Your attention is a gift

I appreciate you, my dear readers.

I mean that sincerely.

There are countless other blogs out there that you could be reading right now, and a vast number of other things you could be doing with your time.  But you are reading this one.

And for that, I want to thank you.

I have high standards for my work.  (That’s one of the reasons I don’t post here as often as I’d like.)  I try to stay free of conventional jobs whenever possible, so that I will be able to devote more time and attention to offering you my best work.  Whenever I sit down to write, I keep in mind that if I want my work to serve the greatest good possible, it must honour the gift of attention that my readers are giving me.

Accordingly, here is the prayer I say when I sit down to write:

May the words I write serve the greatest good of all who read them, and may they help us build a beautiful and thriving culture of joyful leisure, work, and sustenance within a context of community interdependence and deep ecological wisdom.

It must, therefore, be the best quality work I am capable of offering to the world at that moment.  It must be honest and genuine; the world is overrun with snark and sarcasm, but sincerity is all too rare.  It must be clear, thought-provoking, emotionally appropriate, uplifting and joyful without being fluffy or saccharine, and informed by (but not limited to) scholarly research.  It must be the product of rigorous critical thinking as well as personal experience and spiritual insight.  It must somehow manage to convey the seriousness and magnitude of the multiple social, economic and environmental crises we face, yet without falling into the trap of draining much-needed energy and straining relationships by dwelling too heavily in dark and horrible places without offering respite.

I want to earn the gift of your attention by making the best possible use of my own gifts, and delivering the results to you by way of my writing.  It’s a tall order, but for me it’s the only way to go.

You do know that giving someone your full, undivided, uninterrupted attention is a gift, right?  One of the beauties of this is that it’s a gift anyone can give, regardless of financial means.  It’s the kind of gift that makes the world a better place to live.  What we pay attention to matters, as our attention is limited.  It should be treated like the precious resource that it is, and it should be allocated mindfully rather than squandered unconsciously or allowed to atrophy.

Attention is not something that you owe me.  If I try to hijack your attention and use it for the wrong purposes, I will lose your trust, and rightfully so.  These days the web is clogged with dummy blog posts and “articles” loaded with keywords and search-engine-friendly catch-phrases, but with no real meat.  I’ve been online since 1993, and sometimes I miss the early days of the web because it seemed easier to find words that were obviously written by real people from the heart, instead of having my attention hijacked by commercial interests, useless arguing, and content-free “content” at every turn.

I want radical unjobbing to be real, I want it to be honest, and I want it to facilitate connection.  Most of all, I want it to be worthy of your attention.

I may be the one “assigned” to bring radical unjobbing to you and tell you some of my stories, and it’s true that writing for this blog is a labour of love…but ultimately I’m not doing this for me.  I’m doing it because I believe wholeheartedly that other, better ways of life are possible, outside of the job culture.  I’m doing it because I want you to identify and use your own gifts in service of the kind of world you’d like to live in.  Gifts are sacred.  I want you to think about what you have to give, and in what ways you can offer your gifts.  And I want you to learn how to receive and accept nourishment in the form of gifts, too.

That’s what radical unjobbing is about: learning to live in the culture of the gift, where giving and receiving are one, and freeing ourselves from the scarcity-driven job culture.  You can do this whether or not you have a conventional job.  You can always start with your attention.  Where will you place it?  What will you do with this gift?

I appreciate the gift of attention that you have given by reading my work.

My prayer today is that I may continue to produce work that is worthy of this gift.

Unjobbing is a Process

I often remind myself that unjobbing is a process, and not a destination.

It’s not somewhere I end up.  It’s more like a meandering trail through a dense forest, with switchbacks, elevation changes, and occasional backtracking when I get lost.  Sometimes it leads into uncharted territory, and I find myself wondering what to do next.  If I can muster the courage to brave the hazards of blazing my own trail, I forge ahead.

Unjobbing can be approached as a conscious choice – a commitment to be made after realizing that life is too short to spend so much of it in a job I hate, just for the sake of earning money.  It can be a decision to unlearn conventional notions about jobs, work, and leisure, in order to make room for a new way of life.

Unjobbing can also be something done out of necessity, or a need for survival, when it becomes clear that the old approaches won’t work any longer.  Given the current state of our economy, many highly educated and qualified people who nonetheless can’t find conventional jobs are now finding themselves in this place, and they (we) are letting go of illusions that finding a good job will provide them with security or “financial independence.”

Or perhaps you can walk the unjobbing path like I do: through a mix of necessity and conscious choice.  You can just muddle through one step at a time, pick yourself up when you stumble and fall (and you will, many times), and see where it leads.

Right now, I’m staring out into uncharted territory.  Instead of feeling trepidation, however, I feel strangely and deeply at peace.  Somehow I have the sense that I’ll be able to navigate the terrain ahead without a map.

Culturally speaking, I’m privileged: white, middle-class, and highly educated.  Though I’ve faced some difficult and demoralizing financial struggles and endured years of minimum-wage drudgery, I’ve never known true poverty.  Yet for the past few years – especially since an unwanted divorce in 2007 left me financially devastated and buried under an avalanche of grief, brokenness, rage, and despair – I have been driven by a primal kind of fear: the fear of scarcity.

For years, I have made too many of my decisions from this place of primal fear.

There are many things I’ve learned while walking this path.  I’ve learned in countless ways that the greater my ability to live simply, the lower my debt, and the greater my ability to refuse consumer goods, the less need I have for conventional jobs…and the less I am forced to participate in the ecological destruction that is driven by the extractive money economy.  I’ve learned that the less need I have for earning money, the less time I need to spend in “full time” paid employment, and the more freedom I have to shape my life according to my ecological values and the guidance of deeper forces.  These lessons have served me well.

I’ve also learned that every single moment of my life, consciously or not, I am making decisions about how to spend my time and energy, and where and how to direct my attention.  Even in the most constrained circumstances I’ve faced in life, it has become clear to me that I still have a certain element of choice, and I can exercise it to the best of my ability.  In this truth lies a great source of power.

I may be broke in monetary terms, but I am not broken in spirit.

I may not have a job, but I am not “unemployed.”

In fact, I am wealthy.  While I don’t have a job or much money, I do have immense wealth, for which I feel great appreciation and gratitude.  I live and move about in a world of fundamental abundance, and I don’t mean this in some flighty New Age way.  I mean it very straightforwardly.  I have a roof over my head, food in my cupboards, and no immediate threat of homelessness.  I live in a beautiful city that I adore.

But there’s much, much more.

I am wealthy in time. Ah, what a great luxury time is!  I can go about my daily tasks in an unhurried, mindful manner.  I can wake up without an alarm clock.  I can enjoy my tea rituals at leisure.  I can work when my body is most inclined to do so, rather than at the behest of my employer.

I am wealthy in leisure. I firmly believe that true leisure is much more than an absence of job-related constraints on my time, and much more than “vegging out” with the aid of passive sources of entertainment.  Real leisure – the kind that restores me at a bone-deep level – contains a significant active and creative dimension as well.  Gradually, I am learning something difficult: how to allow myself to do nothing at all without shame or guilt.

Sometimes, a funny thing happens when I do this: words come to me.  Writing gushes out of me in torrents.  (It isn’t always good writing, mind you; that part comes later, after the editing and proofreading stage.)

I am wealthy in relationships. I have a wonderful and nourishing web of relationships: blood relatives with whom I am very close, friendships I cherish, acquaintances I like and with whom I share common interests, and correspondents with whom I enjoy exchanging ideas.

I am wealthy in education and skills. Advanced reading comprehension and writing skills, three baccalaureate-level university degrees, research skills, critical thinking, autodidactic abilities, a lifelong bookworm’s passion for reading and learning – all of these are gifts, and I do not take any of them for granted.

I am wealthy in time alone and ability to enjoy solitude. As an introvert and loner, regular and copious time alone is essential for me; I would be but a shadow of my real self without it.  Divorce-related grief robbed me of the ability to enjoy my time alone for quite some time.  Being abandoned by a loved one taught me a lot about the difference between loneliness and solitude, as well as the complex (and paradoxical!) relationship between intimacy and solitude.  Once again, at long last, I have been gifted with the capacity to take deep nourishment from solitude.

And that’s just a start.  I could go on and on!

With this kind of abundance and freedom in my life, I needn’t be driven by the kind of artificial scarcity perpetuated by the money system.

While it’s true that I will continue to need to use money as a means to an end – my utility bills can’t currently be paid with barter arrangements or work-trades, after all – I know in my bones that I don’t need to believe the stories that say I must live in fear of scarcity any longer.

So here is my vow.

I hereby commit myself to walk the sacred path of radical unjobbing.  I will continue to deeply question and unlearn the fundamental assumptions of the job culture, and use my gifts in the service of helping others to do the same.  I will continue to critically examine any beliefs, attitudes, stories, habits, and systemic factors that keep me mired in the muck of artificial scarcity.

Henceforth, I shall live as much of my life as possible within the abundance of the gift culture.

Thank you, and Hail to the Powers That Be.