Bucket Lists, Careers, and The Meaning of Life: Why Do You Do What You Do?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What’s on Your Bucket List?

Recently, a friend asked me what’s on my bucket list. He began to name some things on his—mostly travel to various places. I couldn’t think of a place I need to see in my lifetime, though there are a few places I’d like to go. Go or not, I’ll be happy.

Or not.

I no longer have a specific career goal on my bucket list either. Over the last few decades, I wanted to be a noted psychologist, a bestselling novelist, and a nutritionist. I imagined changing people’s lives with my insights and ability to motivate my clients to live a healthy lifestyle.

A more recent career goal (before I became a freelancer writer), was to be an awesome teacher to a special population of kids I really understood. Let’s just say politics got in the way of that goal.

But like I said, I no longer dream of accomplishing a specific career-related goal. I now see how all of these pursuits fit together.

There are a lot of things I’d like to learn—or relearn—before I leave this planet. I’d like to sing again, play tennis again, and I’ve always wanted to learn to draw. I have to learn about technology and digital publishing (but none of that is on my bucket list).

In fact, I’ll be fine if I accomplish any of these things or none of them, as long as I stay engaged in something.

A simple goal: Finding the meaning of life

So what is on my bucket list? What do I need in order to feel that my life has been worthwhile?

Well, it’s simple. I need to know—or believe, because we never really know anything, do we?—that my life has had meaning and that I’ve somehow made a positive difference. Isn’t that what most of us want.

Can I ever know for sure that my life means something? Maybe not. It may have to be enough to just believe. In many ways, I have yoga thank for knowing what’s enough. Yoga has taught me to be myself and to use my gifts without attachment to the outcome of my efforts.

It’s hard though. I won’t lie.

Making a difference

I suppose it’s obvious for some people that they’ve made a difference in the world, and it must feel good to know this. Respected doctors, best-selling authors, Noble Peace Prize winners and the like get some kind of tangible feedback and proof that their lives have meant something.

Do I need to be famous or remembered in history books? Of course not. Does it matter much that I may not be personally remembered by many once I’m gone? Not really, though it would be nice. But I do want to believe I made a small difference somehow. Because a small difference can have a huge impact. It can be part of a whole movement toward the development of good. I know in my heart that this is true, though I can’t point to any scientific evidence to support my hunch.

Your Career is Not What You Do, But Why and How You Do It

The other day in yoga class, my teacher, who always seems to know exactly what I need to hear, read a passage from Marianne Williamson’s bestseller, A Return to Love.  The book is a classic for good reason. It’s simple and brilliantly poetic. It’s about love.

The passage my yoga teacher read was about, of all things, careers. How did she know I’d been wondering about the direction of mine?

My friend who asked me the bucket list question is struggling with a similar problem. He’s at a career crossroad himself. The career thing is very different for him than it is for me in some ways. But in others it’s not. We both want to make a difference.

How to Make a Difference

How can we make a difference in such a complicated society? We have so many choices. On the other hand, as we explore each possibility, we often find our choices are, in reality, remarkably limited. They may lead us down dead end roads until we hit a wall.

And then what?

There is fierce competition for jobs, whether one is a corporate executive or a freelancer looking for her next gig. There is so much that seems irrelevant and pointless when it comes to using our gifts. Are we “qualified,” are we “certified,” do we have experience in a very specific field we know we can succeed in?

Simply using our gifts is not always enough—because of the competition, the bills, the tax laws, the stock market, and information overload. Every day my inbox is bombarded with the latest “secret” for finding clients and well-paying writing gigs. Most of them are regurgitations of the ones I received the week before. At this point in my career, few of them are useful.

But I shift through them all to find that needle in the haystack. Because there still needles to find.

My point (I do have one)

When I forget why I do what I do, I am tempted to give up. I need to remember to serve, and my way of serving is helping people communicate what they do (or know).

We all have gifts. If we use them well, we can craft a meaningful career, though it may not resemble what the textbooks say a career is supposed to look like. In other words, we don’t all choose a profession, get an entry level position in that field, and then slowly but steadily climb to the top until we are making a comfortable living, then retire and look back with satisfaction on how seamlessly our working years progressed. For many of us, this career thing is a mish-mash mess.

Enter the simply brilliant perspective of Marianne Williamson. As a writer, I’m in awe of her brilliant ability to cut through to the point and say it with beautiful simplicity. “Success,” says Williamson, “means going to sleep at night knowing our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.”

Williamson goes on to say that what we do is not as important as how (or why) we do it. We should do whatever we do kindly. The key to success is to realize how we are connected—that the purpose of our work lives is not different from the purpose of the rest of our lives. It’s all to spread love.

Does Your Work Spread Love?

For some, it’s a stretch to see one’s job as work that spreads love. And some work does not (in which case the doer may want to consider a change). But every job worth doing has the potential to be done with love. Even if your job is to sell used cars—or carpets—you can do it with love. I mention carpets because I once knew a salesman who was joyfully helping people pick out carpets well into his eighties. That kind of thing can be inspiring.

Whatever you do, you can be kind, honest, and friendly while you do it, and your goal can be both making a profit and helping someone else, whether that person is a customer, client, or coworker. If you are doing your work solely for the profit, you may miss a lot of opportunities spread love. That is, you may miss your purpose.

My goal as an editor and writer is to help people communicate. I enjoy writing about others and helping them polish their work as much as I enjoy crafting my own stories. For the most part, I work in a niche that is easily about love—well-being—but it’s not the only way I use my talents. I’m also a technical editor, and I spend a good amount of time pouring over copy about digital imaging products. How is that about love? Well, the team I work with is a great group of people; for most of us, the work is about supporting each other’s efforts. Our collective goal is to communicate an accurate message.

Before I launched myself as a freelance writer and editor, I was a teacher, an administrative assistant, a nutritionist at an upscale gym, a financial aid counselor, and a research editor. Yes, I’ve had many jobs. In Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says the same of her life.

Marianne also says she’s had many jobs but only one career. I say the same.

The reason I’ve had many jobs (and clients) is I’m continually tweaking my work life to align with purpose. I’m looking for the best way to use my gifts to do what I came here to do—what we all came her to do—spread love and make a difference, no matter how small that difference seems.

If I can do that, I don’t need a bucket list.

 

Advertisements

Would You Like to Join a Circle of Yoga Friends?

yoga friends

As many of my yogi friends know, I’m working on a project called Yoga Circles, a guide for small groups of yogis who want to meet, talk about yoga philosophy, share the joys and frustrations of the practice, try new things, socialize, and have some fun!

To give you a better idea of what the project is all about, you can download an excerpt of the book here!

If you’re interested in receiving a free preview of the entire manuscript, please contact me. I’m looking for beta readers. All I ask is that you read it and let me know your thoughts. All suggestions are welcome!

Has yoga changed your life? Would you like to write about it? I’m also looking for people who would like to contribute stories of transformation through yoga to be included in the book. If you’re interested, you can download more information below, contact me via Facebook, or email me: maria@wellbeingwriter.net.

CONTRIBUTE A STORY

Thank you! Om shanti.

How to Cultivate Passion (for Your Life)

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Last weekend, I attended the second of a year-long series of monthly yoga and aromatherapy workshops at Ma Yoga in Mahwah, New Jersey. The theme this time was passion, and so I decided to prepare myself to explore this theme by asking myself the obvious question…

What, exactly, is passion?

After some thought, I decided that passion is a strong connection to someone or something—so strong that you lose yourself in the object of your passion. I have a passion for writing, yoga, and The New York Mets, for example. I also have a passion for certain relationships.

The type of passion I’m describing isn’t always there, of course. Sometimes I’m not lost in my writing or I’m watching the clock in yoga class or I turn off the game because the Mets are losing. And of course there are times when I need a bit of space between myself and loved one. I was excited about the workshop because, I thought, it would be great to discover some tools for cultivating passion for the people and things I love more often; in other words, tools for keeping that passion alive.

Passion for Everything

To my surprise, Jan Jeremias and Dee Andalkar, the workshop presenters, went a step further with their take on passion. In fact, Jan described something that in a way was the reverse of what I was thinking. She suggested that, rather than think about passion as coming from the things we’re drawn to, we can be passionate about everything.

Really? Everything? Can I really be passionate about doing the laundry or the tedious job of editing a technical document or listening to a loved one rehash a problem for the sixteenth time this week?

Well…maybe I can. It turns out that passion is presence. And when we do things with passion (that is, when we are compassionate), we are simply there experience those things fully. And when we do that, we come alive.

Here are some ways to cultivate passion for everything in your life:

1. Practice yoga, of course. To make your yoga practice more about living with passion, do the poses with more presence than ever. Of course, we yogis know that being present is a key aspect of the practice, but we really do need to be reminded of this often. So when Jan led us through poses, she made sure that we were present by cuing us to slow down, breathe first, and even to add movements purposefully—for instance stretching our arms out to a “T” position and pausing there before reaching them up in high lunge. Try this when you practice, and you’ll begin to appreciate each pose even more. Then take that off the mat and into your everyday life.

2. Use essential oils. We were treated to a beautiful essential oil blend called Passion, which is a combination of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, clove, sandalwood, jasmine, vanilla, and damiana leaf. I couldn’t help noticing that most of those ingredients are the comfort spices I associate with autumn; I don’t know if there’s a connection, but I do notice an extra energy for life in the early part of that season. Another oil combination we sampled was ylang ylang and wild orange. This is a simple blend, but its effect is amazing. Other oils that can help cultivate passion and enthusiasm include

3. Chant the mantra “Ang Sang Wahe Guru.” Dee led workshop participants in this Kundalini Yoga chant that celebrates passion for life. According to Spirit Voyage, the translation of the mantra is, “The dynamic, loving energy of the Infinite Source of All is dancing within my every cell, and is present in my every limb. My individual consciousness merges with the Universal consciousness.” Every cell. Every limb. It’s hard to think about that and not to have more passion for your life!

4. Be present! You can’t be passionate about a life you’re not there for. So to connect with this simple truth, we did a short mindful eating exercise. I’ve done this before, and although I usually do make an effort to eat mindfully, it never hurts to be reminded of the power of attention to the simple things in life. I chose a slice of juicy tangerine and noticed the not-too-sweet burst of citrusy flavor that filled my senses when I bit into it, then very slowly chewed it until only the pulp remained to swallow.

A few days after the workshop, as I finish writing about it, I realize that I’ve gone through the first part of the week with a noticeable boost in my passion for life. I’ve started two new, exciting projects, so that helps, but it’s more the overall feeling of connection to my life that I’m noticing. When it begins to wane (I’m human; I know it will), I have these awesome tools of yoga, essential oils, mantra, and mindfulness to turn to, and for that I’m very grateful.

The Yoga of Transition: Reflections on Thursdays with Marla

om chakraLast week, I took a Thursday morning yoga class for the last time—not the last time I’ll ever attend yoga on a Thursday morning, but the last time I’ll likely take this particular class with this particular teacher. A week ago, Marla (the teacher) announced that her schedule will be changing after the holidays, and she’ll be teaching on a different day—a day on which I already attend another yoga class at another studio.

This “shift,” as Marla called it, is part of the unfolding of her path as a healer, and she’ll soon be branching out with new offerings for the community. This is good news for the community.

Of course I was sad about the class, but it’s not the first time my yoga life has shifted. Years ago, I was told (also around the holidays) that the entire studio I’d been practicing at would be closing, and between then and now, several other classes with inspirational teachers have been dropped from schedules or switched to days and times when I can’t attend.

But part of being a yogi is learning to accept change. When one yogic door closes, another opens.

And there is always more! (That line is borrowed from another teacher whose class I miss.)

As often happens when things change, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve grown as a yogini and as a person over the years since I became serious about my practice and especially about what I’ve learned from practicing with Marla that will remain with me. Marla is unique. She is so filled with inspiration that you almost have to “hear” her without attachment to words. This, I believe, is because she transmits wisdom that is bigger than any words she can use to describe it. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. The teaching is bigger than any words I can use as well.

Here are five awesome things that I will stick with me as a result of Thursdays with Marla.

1. Letting go is doable. Recently, Marla shared a teaching from Kundalini Yoga that suggests we can have negative thoughts and emotions, but we must let them go after nine seconds! I think about this often. Of course it sounds like a ridiculously short amount of time, but it’s the intention to let go as quickly as possible that matters. To me, the “nine second rule” is an acknowledgement that we don’t practice yoga to become empty and emotionless. We practice so that we can be fully human and at the same time connect with our divine nature. Part of that practice is learning to feel something and then (when necessary) let go as quickly as possible. When you aim for a seemingly impossible nine seconds, chances are good you’ll get the job done more quickly than you would have otherwise!

2. Twists are awesome. When I think of Marla’s classes, I think of twists, in particular prayer twists, but also “twists” on typical poses. Have you ever twisted in downward dog? If not, you need to take a class with Marla! The cool thing about all the twisting (other than how great it feels) is that you learn how versatile and powerful twisting can be. You can “twist out” negative frustration and you can gracefully navigate your way through the twists and turns of life.

3. “Yay!” is a spiritual word. Marla’s classes can be intense (in a great way), but then all of a sudden, while she’s guiding you into a somewhat complicated pose and you get there, instead of saying “beautiful!” or “good!” or something more typical like that, she says “Yay!” It makes me smile every time because it reflects the fact that Marla’s very approach to the practice is a celebration of life.

4. We can often do more than we expect to do. I can’t tell you how many times I was surprised to find myself in a challenging pose (or two or three) in one of Marla’s classes. It’s not that being challenged is surprising, it’s just that Marla’s class is billed as “gentle,” which often suggests “easy.” But the trick is that through her gentle guidance, Marla can slyly lead you to do something like crow or side plank on one leg. And you do it. Because you can. (Okay, I still can’t do crow, but I’m getting there.)

5. When we have something to offer, we must not be afraid to put it out there. Marla’s tirelessness about offering so much in her teaching has made me more confident about doing the same with what I feel called to share. In fact, Marla was one of the first people to read a draft of my Yoga Circles And while it’s still a leap of faith for me every time I hand (or email) the manuscript to someone else, Marla has been an example to me that putting it out there is usually the right thing to do.

So I look forward to whatever unfolds as a result of this latest shift in my yoga schedule. I know it’s a shift that is happening with intention and the universe has good things in store for all of us. Thank you, Marla, for sharing your gifts.

Wake Up!

stress reliefThis morning, my sweet yoga teacher encouraged me to wake up. Not directly, as in, “Wake up and pay attention, Maria. You look a little sleepy today!” It was a general teaching for the class. But it caught my attention for more reasons than one. For one, I was a little sleepy. I’d noticed I was a bit slow in getting going and getting to class today – not completely unusual for me, but a little more noticeable on a gray winter morning. Another reason the topic caught my attention is that just an hour or so earlier over morning coffee, my husband and I were kicking around the concept of “waking up” in the sense of clearing cobwebs from our brains and becoming more focused and productive.

Then I got to class, where our teacher shared some wisdom that she’d learned at a workshop she’d recently attended. The workshop leader was Guru Singh, whose book, “Buried Treasures,” I recently read with my yoga book club. Coincidence? I’d say probably not. When I walked into class and saw another one of Guru Singh’s books at the front of the room, I knew the universe was trying to get my attention. As is often the case, yoga seems to get at the heart of whatever is happening in my life.

Awakening

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I’m not sure when exactly how the idea of waking up came into play (since I was still asleep until it was mentioned), but when it did come up, I certainly took note since the topic had been so persistent this day.

So what does it mean to wake up in the yogic sense of the phrase?

We talk about awakening a lot in yoga. As our teacher (via Guru Singh) explained, it’s something that is always available. In my own practice, I’ve found that when we learn to pay attention, we open our eyes, hearts and minds to what is – what has always been. Of course, I can’t tell you exactly what all that is yet – because I’m still not fully awake – but I can attest to the fact that the more you pay attention, the more you will realize that you’ve really spent a lot of time napping.

Are you ready?

Another thing discussed today was the idea of waking up quickly. This came up not only in yoga class, but in the morning coffee talk in which my husband mentioned how he wished he could get going more easily in the morning. Our yoga teacher suggested that it’s not easier to go slowly, waiting until we’re “ready,” but instead, we should just jump in because we’ve either always been ready or we will never be! That didn’t sit well with me at first, but when I thought about it more, it did. But you see, I was even going slowly into the idea of awakening quickly. (The good news is I’m apparently not alone in this habit.)

There are things I’ve always been ready for (like starting a yoga practice), and it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to jump into a practice but that I wasn’t aware that it was something I was meant to do until, one day, there it was. So I think the idea of dabbling and going slowly happens naturally when we’re not yet sure if the thing we’re exploring is meant for us. We’re not all meant for the same things, after all. On the other hand, there is probably at least one thing (and probably many more) that keeps coming up for you in such a way that you know it is meant for you. You just don’t know how to do it or where to begin.

Your teacher is already here

They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. But if resonate with Guru Singh’s position and you believe that you have always been ready for the thing (or things) you’re meant for, then maybe the real issue is that you’re not awake to the fact that your teacher is already here.

All I can say about that is wake up and pay attention!

Surrender to Enthusiasm

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????We did a new activity in yoga class last week (at least it’s something I haven’t done in class before), and – as my teacher suggested while presenting this particular offering – it’s quite possible that it was not an accident. Towards the end of an invigorating hour of practice that started with dancing to warm up, the teacher came around and asked us to pick a card from a deck. Each card contained a word. When she came to me, I noticed a card sticking out of the pile, but something told me that one was too obvious a choice and I should pick another that was tucked a bit more snuggly into the pack. The card said “surrender.”

My first reaction was, “No. I really don’t want to.” And at the same time, I realized I might not have a choice. I was thinking in terms of giving up – in particular giving up something that I could no longer control that was not serving me well. Hmmm, I thought. I was still not so convinced that there was no hope. And if you read my blog regularly, you’ll see that this isn’t the first time the idea of letting go had come up in this class.

After offering the deck of cards to the last student, the teacher came back to me with another card. “I have to give you this one because it pretty much jumped out at you!” she exclaimed.

I don’t know if the card was the same one I’d noticed, but I took it and read “enthusiasm.”

That one bugged me a bit because it’s such a struggle for me sometimes to find the energy for enthusiasm, though I suppose that depends on how the word is defined. I was conscious that during the dance warm up at the beginning of class, for example, that there was a physical limitation holding me back. What can you do? I’m not twenty-one anymore.

But back to the cards. It was hard not to notice that these two words easily formed a short but powerful sentence: Surrender to enthusiasm.

Opportunities for Enthusiastic Surrender

I thought about this on the drive home. Why not consider that the message that had come through on the cards was real meant to reach me at this moment? I immediately felt energized. But what is it that I need to surrender to?

Maybe it’s to the enthusiasm of others that I need to attend to more. Perhaps the yoga gods are telling me, for example, to stop wishing my husband would stop talking about buying a motorcycle. Or maybe the message was sent to help me deal with a certain member of my extended family whose exaggerated, enthusiastic tales often test my patience.

Or, it could be that it’s time for me to surrender to my own enthusiasm for something, which I think shows itself in a much calmer way than the behavior usually associated with that word. In fact, maybe I need to be OK with that instead of letting it stop me. In particular I’m thinking about doing something to enhance my career – perhaps another writing course or an aromatherapy certification or yoga teacher training.

Just that morning, in fact, I’d been thinking about the teacher training – and what holds me back. Besides the money and time commitment (neither of which is as easy to work around at it would have been in the past), is the fear that having the job of teaching yoga will ruin my enthusiasm for the practice. This probably comes from my experience as a public school teacher, when my love of learning was seriously challenged by having to deal with reluctant students, politics, lesson plans, and all the other things that learning is really not about. I also haven’t found the right teacher or program – for me – to train with.

And in case you missed the message the first time…

When I got home from class, I returned to a book editing project I’d been working on for weeks. The book happens to be about yoga and other tools for living a healthy, blissful life. Within moments, this sentence jumped off a page I was editing: When you are willing to surrender into greater energy, nothing is lacking.

The context of the sentence was setting intentions for a life-changing practice that involves yoga, nutrition, breathing, meditation and other aspects of mind, body and spirit.

Hmmm, maybe that energy I’m worried about not having will be there when I need it after all.

Moments after that, my other word appeared, this time in a sentence about taking time each day to sit for five minutes and formally set an intention: Do it with enthusiasm. This is where you start manifesting your dream.

So now, of course, my surrender was about something very different than I initially feared. It was not about giving up, but about allowing something to come through – and allowing it to come through with intention and enthusiasm (acknowledging that it would probably be my own brand of quiet enthusiasm, and that’s really OK).

I’m still not exactly sure what that “something” is – there are a lot of possibilities. But I’m going to pay attention, because I know there is a something, a next step in my spiritual journey or perhaps my career – or perhaps, both.

They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. I did sign up for another writing course.

DownDog Boutique: More than a Great Place to Buy Yoga Clothing

DownDog logo

I’m not usually a big shopper, and I don’t typically get excited about buying things, but once in a while, I have a shopping experience worth talking (or writing) about. Recently, I had this kind of experience while shopping for yoga clothing on a site called DownDog Boutique. When I found the site, it didn’t take long before I “liked” it on Facebook, followed it on Twitter and signed up for its newsletter (another thing I rarely do). Why? Two simple reasons: customer service and genuinely enjoyable social media interaction. I even entered… and won… an email contest sponsored by DownDog Boutique! My prize was a beautiful white wrap from BelaBela that I’m sure I’ll be wearing often.

So here’s the story. I became a fan of DownDog Boutique months before I made my first purchase. I was searching for yoga tops and came across the site online. Since there was a Facebook promo (10% off for Facebook fans), I “liked” their page even though I didn’t find what I was looking for that day.

Like many people, I tend to scroll past a lot of posts from sites I’ve liked or followed on Twitter, but that hasn’t been the case here. I’ve noticed and read most of DownDog Boutique’s posts because… well, they’re interesting! And they do what social media should do, engage like-minded people (in this case people who love and practice yoga) and encourage interaction.

A few months after I first discovered DownDog Boutique, I was once again looking for a specific item – lightweight drawstring cotton yoga pants in a color other than black or gray! Oh yeah- and in a long length, since at 5’ 8”, I have a hard time finding pants that are not too short. Needless to say, I didn’t find this item with a simple search. So I emailed DownDog Boutique, and asked for some help to find what I was looking for. I got an almost instant response from Terri, the site’s owner, with suggested brands that I could look at.

Maybe I just don’t shop online enough, but I’ve not had this kind of “virtual personal shopping” experience before. Sure, I’ve asked for help with purchases, but the kind of friendly and helpful responses that I got from Terri are rare. She eventually helped me find two pairs of pants – one that I absolutely love (from Green Apple) and one that just didn’t look great on me – so I sent it back; no problem.

If you like all things yoga, you’ll love being a friend, follower or newsletter recipient of DownDog Boutique. You won’t feel like you’re being pressured to buy, but you’ll probably have a nice wish list very quickly! The site offers clothing, accessories, jewelry, books, and DVDs. While you’re deciding what you like and what you want to buy, you’ll enjoy reading about yoga and seeing pictures and other posts that help you stay in touch with fellow practitioners as well as your own inner yogi. And if you’re looking for something specific and need some help, email Terri. She’s awesome!

Before I wrap up this post, let me just say in the interest of full disclosure that I was not asked to write it. I’m just sharing something that I think other yogis will enjoy! So check it out…and let me know what you think!

%d bloggers like this: