Every day on retreat, we write little inspirational quotes on chalkboards propped up on trees and walls around the site. Today’s chalkboards are on a theme, following a conversation with some of our lovely guests at breakfast yesterday morning. They were asking about my life choices – the origin of which I have written about on this blog – but in a nutshell, I had a corporate life, it was pretty nice, I felt successful and had a nice house, friends, leisure time, etc but there was a bit of me that felt like it was slowly dying and that bit was the spirit of adventure.
One guest was talking about how much she hated her job and had done for 20 years. For some of you reading this, your inner voice is shouting “Well leave it then!!” but the thing is, her voice is shouting that, and yet she’s not yet able to heed its call. It’s very easy for us to give others the go-ahead to make brave life choices, but many of us aren’t willing or able to do the same for ourselves, because one way or another we are afraid of the consequences.
When I had an office-based job, I felt like my company owned my time, I felt like I had sold my soul a bit. Of course, most of the time I wasn’t brave enough to be honest with myself about this, but on the rare occasions when I admitted it to myself, I immediately turned away and distracted myself, because if I really looked this truth in the face then I’d have to face the inevitable, that something had to change. I talk to people who are in this same boat week-in, week-out, and each time I am reminded of all of the fearful voices that spoke up in opposition to my brave little heart.
“I won’t have enough money”, “I will have to move back in with my parents”, “I won’t be able to get another job” “I’ll have to do a job I hate”, “I have bills to pay”, “I have a family to support”, and so on.
But we often don’t stop long enough to interrogate these fears. We don’t think “OK, I will find a way to make money, or at least agree with myself to invest some of the money I have been saving for retirement on a one-year sabbatical.” “I have loving family and/or friends who would happily put me up rather than see me homeless, and I am grateful for this.” “Of course I’ll get another job, I am well-qualified and resourceful.” “I am already doing a job I hate so what’s the difference.” “I could find a way to reduce my outgoings and save some money.” “Maybe the kids would relish the adventure too.”
Eventually I did listen to the pitiful cries coming from my inner-adventurer and I jumped. I swapped material comfort for volunteer work or very low-pay menial jobs. I swapped security and a salary for uncertainty and just-getting-by. But critically, I bought myself back the only thing that a steady job and a guaranteed income can’t buy and that is a sense of freedom.
And through this process I have gained an awareness of what I am not prepared to do with my time. Having worked for very little or no money, I am now acutely aware of how much of my time I am willing to sell. I now know that it is possible to live on very little, I have learned the value of money and the value of my time and how much I am willing to trade. My time and freedom and self-care are very important to me, they have become my guiding compass. I am no longer willing to trade too much of my time for money, at the expense of my sleep, my yoga practice, my time to do the things I enjoy. In fact now that I have actually given myself the space and time to work out what it is that I actually love doing with my day and what I my abilities naturally incline towards (i.e. what I am good at) I am even able to earn a living doing the things I enjoy, so that I can work long hours, but still feel nourished and fulfilled.
So, what am I trying to say to the blog-reading world out there? I dunno really. It doesn’t really matter what I did, what matters is if you are able to put your hand on your heart and know that you are living a life that you love. Because Life is SO precious. We know this because when someone we love dies we recognise what a blessing it is to still be here and breathing. As part of our conversation one of the other ladies at the breakfast table shared with us the dying words of a friend who she lost to cancer last year. Regarding the job that she no longer loves he said to her,”Promise me you’ll quit.” She promised and she’s in the process of untangling herself and making a Plan B.
So rather than wait for a dying loved-one to make you promise, maybe you can find a way to promise to yourself, and even if your responsibilities mean that you really can’t live the live you’d love, perhaps you can find a way to love the life you do live. To cut back as much as possible, your obligations so you can give yourself time to enjoy your time here.
I’ll finish with the late, great Alan Watts, asking “what if money was no object” because no-one has ever said it better. If you have 3 minutes spare, right now, watch this link. Now, more than ever, as we all look around at our society in disbelief regarding the fear and hatred and crazy politics and greed and inequality, maybe it’s time we said Sayonara and chose to opt out of their manipulative games and actually go and live our life to the full, every single breath of it, before we have none left.