We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness. -Thomas Merton
“So…what do you do?”
That is my least favorite question, but I find myself asking/being asked it so much these days. It may be because I’m a little awkward when it comes to small talk, but I think it goes deeper than that. I used to ask “What do you like to do?” but people would truly get so thrown off that I would almost feel bad for asking. As a creative, I envy those who can answer that question without clumsy further explanation. If someone my age is on a real career path, no one side glances with questions still in their eyes. Their inner dialogue is like “I get it, they save lives.” But when I am asked what I do, I perform a complex explanatory dance just to end up saying simply “I’m a nanny.”
What is that all about? I think I feel the inherent pressure to succeed because I’ve gambled my life on art. I have spent the last two years trying to validate what I studied in school. And trust me, being a nanny is certainly a strange place to show that my education was worth it.
I have been surprised by what I’m currently doing with my life. Part of my job as a nanny is also taking care of a small, ragamuffin farm. I have pruned fruit trees, cleaned coops, weeded ceaselessly, and (my personal favorite) turned compost. All these things become automatic pretty quickly and provide me with perfect opportunities to consider my own existence. I know that sounds a little navel gazy, but I believe it’s a privilege and a practice we could all use a little more of. When I am struggling to shovel unmentionable waste and rotting veggies, I am also giving myself time to just be. I’m not sitting cross-legged on a pillow (although that is also something I wholeheartedly encourage), but I am meditating and diving deeper into what it means to exist.
I have been curious about the more mystical side of spirituality for as long as I can remember. I was raised in a traditional church, but loved yoga the minute my feet touched a mat. I read excerpts of things written by mystic monks and gurus with the same enthusiasm. One of my favorite things that I have gleaned from these teachers is the importance of giving yourself the permission to simply live. Thomas Merton (one of my absolute favorites) lived and died without seeing a super-computer phone or the internet, yet he still thought we all needed to let go of “usefulness” and look at existence.
I know I am not original in saying we need to relinquish what we are doing and focus on who we are. I also know that we need to be reminded that we are so much more than what we do. That is only a small fraction of the beautiful garden of self inside each of us. Merton’s quote is my thesis for living this year. I am planning on returning to school with the hopes of teaching. I will write. I will keep on running. I will create art. But I will also remember that I have time to breathe, to live, to just be.
So here’s to a new calling: Being. Focusing on that will better enable us to love others for not only their usefulness, but for who they are.