We spend large portions of our lives at work, preparing for work, and commuting. Work is, therefore, a major preoccupation at every possible level. Even so, many people can't drag themselves out of bed each morning, loathe their commute, and complain bitterly about their jobs. "It's just a paycheck." "It's what I do until I retire." These are phrases I'm sure we've all heard.
The problem is that most of us feel divorced from anything meaningful about the work we do. Many of us are aware that we work for companies that seek to persuade people to buy products they don't really want, don't actually need, and at a price that's well above the actual worth of what is delivered.
This is true to some extent of even the finest products. I don't really need the latest version of whichever cell phone is fashionable. If I don't buy one, my life will not be much the poorer on the whole.
To take an example closer to my own experience: I work in a college, and much of what I have to say is true for all colleges like mine. Many of my fellow professors are idealists of the highest order. They believe in what they do and in the necessity of educating people to help create a better world.
The administration, on the other hand, seeks to make money for the college. That is its job. And if that means skimping on those courses my colleagues in Philosophy and Fine Art regard as essential, then so be it.
It's not hard to see that these two groups, administrators and professors, barely speak the same language. It's a good example of the clash between the old way of doing things, where a person found meaning in work, and the newer way of doing things, where we find reward in the salary and what it can buy. The professors themselves see this split and realize that, ultimately, there's a real danger that students will be short-changed (in their terms) around the business of human values and how to live them.
Give and Take: The Wise Use of Resources
The farmers of previous ages did not seek to see how much they could squeeze out of the land. They took care to make sure they didn't take too much so that the land could continue to sustain both itself and them, year after year. This is good. But modern definitions of farming might require two bushels of fertilizers and chemicals to produce one bushel of grain, in the process degrading fields, waterways, and micro-organisms beyond repair. The yields are excellent but not sustainable.
For now the chemicals are cheap, since many are made from the byproducts of oil. Unfortunately, as we all know, oil is becoming expensive — not just in terms of per-barrel prices but in terms of the expensive military actions that have to be sustained in order to keep the price low. We'll have to pay for it all, at some point, so the low price is being artificially subsidized in ways we may not at first recognize.
This sort of short-sightedness was not always the case. In the dark ages, otherwise viewed as a very backward time, each field worker gave his labor, and in return was allowed a strip of a field to cultivate for himself. He was responsible for his part of feeding the whole community, and also for supplementing his family's food.
This led to a way of thinking that was careful and circumspect about land use. Some of their thinking is astonishing to us today. Noticing that the forests of oak trees were being felled to build ships and houses, King William I of England, who died in 1087, decreed a planting campaign to make sure that in another 200 yearsthere would be enough hardwood trees to replace what had been destroyed. That forest, planted nearly a thousand years ago, is still known as "The New Forest," and it continues to flourish in England today. Its oaks are now in their third generation at least. Can we today claim to be thinking 200 years ahead in anything we do? I doubt it. And this seems especially true in education, where the emphasis is on responding to the ever-changing demands of the job market, because people need jobs and need them now.
Our Relationship to the Earth and to the Community
In Victorian times, workers might well spend all day in a factory or down a mine, but many also had small gardens and often a pig fattening up. People were linked to the soil directly, since it represented food and survival. In turn, this created a respect for the nature of the individual's relationship to the earth, and to the community.
Unfortunately, most urban dwellers today feel no sense of belonging to the soil, or a connection to what it takes to create food for oneself. They cannot imagine being able to create a life that doesn't include having a job where they work for someone else. Yet for generations people lived by gathering wild foods, growing their own foods, and held a job (doing work at home — the original meaning of "cottage industry") only to raise some extra money. As a result, losing a job was not the personal financial disaster it now is, although it could cause hardship. These people were connected with the soil and the seasons in a way we find hard to imagine today.
Work for many people today is something that either helps us "get ahead" or "survive" — but it does not in any way connect us to anything beyond that. Removed from the soil, we have been removed from a strong tie to a mythic sense of living, to which we used to have direct access. Our lives may be easier and cleaner and more convenient, but they run the risk of being far shallower.
©2012 Allan G. Hunter. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Findhorn Press. www.findhornpress.com
Spiritual Hunger: Integrating Myth and Ritual into Daily Life
by Allan G. Hunter.
From daily activities such as work and eating to milestones such as graduation and marriage, this discussion debates the myths that guide lifestyles and questions why they exist in the first place. This guide to rituals paves the way to sustaining a fulfilling and happy life and demonstrates how to reinvent old, outdated rituals; get rid of those rites that are entirely ineffective; and create new habits that provide a deeper meaning to everyday life.
About the Author
Allan G. Hunter was born in England in 1955 and completed all his degrees at Oxford University, emerging with a doctorate in English Literature in 1983. In 1986, after working at Fairleigh Dickinson University's British campus and at Peper Harow Therapeutic Community for disturbed adolescents, he moved to the US. For the past twenty years he has been a professor of literature at Curry College in Massachusetts, and a therapist. Four years ago he began teaching with the Blue Hills Writing Institute working with students to explore the memoir and life-writing. As in all his books, his emphasis is on the healing nature of the stories we weave for ourselves if we choose to connect to the archetypal tales of our culture. For more, see http://allanhunter.net.