moment that I wouldn't work. If I had all the money I needed or could do whatever I wanted, I know I would still work. For me, working is a way of being fully alive. It is more than the identity by which others know me. Work is the place in time and space where I am most fulfilled. And work provides me with most of the opportunities I have to practice mindfulness.

In the beginning, work meant spending-money and parental approval. My earliest memories of work go back to when I was eight years old. In the winter and spring I sold greeting cards door to door, and in the summer and fall I mowed lawns. By the time I was 12, making money became more important than receiving praise, although that was still important too. I began to discriminate between jobs on the basis of how much they paid, even if the work was embarrassing. Baby-sitting, for example, always paid much better than yard work. So I babysat, even though, in those days boys weren't "supposed" to.

I began regular work when I was 14, as a grocery bagger and produce clerk at the corner market near my family home. I worked every day after school until eight at night, earned $1.17 an hour, and gave all my weekly paychecks to my mother. This little ritual marked a kind of coming of age, a passage into manhood. I worked every day and paid my way. This is what men did, and now I was doing it too. It didn't matter that my mother gave me most of the money back as a kind of allowance. In my mind, I paid rent. I bought groceries. I was officially a working man.

During the next ten years I held more than two dozen jobs, and I approached each one with the same "beginner's mind" of openness and eagerness to learn. I found this approach both alluring and rewarding, and, accidentally, in what I thought was a search for better pay, I began to leave jobs when they no longer excited or challenged me. Soon, the strategy became an almost purposeful quest for new challenges that would bring back that experience of "beginner's mind." By the time I was 25 and out of graduate school, I had worked as a coffee shop busboy, gas station attendant, bookstore clerk, librarian's assistant, office clerk, supply clerk, museum assistant, daycare teacher, apprentice civil engineer, swimming pool cleaner, motel desk clerk and night auditor, data analyst, research assistant, teaching assistant, shipping clerk, animal health technician, apprentice wild animal trainer, apprentice cabinet maker, carpenter's helper, graphic artist, and cosmetic compounder.

Often, after a short time on the job, I would be promoted to some sort of supervisory position. In this capacity I worked as the inventory manager in a bookstore, crew boss on a surveying team, route manager at a swimming pool maintenance company, administrative assistant on a research grant, production manager of a soap manufacturing company, general manager of a public warehouse, and corporate manager for a startup computer company.

Thus, I was introduced to the demands and difficulties of working with others. Increased responsibility led to increased challenge, and an increase in the amount of time it took for my "beginner's mind" to fade.

After ten years of working for others, my fantasies about being my own boss began to be too frequent and too strong to ignore. When the opportunity appeared for me to own my own company, I leaped at it, and for the next ten years, I began exploring what it meant to be the one with whom the buck stopped. During this second decade of my working life, I owned and managed my own natural cosmetics manufacturing company, a wood-burning stove distribution company, and an alternative energy/appropriate technology retail store. Many of the strategies I had developed as a worker were still useful to me, especially my supervisory style. But, it soon became clear that the strategy of moving on to a new job when things became boring and tedious simply didn't work when I was the one in charge.

Because of the value I placed on "beginner's mind," I felt encouraged to find a way to experience that state without repeatedly starting over. By this point in my life I had begun an active meditation practice as well as the regular practice of Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan. Mindful sitting contrasted with mindful movement, in a way that made it possible for me to see how I might carry the "beginner's mind" from the cushion into daily life. I began to experiment with this at home and on the job, and soon developed many specific practices that actively cultivated mindfulness. Mixing, bottling, and labeling cosmetics; ordering, stacking, and delivering woodstoves; taking inventory; stocking shelves; dealing with customers; working with employees; keeping the books; answering the telephone; making sales calls; every business task I encountered became an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

In the third decade of my working life I became a small business consultant and began learning about the close working relationship of consultant with client. Because of the emphasis I had personally placed on the practice of mindfulness, I was better able to provide advice that was specifically relevant to my clients. I was also able to offer them some guidance, mostly by example, in the use of mindfulness within their own lives. This emphasis on mindfulness practice has become an integral part of my work with clients, and, it seems, I have become known for it.

It was also in this third decade that I was introduced to the relationship of community to right livelihood. In 1974, I became involved with what, at the time, was called the Briarpatch Society, a group of people who had been social activists in the '60s and who were now entrepreneurs. What drew us together was a shared belief that business did not have to be synonymous with greed, corruption, and profit at any cost. We were among the early pioneers in a movement that has come to be known by the watchwords "environmental preservation" and "social responsibility."

Today the Briarpatch is a loosely affiliated group of about 500 members worldwide. To this day, Briar businesses are either directly involved in the environment or are operated in a way that greatly reduces their impact on the planet. Briars believe in providing the highest quality product or service and in giving something back to their local community. We share resources--from information and financial statements to shovels and pickup trucks. From the beginning, we have shared a belief that it is important to do all we can to ensure the long-term survival of our businesses and our community. To this end, we donate money to hire a coordinator who arranges technical advice and emotional support for members, as it is needed.

In 1982, I was invited to join the team of volunteers that provided the technical advice to Briarpatch businesses, and, in 1984, I was asked to serve as its coordinator.

My experience with Briarpatch has clearly illustrated the value of doing work that benefits and is supported by a personal community. By sharing resources and interests in the course of the day-to-day operations of their businesses, members of Briarpatch offer each other a rich source of community-based support that has no geographical boundaries.

Briars value right livelihood. Their first newsletter, <i>The Briarpatch Review</i>, was subtitled "A Journal of Right Livelihood and Simple Living." To Briars, right livelihood means not only work that doesn't hurt living beings or the environment, but work that also pays the bills.

In 1974, when the Briarpatch was first organized, a widespread set of stereotypes existed that equated doing good with being poor. Religious clerics were supposed to be "poor as a church mouse." If you were creative, you became a "starving artist." If you want to do good, the story goes, you must work for either a church or a non-profit, and if you do, you will have to work for peanuts.

After a decade of social activism in the '60s, Briars found themselves doing business in the '70s, but doing it in a way that simultaneously offered quality and benefit to the community and still made an honest profit. We saw that, by supporting one another, we were supporting all kinds of ethical, virtuous businesses and that these businesses could make a profit and still be run in the context of a personal set of values. The increasing visibility in the mainstream of companies such as Esprit, Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia, The Body Shop, and many others has begun to make this truth apparent.

Throughout my 30-plus years of work, I have experienced terrific jobs and terrible jobs. It is clear to me now that, while many factors determine whether a job is personally fulfilling, the single most important one is responsibility. The more responsibility I was given, the more fulfilling the work became. Another important factor was creative latitude. When I was allowed to use my own imagination and resources to solve my work challenges, the job was far more rewarding than when I was forced to follow someone else's idea about the "only and best" way of doing things. I guess that's why I just naturally gravitated from working for wages, to entrepreneurship, then consultancy, and finally to the work I have discovered that gives me the most latitude, writing.

The relationship of responsibility and creative latitude to job satisfaction held true for me whether or not supervision, management, and, finally, ownership were involved. The few jobs where my bosses were smart enough or lucky enough to have provided me with greater responsibility and a chance to participate in the creative part of the work were also the jobs I found most rewarding. My apprenticeships, in civil engineering, wild animal training, and cabinet making, come to mind.

Does this mean that entrepreneurship is the ultimate right livelihood? I think the answer might be yes, if we allow ourselves to redefine entrepreneurship so that it applies to a certain approach to work by employees as well as owners.

The word entrepreneur comes from the French entreprendre, which means "to undertake." Entreprendre, in turn, comes from the Latin inter, between or among and prahendere, to take before, to grasp, to seize, to hold. In its modern connotation, the word entrepreneur is taken to mean one who takes an enterprise into his or her own hands.

As we learn more and more about what it takes to make any enterprise work, it becomes obvious that the owner can't do it alone. Workers who take things into their own hands are increasingly seen as the key to success in organizations of all sizes. As Tom Peters explains in Liberation Management (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992, p.227), "Think about your corner grocer. Think about a line worker, or even a middle manager, in a big, traditional firm. The former is a businessperson, no mistake. The latter `fills a job slot.' What a difference. The most fundamental building block of the new organization is the `businessperson,' or `informated individual,' `case worker,' `care pair,' `mass customizer.' Emerging organizational forms will permit--and the market will demand--that each employee be turned into a businessperson."

If you read "entrepreneur" for businessperson, you can see each employee taking things into his or her own hands, being empowered by having access to all the information necessary to make the on-the-line, in-the-moment decisions that keep customers satisfied and the corporation accountable to its workers and its community. This is what Peters is saying, and this is the trend that encourages me to think of each of us as an entrepreneur, doing our own right livelihood, taking our lives and our livelihoods into our own two hands, doing well by doing good.


CONTRIBUTORS

In addition to opening and closing chapters by Mr. Whitmyer, Mindfulness and Meaningful Work includes essays by the following authors:

Robert Aitken is the founding teacher of the Diamond Sangha in Honolulu. He is author of A Zen Wave, Taking the Path of Zen, The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics, The Dragon Who Never Sleeps, and Encouraging Words.

Joseph Cary is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut and author of Three Modern Italian Poets: Saba, Ungretti, Montale and A Ghost in Trieste.

Ernest Callenbach is author of Living Cheaply with Style, Ecotopia, and Ecotopia Emerging, and co-author of A Citizen Legislature and Eco-Management: The Elmwood Guide to Ecological Auditing and Sustainable Business. He founded Film Quarterly and served as its editor until 1991.

Rick Fields, editor of Yoga Journal, is author of How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America, and The Code of the Warrior: In History, Myth, and Everyday Life. He co-authored Chop Wood, Carry Water with Peggy Taylor (former editor of New Age Journal), Rex Weyler (founder of Greenpeace), and Rick Ingrasci, a holistic health physician.

Shakti Gawain is author of Creative Visualization, Living in the Light, Return to the Garden, Awakening, and The Path of Transformation: How Healing Ourselves Can Change the World.

Robert Gilman is the founding editor of IN CONTEXT: A Quarterly of Humane, Sustainable Culture, which in 1991 won the Utne Reader's Alternative Press Award for "Best Coverage of Emerging Issues." He is co-author of Global Action Plan's Household EcoTeam Workbook.

Steven D. Goodman is Assistant Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and Comparative Philosophy at the California Institute of Integral Studies and adjunct faculty at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. He is coeditor of Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen monk and author of many books, including Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness, , and The Sun My Heart.

Paul Jordan-Smith is coeditor of I Become Part of It: Sacred Dimensions in Native American Life, and a contributing editor to Parabola.

Sam Keen is author of Your Mythic Journey, The Passionate Life, and Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, and Faces of the Enemy.

Ellen Langer is a Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Social Psychology Program at Harvard University. Her books include Personal Politics, The Psychology of Control, and Mindfulness.

Gene Logsdon works a small farm in Wyandot County, Ohio, and is author of At Nature's Pace: Farming and the American Dream.

John Daido Loori Loori is teacher at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York. He is author of Mountain Record of Zen Talks, Eight Gates of Zen, and Two Arrows Meeting in Mid-Air.

David Loy is associate professor of international studies at Bunkyo University, Chigasaki, Japan.

Joanna Macy is adjunct professor in the School of Transformative Learning at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is author of Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, Dharma Development, Thinking Like a Mountain, Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory, and World As Lover, World As Self.

Jean Kinkead Martine is a partner in an advertising agency and a short story writer.

Carolyn Meyer is author of People Who Make Things: How American Craftsmen Live and Work.

Toni Packer conducts retreats at Springwater Center, Springwater, New York, in California, and several European countries. She is the author of Seeing without Knowing and The Work of This Moment.

Fran Peavey is author of Heart Politics, A Shallow Pool of Time and By Life's Grace.

Michael Phillips is moderator of American Public Radio's "Social Thought." He is co-author of The Seven Laws of Money, Honest Business, Marketing without Advertising, and Citizen Legislature.

Roger Pritchard is a right livelihood guide and socially responsible financial consultant.

Walpola Rahula is author of What the Buddha Taught and The Heritage of the Bhikkhu.

James Robertson is author of Future Wealth: A New Economics for the 21st Century, Future Work: Jobs, Self-Employment and Leisure after the Industrial Age, and The Sane Alternative: A Choice of Futures.

Patricia Ryan Madson received Stanford University's prestigious Dinkelspiel Award as the most innovative undergraduate faculty member of 1998 for her work in the teaching of improvisation. A senior lecturer in Drama, and head of the Undergraduate Acting Program, she is also the American Coordinator of the Oomoto School of Traditional Japanese Arts, and coleader of the San Francisco Center for Constructive Living.

Saki F. Santorelli works closely with Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program, University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

E.F. Schumacher was instrumental in the creation of the "intermediate and appropriate technology" movement. He is author of Small Is Beautiful and A Guide for the Perplexed.

Marsha Sinetar is an organizational psychologist, mediator, and writer whose books include Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics; Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow; and Developing a 21st Century Mind.

Sulak Sivaraksa, author of Seeds of Peace: A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society, is a prominent and outspoken Thai social critic and activist.

Gary Snyder is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and teacher of literature and wilderness thought at the University of California at Davis. His poetry collections include Turtle Island, Axe Handles, and Earth Household, and his essay collections include The Real Work and The Practice of the Wild.

Shunryu Suzuki was founder of the San Francisco and Tassajara Zen Centers. He is author of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

Janet Tallman teaches culture and communication at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California. She has just completed a book on conversational styles in everyday life.

Tarthang Tulku is a religious teacher from the Tarthang Monastery in East Tibet. He is a prolific author and among his many books are two that are important to anyone interested in the subject of right livelihood: Ways of Work: Dynamic Action and Skillful Means: Patterns for Success. He lives and teaches at the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley, California, and the Odiyan retreat center in northern California.


Technically Mindfulness and Meaningful Work: Explorations in Right Livelihood is out of print. But if you click on any of the links to it on this page, you will be taken to Amazon.Com where you can always buy a used copy.


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Copyright © 1998-2011 by Claude Whitmyer. All rights reserved.

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