I just left Nepal after being there for the past 6 weeks and I am feeling full of life and vibrancy. I’ve been reading the “Thank You” and “Safe Journey” letters I received from the kids at the orphanage and I stop after each few, partly because they bring me to tears with the love expressed, but also because I want to savor them. Much like I didn’t want to say goodbye while there, so too I seem to want to hold on to these letters so that the farewells remain not yet fully articulated.
The thing that truly is bringing on this sense of vibrancy though is the feeling of sensing my own capacity. The program I’ve helped to establish in Nepal has been a clear success and I foresee it continuing to be so in my absence. Sometimes in life you land in just the right place where your skills and heart and capacities can be truly brought to bear. I had a dream the other night in which the car that I was in silently coasted to a stop into a parking space which clearly and unequivocally belonged to me. Not only is there a sense of vibrancy in me, but also there is a sense of ease, of settling in, of arriving,
Through the various expressions of work I’ve been doing, I am recognizing how huge a gift it can be to actually expand into one’s own capacity. There is a sense of liberation, much like a corral-bound horse allowed at last to run freely. It has an enlivening quality as well.
My work with the orphanage has been intended to support children in expanding into their own capacity. When a child can’t perform the most basic functions of math, the opportunities available to them will be very limited. The greater their knowledge, the greater the opportunity, both educational and professionally, that will be available to them as they move forward in life. While their capacity is so obviously present, they have simply been in need of additional support to expand within that capacity. Although I’ve only known them a relatively short time, they seem to me to be enlivened by this learning opportunity as well, as evidenced by the enthusiastic way they run up the stairs each day to their classes full with smiles.
While in Nepal I spent some time with my now new friend James who has served as the assistant to a Tibetan Lama for many years. In addition to his work with the Lama, James has also developed a social venture which he calls “Quilts for Kids” which provides a path of income dignity to women from some of the lowest castes while sending their children to school. The women make beautiful hand-sewn quilts for which he pays them a fair wage, and when he sells the quilts, uses the “profits” to pay for sending their children to school. Each quilt sold equates to a year of school tuition for one child. Part of the exchange includes an agreement that the children will no longer be used to beg on the streets if he is sending them to school.
As both James and I have been impacted by performing more meaningful work, the topic of right livelihood came up in our discussions. James explained that when the Buddha spoke about work he used an expression roughly translated to “right livelihood.” While there is some depth and nuance to the teaching, the Buddha clearly spoke about avoiding professions which caused harm and cited as examples: business in weapons, business in human beings, business in intoxicants, business in meat, and business in poison.
Beyond these more moralistic Buddhist prohibitions, I’m truly appreciating the word ‘livelihood’ which could be interpreted as “the state or condition of being lively.” When our work enlivens us, as I have recently experienced, it is a reflection that our efforts are resonating harmonically with our unique soul. Please know that I don’t fail to recognize that it is a privilege to even have this conversation since many people (such as the brick makers I wrote about in an earlier post) are clearly and appropriately more focused on survival than concerning themselves with discussions of right livelihood. When we’ve reached a place in life where actual survival isn’t in question, our own path of right livelihood can be more meaningfully explored.
While in Nepal, I have also very much enjoyed my creative expressions and am feeling the rightness of that livelihood as well. After seeing some of my work, James asked me to further photograph the people that he works with in “Quilts for Kids.” While I may value purely artistic pursuits, when my photography can also serve to support an organization which provides a valuable public or human service, I feel that I have found another perfect expression for my soul. Much like my work in establishing the Khan Academy on-line learning project with the Nepal Orphans Home, this type of photography includes for me a perfect combination of technical, creative, and personal. I have found that I am personally drawn to and often satisfied by endeavors which require a combination of left brain, right brain and heart. If any of you might reading this might be interested in purchasing a quilt from this project, please let me know asJames will be mailing a collection of quilts to me in the States for sale.
I believe there is a clear connection between right livelihood and our capacities. We each are born with and develop our own unique predisposition; an array of talents, interests, and leanings. Like the women who are now making quilts to help support their families, when we create or find work which aligns with these capacities, we find our “lively” hood may actually enliven us.
“to practice right livelihood, you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh