I’ve always suspected that most of us over-identify with our occupations, and this COVID-19 lockdown has confirmed that suspicion. I wouldn’t personally have chosen a global house arrest to demonstrate that point. But since we’re here, it’s a good time to ask: do I even exist, as a human being, when I’m not commuting to my paid labor, performing my paid labor, commuting home from my paid labor, and generally living and breathing the ambiance of my paid labor? The answer needs to be yes, for all kinds of reasons.
I’m gonna start at the big ole top and work down. First, we are eternal. Each of our lives is a breath in, each of our deaths is a breath out, from our own broader perspective. We are extensions of Source energy — we are souls, but we have bodies. We come here to uniquely express via the masterful melding of our hybrid nature — we are god/human/animals; we are writers, directors, and actors, starring in our own serial embodiment creations.
Even if you don’t believe any of that, and you have another perspective, just feel the context it gives you. Whatever your belief system, use it — use it to feel all the ways that occupational transactions are, for sure, interesting as an expression of your eternal self, but really not that big of a deal. One thing I’ve learned is that someone, somewhere, will always pay me for my labor, and actually the less identified with the whole thing I am, the more command of the process I have.
Conversely, some people feel their paid work like an avocation, a life’s purpose or an aspect of it. That’s wonderful, and can’t be taken away from you if that’s the case, because you’ll continue on as best you can, paycheck or raincheck. I’m not saying that the loss of a business, a job, an independent livelihood isn’t a catastrophe, but I am saying it should represent mostly a financial catastrophe, not an existential one.
George Carlin said the American dream is a dream, because you’d have to be asleep to believe it. Some people have protested the shut down of our economy, and other people have remarked that the loss of such a shitty way of life is a weird thing to protest — living paycheck to paycheck in service to, for the most part, various corporate monoliths. I agree, to an extent, but I’m not sure what they’re proffering here as the alternative. Some people are agitating towards a universal basic income, to assuage these economic wounds, and others are concerned that the economic wounds were inflicted primarily to frame the necessity of a universal basic income, probably for nefarious purposes.
I have mixed feelings — I’ve wished that someone would just pay my damn bills for a long time because I feel I have important contributions to make, and it’s not my fault they don’t pay. The more easily I allow my internal abundance to flow out, the more easily external abundance seems to flow in. I don’t easily confuse my self worth with jobs, income, or validation, because all that stuff comes and goes.
All that aside, it’s good to develop some scrap of existential poise in the face of things that definitely will happen, even if they haven’t yet. If you have all your eggs in the basket of working, or of earning, or of relationshipping, or of having loved ones alive and around, or of you yourself being alive and around, then you’re just fucked when any of those things begin not to persist. We like to demonstrate our commitment to things by floundering around and being fucked when they stop persisting, but isn’t this really just a lack of imagination? If you spend 90 hours a week working your job and there’s never been an opportunity to know what you’d be outside of that, and then that opportunity comes, how much of it are you going to squander through constant regurgitation of the ways this has fucked you?
Having some kind of faith-based exit strategy, in the sense of refusing to over-identify with things you don’t have control of, which is everything except your relationship with you, isn’t only a way out when things collapse; it’s a way in, the rest of the time. We don’t have to be at our jobs, but we usually get to. We don’t have to be in our relationships but we usually get to. Let’s make whatever’s in front of us as good as it can be, because there’s always something in front of us. I think it’s good to entertain a sense of the deeply immersive and frankly fetishistic role play that all of this life stuff really represents. If we can retain a sense of existential playfulness, we’re better served and better at serving.
I always return, and urge others to return, to one question: if you had all the money in the world and never had to work a day in your life again, what would you do? Probably you’d spend a bunch of that time and money blowing off steam from your accumulated stresses, and that might take six weeks or six years, but eventually you’d have to establish some new baseline. You would have to wake up and figure out what to do with yourself. You’d have to get yourself into some location or series of locations and put some thing or series of things in front of yourself to look at and think about, all day long, until you went to bed again, and then started all over the next day. The problem of simply existing is a big one, and we tend to remain distracted from its essence by virtue of constant struggles to survive. I can honestly say that no matter what, no matter where, and no matter how, I’d still want to wake up and write every day because that’s one of the things I love most about existing. I can honestly say my partner would still do barbell every day and continue to enlist innocent bystanders in his rational, linear approach to strength training because he’s never once stopped doing that — pre-pandemic, post-pandemic, mid-pandemic, with paychecks attached, without paychecks attached, it hasn’t mattered.
We gotta figure out what to do with ourselves, and this current economic catastrophe is honestly such a blessing in that regard. The more at loose ends you feel, the better! Get a self! Get a self that can’t be arbitrarily taken away from you.