3 Paths to Liberation-Based Livelihood

3 Paths to Liberation-Based Livelihood

on Apr 3, 2012 in Livelihood+Financial Liberation | 3 comments

Photo by Dysign via Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dysign/)

“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.”

~ Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

Over the past two weeks we’ve been digging into “liberation-based livelihood” – a phrase that came to me as I reflected on my own meandering professional path. Let’s call it LBL for short.

In the first post in this series, I shared the story of my work history and offered a definition of liberation-based livelihood. Then last week, we looked at how to create a personal mission statement, a key ingredient to LBL.

Once you’ve got your mission statement, you’ll have what you need to consider three possible paths to LBL:

1) You can change your attitude toward your current job.

There’s a wonderful saying I’ve heard yoga practitioners use to describe how a minor adjustment in posture can make a major impact:

“The difference between heaven and hell is half an inch.”

This is an example of that principle.

You can bring more awareness of your intention, embedded in your personal mission statement, to your current job. That’s really all it takes – in that moment, you are embodying liberation-based livelihood.

You may be in a job that has apparently no connection with your life’s mission. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to pay rent and keep food on the table, right?

For example: you are a healer and yet you are working the cash register at the local grocery store. Even so, if you enter that job with the right frame of mind and stay focused on your core intention, you have a liberation-based livelihood. As that healer working in the grocery store, you can consciously meet every person you encounter with an energy of compassion and kindness. By doing so, you are bringing that healing quality to that job.

The challenge of this path is that your own passions and priorities may often have to take a backseat to the requirements of your job and your schedule. Conventional jobs usually eat away at the time that you want to spend on your own creative pursuits, travel, or spending more time with those you love.

You can mitigate this to some degree if you can negotiate working conditions that are more supportive of what’s important to you. This is easiest to do if you have a long relationship with your employer and he/she knows how invaluable you are. If that’s the case, think about what would most serve you – maybe it’s being able to work at home one day a week rather than coming into the office. Then make your case to your boss. If you need a little more back-up, you can share this study that indicates that telecommuters are more productive (and happier) than their office counterparts.

If this the path you’re on, you may also want to refer to a guest post by Shana Montesol Johnson on “How to Love Your Job” that appeared on the LLP last year.

2) You may need to get out of your current job to be in alignment with your soul.

Traditional Buddhist teachings offer the concept of “right livelihood” and are quite specific about what does not fall in that category. The five professions that were designated as harmful and therefore not right livelihood back in the days of the Buddha were: “Business in weapons, business in human beings [as in slave trade], business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.”

In a similar vein, if you find yourself in an occupation that directly contradicts your values, get out as quickly as you can. There is no minor adjustment that can resolve that dissonance with your integrity.

Some people believe they can work for change from the inside the belly of the beast. I can tell you from personal experience that this path can be very grueling. There are exceptional people who can do this, like Ed Winchester who founded the Pentagon Meditation Group. If you’re one of those folks, that’s fantastic. But those kinds of environments will wear most of us down to the point that we’re unable to care for ourselves effectively and therefore we are unable to be of service.

If this describes where you’re at, I encourage you to find a way out of your current job situation as soon as possible and move toward either the first or third path described here.

3) You may want (or need) to create your own work environment.

This is where it gets really interesting.

As I’ve written before, we live in fascinating times. If you’re able to move beyond fear about how everything is changing and even falling apart, you’ll find a world that is also filled with opportunities.

When we try to fit ourselves into job definitions that may no longer exist, when we spend weeks on job searches that bear no fruit, we are missing the opportunity right in front of us to create our own work reality.

Creating your own work is not for everyone. In this article from the out-of-the-box business magazine Fast Company, Robert Safian writes about what he calls “Generation Flux.” This is not an age-based demographic, so you don’t have to worry that you’re too old. Safian notes, “To thrive in this climate requires a whole new approach…What defines GenFlux is a mind-set that embraces instability, that tolerates–and even enjoys–recalibrating careers, business models, and assumptions.”

If you’re the kind of person who has the capacity to embrace change rather than run from it, this may be the path for you.

The first step on this path is to identify what you can offer in exchange for money. If you can directly connect that service or product to your personal mission statement, wonderful!

Note this can take a number of different forms – it’s not limited to what you might typically think of as being a consultant or self-employed. Here are some possibilities:

  • a service (like helping someone organize their papers)
  • a product you create (like selling hats you knit on Etsy)
  • a product you have on hand (like selling your used books on Amazon)
  • an idea or skill that you can teach to others (like coaching a group of new nonprofit executives how to effectively fundraise for their organization)

The Internet opens up infinite possibilities for the form that your new business can take, and enables you to connect with people from all over the world who would be interested in your skill or product – not just those in your hometown. (More on this next week in the concluding post in this series.)

Finally, I want to share you with a story about someone who is on this third path toward LBL.

Several years ago, I become familiar with Nathan Thompson through his Buddhist blog, Dangerous Harvests. Though we’ve never met in person, he seems to me to be someone of deep integrity.

Nathan’s career path has been one of being in service and working for progressive social change as a community organizer, educator, and writer in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region. Now, he has a vision of creating an organization dedicated to the health and wellness of low income, traditionally under-served populations, particularly immigrants and refugees.

Nathan is using the website Indiegogo to share his story and invite people to support him in making his vision a reality. This is a wonderful example of this new way of creating your own livelihood and collaborating with others to do so. Here is how Nathan describes it on his blog:

While it may seem like things are dire, the current economic crisis is also an amazing opportunity to reassess how it is that we work and live together. To challenge the stories we have about what is valuable and what isn’t. And to learn to come together in renewed, more interconnected ways...

And so, a few days ago, I started a month long fundraising campaign. It is based upon the idea of being an independent community re-development worker. Instead of being tied to a single social service agency or non-profit organization, I have been freely investing time in three different communities that I am passionate about. It is an experiment in giving that I hope will inspire others.

…The beauty of microfinancing is that no one person or organization needs to foot the bulk of the bill. Just as we are all naturally interconnected through space and time, through microfinancing, the work we are all doing becomes a more visible demonstration of that interconnectedness.

Nathan is a great inspiration for forging innovative and revolutionary paths to creating work that feeds our soul and engages our community. (And he did such a good job of inspiring me that I donated to his cause!)

How about you? Which path are you on? Do you see another pathway that’s not included here?

Next week we’ll wrap up this series with: The Liberation-Based Livelihood Resource List


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  1. Maia,

    At the moment, I feel torn in different directions. Your posts on this topic are helping me dig deeper to explore what’s really true for me. All my gratitude to you!

  2. I love that you provide specific examples beyond teaching others how to quit their jobs! Sometimes it feels like the principles of liberated livelihood can turn into a Ponzi scheme where each participant is forced to earn a living by convincing someone else to take the same path they took.

    Miss Britt

    April 3, 2012

    • Hi Britt,

      Yes, I know what you mean… it’s always good to hear about concrete examples of people who have found creative ways to support themselves that don’t involved simply teaching others how to market themselves! I hope the resource list that I’m publishing tomorrow will reinforce that idea.

      Maia Duerr

      April 9, 2012


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