Reflections on Becoming a Buddhist Chaplain and Liberation-Based Livelihood
Last week, in a beautiful ceremony that took place at Upaya Zen Center here in Santa Fe where I live, I was ordained as a Buddhist chaplain by my longtime friend, colleague, and root teacher Roshi Joan Halifax.
This milestone marked the end point of a two-year journey in chaplaincy training but the beginning of yet another new phase of my life. A number of you have asked me to share what this means and what I plan to do with this new title.
The short answer is, I really don’t know.
The longer answer is embedded in the way I think about livelihood and what it means to create liberated work in these times in which we live.
“Buddhist chaplain” is one in a long line of identities and job titles that I’ve held over my lifetime. I’m not alone in this. On average, a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job 4.4 years, a dramatic drop from the the 1970s when it wasn’t unusual for people to have careers 15 or 20 years long. (See this article in Fast Company magazine for more on this phenomenon.)
Studies now indicate that over our lifetime, each of us will hold somewhere between 10 to 11 jobs. My particular spread goes like this, working backwards from the present:
- Buddhist chaplain
- Freelance writer and editor
- Organizational consultant
- Magazine editor
- Communications director
- Nonprofit Executive Director
- Research Director
- Mental Health Counselor
- Music Therapist
- Administrative assistant
- Alfalfa sprout picker
- Kentucky Fried Chicken counterperson
And I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few jobs.
How in the world do I make sense out of that list? Without a big view, I could look at it and think, wow, what the hell am I doing with my life? I’m all over the map… how could I possibly leave a legacy with a mash-up like that?
When I fall into the trap of comparing myself to others whom I perceive as having more stability and focus, I feel that I’ve skimmed the surface of too many occupations, that I’ve not stayed with anything long enough to be an “expert.”
A more positive way to frame this is what fellow blogger Emilie Wapnick calls being a “multi-potentialite.” And I like what Fast Company says about creating careers in the 21st century – it’s less about the job title and more about the life mission that we’ve discerned for ourselves.
The myriad jobs that I have had are all really manifestations of one thing – a deep desire to help people discover and connect. (Though I’m not sure how the alfalfa sprout job would fit…)
It took me a long time to unearth that intention. Only in the last few years have I been conscious of it and tried to craft my work in alignment with that intention. Before that, my career trajectory was hit or miss. A good clue that there was a ‘miss’ was when I found myself in jobs that held no passion for me and felt adrift in my life.
This latest title, Buddhist chaplain, is a bit of a mystery to me—in a good way.
My Buddhist path has been precious to me for almost 20 years now. And I’ve long had a desire to be of service (though it’s taken a long time to sort that out from unhealthy co-dependency).
So two years ago when I had the opportunity to take the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program, I felt it would help me to deepen my understanding of both streams – dharma and service.
I didn’t have a goal to find a job as a Buddhist chaplain at the end of the training and I still don’t. Rather, I see it as a vehicle for continuing to express that core intention: helping people to discover and connect. In this case, it means helping people to discover the resilience and spark that is deep inside of them, and supporting them to connect with others who will see and value them for who they truly are. I try to do that in all my work, whether I’m editing an article for someone or guiding an organization through a change process. I feel that this blog is a creative expression of that intention as well. So in a way, I get to show up as a Buddhist chaplain right here on the Liberated Life Project.
The way I see it, creating a liberation-based livelihood means that you are consciously connecting your intention to your work.
Contrary to what you may read on other blogs, this doesn’t require that you be self-employed (though in my experience that helps), nor does it guarantee that you will receive a lot of money for what you do (though it’s certainly possible). It does mean that you are not stumbling along blindly from one job to another (or one project to another if you are self-employed) without a sense of cohesion or meaning or, worse yet, in a job that is in opposition to your deepest held values.
Liberation-based livelihood means that in every moment, you are able to return to your core intention and see how what you are doing for work is in some way an expression of that intention.
During our week of chaplaincy training, we were graced by a virtual visit from Ram Dass. During our evening Skype call, he shared this piece of wisdom in relation to the idea of ‘helping’ and ‘chaplaincy’ — “Identify with the soul, not the role.”
I can’t think of a better way to say it.
If you’re interested in learning how to create your own liberation-based livelihood, please check out my e-course: Fall in Love with Your Work
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