Friday, December 7, 2012

A Joyful and Peaceful Expression of Self

A man spoke to me today about the “blessings” of work. He said that he never quite understood its value until he retired. Now he sees how eight hours of work; eight more of play, and eight of rest is a perfect balance. Without it, he said, he is listless and finds less joy in life.
Another spoke in wistful terms as he watched me refill a bin with nails. I like work like that, he said, you can see what you’ve accomplished. My work, he lamented, is so nebulous with its meetings and report making…
I pondered upon these two encounters, both on the same morning, as I continued my day: ringing up sales; restocking shelves.
I am currently reading Primo Levi’s  Survival in Auschwitz. He writes of the infamous sign above several concentration camps where men and women were mercilessly worked to their death. It translates to read: Work gives freedom.
Three views of work: a blessing from structure; rewarding through accomplishment; freedom through death.
Okay, that was unfair of me to include the latter. There was no choice involved in Auschwitz, no monies exchanged; no fairness exacted. The work instead was a euphemism for brutal slavery. But still, it is good for me to keep Levi’s story in the back of my mind. I can get into a state of self pity when I view my current employment as a cashier. Sure, I still have a part-time BodyMind practice and my writing but I, in my humanness, want more. Or, at least, more of the work I love and less of that I do not.
A few days later I sat in the lunchroom after a long eight hours of serving customers. There were five of us, all cashiers, waiting to head into a mandatory meeting that none of us had the inclination to attend. Jackson was teasing Susan, a high school student; Anna was texting a friend and Georgia, a woman of my age, was sitting across from me, on the other side of the table. There were more of us to come but at that moment there was just a small comfortable gathering of work friends. I t was almost Walton-esqe in feeling, a family-like intimacy that bespoke of camaraderie and homespun tolerance.
Georgia got up and walked around to where I was sitting. I’ve done some energy work on her in the past, a couple of times, here and there, during lunch or coffee break. Nothing formal, just a few minutes to relax her shoulders or release a headache.   It works for both of us: I get to do the work I love; she feels better. As she approached she smiled and, in her accented voice, said: “Jo-Ann, my neck … touch me.”
So, for the next few minutes I worked on Georgia while Jackson and Susan played and Anna texted. Another view of work: a joyful and peaceful expression of Self.


  1. So lovely. So encouraging that you have found joy and peace in your workplace. And good for you to have recognized it!

  2. Thanks, Bonnie. However, I have to clarify: its not so much that I have found "joy and peace" in my workplace as I have found space in that workplace to express my Self ... and that has given me peace and joy. But maybe its all just semantics.

  3. I really enjoyed this post. I think in general there is way too much judgement and ego tied up in how a paycheck is earned. And the comments of two people at the beginning of the post are great, although i am bit ambivalent about both of them. I so related to the guy who found putting nails in bins appealing. Of course, that's just a momentary fantasy, but I have it all of the time. I see janitors at work polishing the floor, and I am jealous because it seems so satisfactory and clear--you know you are accomplishing something. However, as much as my current position taxes me mentally and emotionally, I know I would lose my mind with week after week of repetetive tasks. Also, his comment, although it strikes me as sincere, has a touch of condesention to it, as he must know that society tends to value and pay more for work of his ilk rather than what we consider to be "simpler" work. (Although I'm sure your job is more complex than he imagines.) Thanks for a great post. I love reading things about work and our relationship to work. I love exploring the all of the conflicting feelings and projections and weirdness society has around work of all kinds. It's a fascinating topic to me. Keep them coming!

  4. Thanks Ms Typist. I liked this blog also—maybe because worth, meaning and identity come up every day at the job. I try to see beyond the business of making a buck to the value of providing a service but I cant get past the wastefulness of mass consumerism. So, what it continuously comes down to is that the most important thing I can do at work, and the most challenging, is to be present to the person in front of me. Then my work has value.

    Regarding the wistful guy wanting my nail binning job… I have to admit, I detected no condescension from him at that moment. And, unfortunately, I get enough condescension to find I can discern what is and what is not. Favorite comments include:

    “You are too smart to make a mistake.”
    “You’re new here aren’t you?”
    “I don’t mean to gainsay you … you do know what that word means don’t you?”
    “If you don’t like your job then find another.”