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Excerpted from Work As a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond. Copyright 1999 by Lewis Richmond. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"In our spiritual life, we are not in competition with anyone else for spiritual rewards. How well or badly we do is beside the point."

Lewis Richmond, Work As a Spiritual Practice, Part 3

Work Life and Spiritual Life

Have you ever heard the saying "It's not my wife and it's not my life"? It's something to say when things go badly at work. Well, your job may not be your wife (or husband), but it is your life, or a big part of it. Studies show that the average American is working 150 more hours a year than in 1910--a sobering thought! When we disassociate ourselves from our work by saying, in effect, "This is not the part of my life that really counts, I just do this for a living," we close ourselves off from what my teacher Harry Roberts used to say was the greatest thing for a human being--to find joy in our work.

How do you feel about your job? Do you love your work but find that it takes up so much of your time that it really is your whole life? Or, is your work dull and drab, but you don't mind because you are going to night school to prepare for a different, more satisfying career? Perhaps you work in the helping professions or in education, and it is not your boss but your clients (or patients, or students, or parents) who drive you to distraction.

Regardless of your situation, there are certain characteristics of work that are universal. Unless you work at home, you travel to work. When you get there, you perform some task, such as computer programming, carpentry, or management, for which you are financially rewarded. You interact with other people in an environment where power is unequally shared. Your job performance is measured in some way. You compete with others for rewards. You can quit your job. You can lose your job. And you have (we hope) a life outside your job.

Let's contrast this description of life on the job with the life of the spirit. In our spiritual life, we are not in competition with anyone else for spiritual rewards. How well or badly we do is beside the point. We honor and appreciate all people (including ourselves!) for their intrinsic humanity. We care for others, we share and are generous, we forgive. The world of the spirit is not a matter of bonuses, promotions, or awards. Advancement is not the point. We are already whole and complete just as we are.

So it would seem that spiritual life is close to the opposite of work life! But suppose we stop for a moment and ask ourselves why the modern workplace is the way it is. Is it because evil tyrants created the modern workplace to torment us? Or is it because over the last few hundred years people have cooperated to create a world in which we live better, longer, and happier, and can provide a more secure future for our children? We are all collectively responsible for the way work is today, and to whatever extent that situation is far from perfect, we must keep exploring, experimenting, and trying. It may be that over time the nature of work will undergo some grand transformation. Some social theorists think that kind of change is already under way. I think so too, and in chapter 19, "The Transformation of Work," I explore some of those trends. But let's not wait for that great moment. Today there is something we can do. Today we can make a change. Today it is possible to make a difference.

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