Planning for the future and the Tao Te Ching: Verse 57

This morning as I woke up, I acknowledged that today was an “empty day”: no appointments, no set plans, nothing in particular to do from morning until night. A little part of me took pleasure in the emptiness, free from constraint and fertile with possibility. But a big part of me started revising the to-do lists in my head, the dozens of activities I’ve been putting off until I find “a little free time”. It quickly became maddening and overwhelming, as it always does, and so I decided to focus on the present moment and just get on with my morning ritual.

Only twice or thrice did I manage to return my attention mindfully to my breakfast. During taiji, I lost my place in the form several times and had to start over as I got the sequence confused. My mind kept wandering and I kept getting distracted by errant and unhelpful thoughts about the past and extrapolated futures. During the meditation I kept going off on trails of thought and worry about what to do next, and in the end it became so frustrating that I declared “I am sick of planning. Only misery comes from making plans, because you either stick to them and then wonder what else you could have done, or you don’t stick to them and you get frustrated that you didn’t get as much done as you wanted.” I resolved, then, to stop planning ahead and to live more spontaneously, doing whatever I felt like rather than what I “should” (a foul and evil word). I decided that it didn’t matter what I did next, as long as I put my whole heart into it. That meaning is wholly subjective, and it was entirely up to me whether I thought I was wasting my time or spending it “well”.

As I opened the Tao Te Ching, I was surprised and humbled to find the first paragraph instructing me to “let go of fixed plans and concepts and the world will govern itself”. There is also some strange synchronicity that last night my friend and I were discussing the limitations of law and punishment in reducing crime. How strange the world works, to deliver the lessons that we need at the moment that we need them. (Or, perhaps, that we recognise the lessons that have always been there when we are ready to understand them.)

Verse 57 [my interpretation]

If you want to be a great leader,
learn to follow the Way.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of plans so that things can unfold naturally,
free from your interference.

It is the nature of the world that:
the more prohibitions there are,
the more people are impoverished;
the more powerful the weapons,
the more violent the people;
the more complex the plan,
the more unexpected the outcome;
the more authoritarian the laws,
the more outlaws appear.

Therefore the sage does nothing,
yet people become peaceful, honest and rich.
When a ruler does not impose himself upon people,
people are free to become themselves.
[And all people are inherently Tao-centred, with innate Buddha-nature.
As all seeds will grow in the right condition, so too are people.]

I am quite sure no one really wants to read this, but I really need to tell someone. Unemployment is killing me. More specifically, the feelings I am projecting onto my unemployment are killing me. I feel (regardless of its validity) like there is a void in my life, that there is no purpose to my living. This feeling does not overcome me all the time, but some days (maybe once a week) I will feel as if I’m going nowhere and that there’s no point to living any longer. In a mad frenzy I will search for jobs, throwing applications to the wind. This often makes me feel worse. Some of the jobs are full of promise, hope and prayer; small businesses with a belief in saving the planet, or about helping people in genuine ways. Others actually hurt me when I click the Apply button; soulless corporations who state things like “a hunger for achieving KPI’s” as one of their requirements of applicants. Yet, desperate as I am to make something meaningful of my life, I’ll apply anyway, sickened at the possibility they might accept me. And when that pile of jobs runs dry, I feel worse than ever with nothing left to do but wait until one of them contacts me (which, so far, they almost never do).

I feel like I’m wasting time. Every week I dawdle is one week closer to the start of placement and the resumption of meaningful work. But I am getting desperately bored, and I do not know how to deal with it.

I think I’ll just call Centrelink after all. It’s looking less and less likely I’ll actually get a job before placement, and I may as well be paid to search.

Unemployment

Ramblings about my life

As I’ve previously mentioned, I dedicate some time every morning to sitting outside (in the progressively colder and shadowy winter mornings) to read books on life and wisdom. Today’s wisdom from the Dalai Lama regards anxiety and stress, and although I’ve heard similar things before or come to the same conclusions, I thought it might be worth sharing in case it is of any benefit to those scant few who read this blog. In essence, he suggested two things for dealing with anxiety. Firstly, if your motivation, your intentions are pure and good, then regardless of the outcome there is nothing to be afraid of. For example if you wish to help someone by offering to do something for them, then even if they refuse you or rebuff you or some similar offence, there is no harm from your offer. If, however, your motivations are to steal or cheat or hurt, then you should indeed be worried about the consequences of your actions. In this way, by working to change your intentions to purer, kinder, more loving motivations, you have no need to fear consequences (though neither should you act blindly using good intentions as an excuse). Secondly, he suggests that you ponder the nature of your problem, and if you discover that there is a solution you feel relief and spend your energy working to solve it rather than fearing it. If, however, your problem is unsolvable, you should feel relief that there is nothing you need to do and spend your energy on more important things. In this way, you have two options with the same result: If you can do something about it, do it. If there’s nothing you can do, do nothing.

The job hunt has been going slow. I keep wondering why no one gets back to me- I am such an excellent candidate for the places I apply for. Alas, I suppose this is the nature of being unemployed. However, I am not so stressed about the meaninglessness of my life anymore: even though I am not working (a pastime I consider productive and enjoyable), I am working towards working, and that is enough for me. As time goes on, Semester 2 of uni draws closer. I met with my placement supervisor last week, and it seems likely that my final (full-time, 14 week) placement will be at a hospital, which would please my mother to no end. And, coming out of my time off, I suppose it would please me somewhat too. I’ve realised that I really did need this time off. At the end of last year I was pretty close to my wit’s end- I’d suffered (yes, suffered) an extremely challenging job that was exactly what I didn’t need- loose boundaries, little structure, little work, challenging clients etc. It shattered my confidence in my abilities to be a social worker, but the time off has slowly allowed me to recuperate my confidence and my compassion, and I am once again ready for the challenges, and the successes, of social work. But perhaps more importantly, I learned what it meant to be unemployed- to find meaning in every day, to pursue happiness. I learned how to be bored, and what to do about it (still learning, actually) and how valuable work can be to the human condition. If I had pursued placement I probably would have ended up in the same situation as I am now, but without all the lessons I learned through experience. So for that, I am utterly grateful my time off has been well spent.

On a rather unrelated note, I visited my friend Ange up in Coondle yesterday. Don’t recognise Coondle? I doubt many people would. It’s about twenty minutes north of Toodyay, which is about an hour and a half from my house. Ange and I have an enduring friendship- we communicate infrequently, but we’ve always kept in touch. Although it was quite a trek, I did feel I owed it to her because she’s almost always traveled further (and spent more on transport) to meet me than I have to meet her. I had not fathomed that four hours driving would cost $25, but the journey was surprisingly pleasant, and I had a very good time at her house. There’s something unique about the country; something in the air is cleaner, something about the space is emptier, something about the animals is… realer. It’s so isolated, and so peaceful (no doubt due to its isolation). It was quite special driving up country roads where the speed limit was whatever you felt was appropriate, and turning onto dirt-road driveways. Ange and I tried our hands at archery (surprisingly, at 25 metres, I hit the target with about three of the twelve or so arrows I fired, getting more accurate with each shot- it seems either my affinity with weapons is persistent or those few lessons I had stayed well in my memory.) We baked the most amazing cherry pie (my mouth waters even now to think- so rich inside and so crunchy outside), watched Rio and played games. Ange’s Dad is an experienced shotokan karateka, and I met him again briefly before I left for training. Ange wanted me to stay for dinner, saying I could skip Wu-Wei and just train with her Dad, but I declined. I saw that, although Ange loved the country and the quiet, she was getting lonely and restless, so far from all her friends, and I felt for her. But not enough to make the four hour journey every week. It was a lovely day though, and I hope to do it again some time.

Training is going amazingly as always. I look forward to it every day, and on days when I don’t train  I feel restless. It’s the most enjoyable part of my life at the moment, and every week that passes I grow stronger, more knowledgeable, more skillful. It’s wonderful to see, and I really thrive in the dojo. Plus, Mugai Ryu has moved into its own new dojo!! When I first joined, Kaneda owned a warehouse in Jandakot where we could train for hours every day and leave whenever we wanted to. It was a special place to me. I’d arrive at 11am on Tuesday for the “mixed weapons” class, and he’d improvise a lesson in drunken kung fu. I was the only person who really cared- everyone else who rocked up did it just to hang all day, to play video games and sew costumes.  And it was such a great place to hang. I miss the smell of mould and the scrape of the concrete on my feet, as strange as that sounds. This new dojo will doubtless have a totally different personality, shaped by different people for different reasons. But it will be a new home nevertheless, and I’m looking forward to breaking it in. I feel just a tiny bit guilty for not helping them move over the weekend- we inherited it on the Fourth of May (May the Fourth be With You! International Star Wars Day, for those geeks among you) and set everything up on the fifth and sixth (Revenge of the Sixth!), but Beth and I had an appointment with Britain and Bombardieri Photography on Saturday, and I sprained my neck showing her a stupidly challenging Shaolin kung fu technique on Sunday.

I’m just rambling about my life at the moment. Why are you still reading?

Speaking of photography, the shoot went amazingly. Beth and I entered a competition to win a free photo shoot in EnEx100, and it turns out she won $230 worth of photos in a couples shoot. We were told to bring a casual outfit and a classier outfit for the shoot around Leederville and in their studio. Beth had a stack of make-up applied, which I thought tasted a little weird, but looked great (though I still prefer girls without make-up on). It was a little strange doing some of the poses, where I was told to look “masculine” and Beth would

be hanging onto me like she deferred to me. I was even told to say things like “You look hot” to her, probably to get her feeling sexier, but it was just too awkward for us. We all laughed and had a good time though. A week later we went to view the photos, which had been reduced to about 50 or so of the best ones. Surprisingly, although the casual photos looked really great, it turns out we look damn fine together all dressed up. We also had a few individual photos, and they asked me to do taiji because they had seen me practicing (I’m starting to realise just how often I do it- Shihan calls it “kitchen training”, using spare moments while the kettle is boiling to get some practice in, to internalise it and make it part of every day life. Well, Shihan, I’ve internalised the crap out of it, let me tell you.). My God did I look amazing. My technique was, as far as I can tell, very close to flawless: single whip, brush knee and snake creeps through grass all looked fantastic with me in black pants and shirt against a perfectly white back drop. We ended up picking about twenty favourites, and then we started talking money. The smallest, cheapest desktop print they could do was a little smaller than an A4 piece of paper, and it was $195. The next size up was a little bigger than A4 and costed about $410. Frames, canvas, wallmounts, multiple pictures across one board etc. all cost phenomenal amounts of money. In the end we decided we’d get two of the cheapest ones, and because we’d won the raffle, it only came to $160. But damn, I wish I could have gotten that snake creeps through grass…

Also, randomly, I ordered a limited edition Club Nintendo gold nunchuck controller for the Wii. I’ve had a lot of problems with Club Nintendo not accepting registrations for products, but when they released the NES controller which was compatible with the Wii-remote, I compiled all my points to buy it. Unfortunately I was about 20 points short of the 3500 or so that I needed and the opportunity was lost. However, when they released the gold nunchuck to celebrate the one year anniversary of the 3DS I jumped on it, spending most of my points in one glorious purchase. And it is sweet. Although highly materialistic, it goes beautifully with my limited edition Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword wiimote. Hooray, Nintendo-fanboyism!

Rambling

It seems that every couple of weeks I will come to a stage in my life where I need nothing more than to lay out my thoughts and experiences “on paper”. I don’t know what it is about writing, but putting it all down in front of me is a powerful expression of self; it feels like everything plaguing my head, heart and soul (hey- mind, body, spirit, look at that) can be removed from myself and looked at objectively. And that really helps. So I’m just going to write about what’s been happening in my life recently.

I suppose foremost, the job hunt resumes. It’s strange that I consider this the most important issue to write about- I argue with myself so often about the purpose of work, the nature of jobs today (as opposed to, say, three hundred years ago where getting a job wasn’t so much providing a useless service as making something worthwhile) and the effect of capitalism on the younger generations. And these arguments, fruitless as they are, need to be made. But sadly, thinking about it for hours a day doesn’t provide any income, so I’ve come to an impasse. There’s some huge level of resistance in me that begs me not to find a job, and I have no idea why. I guess it’s Thanatos- the instinct of Death that Freud theorised we all have. And so I spend my days struggling to find Eros- Life- in the form of meaning, purpose… You know, worthwhile-ness. Part of me says that I should be utterly content having food to eat every day, being healthy and with an endless supply of things to do. That I should be satisfied that I have everything I need to be happy. Yet, obviously, I am not. I don’t feel like I’m needed in the world, and sometimes it makes me wonder why I’m alive.

But you don’t need to hear about that. (FYI, I’m aware I’m delusional, and I have no intentions of making major life choices while in such a state of mind.) The reason that I’m compelled to once again search for a job is because that job at EB Games that fell into my lap fell right through me, into the void. Adam, the prospective manager of the store, was devastated to discover that higher management decided not to open it approximately three days before it was due to open. He tried to appeal it, but I conclude that nothing became of it in the end.

Training is going better than ever. Aside from being with Bethwyn, I’ve never loved anything so much nor been so happy. Wu-Wei Dao is such an amazing system with such thorough and rigorous training. There is something supremely pure about the body conditioning; jogging and sprinting for kilometers, doing dozens of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, weight repetitions, squats and lunges leaves me trembling and groaning, but triumphant and enthused. And the training itself is so rewarding: learning techniques and their applications to finer and more skillful degrees means I’m improving every week, every session, every day. I can only imagine how much I’ll know and how well I’ll know it ten years from now, and I’m excited to be that person some day. There was a moment, and I say this less in vanity than in self-love, where I saw myself and I was awed at who I’d become. I had been practicing naifunchin over and over and I had taken my shirt off because it was just getting in the way, and as I glanced at the mirror I was taken aback by what I saw- the muscles (those that I have) tensed and rippling, the sweat shining on my skin, the accuracy of my technique, but most of all the sheer energy coming off me. I feel like I’m transforming, bit by bit, into a warrior. Grading is this Saturday (my first grading since joining Wu-Wei nearly a year ago), so I’ll be training rigorously (hopefully avoiding injury all the while) to officially earn my brown belt.

Veganism’s going pretty well- I’ve started cooking for myself a bit more. I’m more-or-less cooking for myself two or three times a week, which still somehow seems so infrequent. I can’t imagine how I eat all those other times, but I’ve been trying a new dish every fortnight or so, and so far they’ve all been either good or very good. I have been losing weight though- maybe a kilo a month or so for the three months I’ve been doing this. I’ll talk to my doctor about it and see how my blood levels are going, but it’s satisfying and healthy and with far less cravings than I anticipated. Like when I went vegetarian, after I adapted to the new lifestyle I stopped seeing opportunities to live the old one. Just like I no longer read meat dishes on a menu, I stop thinking about things that contain dairy and egg, and those odd cravings I have can usually be satisfied by a delicious substitute.

I was housesitting for a friend a few weeks ago. It was a last minute thing where he essentially called me on the day he was leaving and asked if I would mind feeding his pets that night. And the morning after. And the night after. And the morning after that. And, not wanting his pets to starve, Bethi and I dropped our weekend plans and went to stay at his house. It was very challenging. It was less clean than anything Beth and I were comfortable with, and we mostly left our shoes on because the grit on the floor made us shudder. The mosquitoes were pretty relentless, and in general the whole house felt dirty. We tried to sleep around 1am, but after a few interrupted hours for me, and none for Beth, we drove back to her place to recuperate around 4. I did the rest of the housesitting on my own, and it didn’t turn out too badly after that first night. I went for a run with the family dog (and it was great to get so much exercise though it saddened me to discover that I was much fitter than the dog was), watched heaps of movies, played a few games, cooked a few meals and wrote a few pages on budo. But mostly it felt sudden, frustrating and unappreciated. The person I housesat for didn’t acknowledge me at all for it until I asked him directly if there was a reason he wasn’t mentioning it, and he still has yet to thank me for it, but his partner and I talked a while and I’ve almost forgiven him.

I started playing Skyrim a little while ago. Having just completed Oblivion after some 123 hours, I was wondering whether I should take a break from first-person adventure games, but after watching my brother play it I couldn’t help myself. I played it pretty obsessively for a few days, and gradually my addiction has diminished. Still an awesome game, and I’m still looking forward to playing it, but I’m no longer compelled to.

And that’s pretty much my life right now. I feel really ambiguous- I yearn for direction and meaning, but for the moment I’ll just keep searching for a job, and trying to squeeze in a little spiritual growth and learning. Peace, friends.

 

EDIT: After much more contemplation, I have decided that all of my adult life (that is, since I was around 12-years-old) I have searched for meaning, and after all these years I still have no clue what it’s all about. But I can’t let that confusion make me baulk- even though I don’t know whether a job at IGA is going to fulfill my spiritual craving for purpose, I do need find a way to support myself. Life will go on, regardless of what I make of it, and I may as well get enough money to eat while it does.