I’m beginning to think the Universe played at little joke on me.
Back in 2005, when I tearfully concluded that my right livelihood could no longer be found within the craft show world, I thought the Universe gave me the answer to what was supposed to come next. In retrospect, it seemed like the Mother Superior moment in “The Sound of Music,” the moment she advised Maria, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Cue “Climb Every Mountain.” My own window seemed to open, with or without divine intervention, in a Stockholm cafe. I thought the message was clear: the mountain I had to climb was getting a masters degree, in mediation.
I had flown to Sweden just days after a disastrous craft show experience, a show that led me to sob in the bathroom and promise the heavens above that I was definitely closing the craft show door. Lucky for me, my trip to Stockholm to visit dear friends Bert and Keith was already arranged. It was great to get away, and they were attentive hosts. One day they both had to work, so I was on my own. I ended up touring the Nobel Museum, an incredibly cool and deeply inspiring institution.
Afterwords, alone in the cafe, I heard the the word “mediator” jump into my head. Seriously, that’s what it felt like — the word jumped into my head and I immediately knew that’s what I was supposed to do next. As soon as I got home, I contacted the admissions office at Woodbury College (now part of Champlain College) and signed up to begin their brand new Master’s program. I knew so little about formal mediation that I somehow hoped I could be a mediator without dealing with conflict — in hindsight, a wildly silly misunderstanding of what I was getting into. Mediation is all about stepping calmly into the eye of the conflict storm. Ultimately, I learned to do just that, but personal conflict still distresses me.
None of this is as flaky as it may sound. Mediation in many ways suits my personality, talents, and what I was looking for professionally at that time. I wanted to help heal the world in some way, and mediation allowed me to use my communications skills to create at least a little more peace, a little more happiness. I hadn’t yet taken the VIA strengths survey, but now I know my signature strengths can be valuable to both the mediation process and to establishing rapport with parties in a conflict: the ability to forgive, emotional intelligence, and the capacity to give and receive love.
Indeed, I was good enough to be asked even before I graduated to coach new mediation students at Woodbury, and have continued working with the program ever since. I also created the position of Staff Mediator at Home Share Now, and took on various freelance mediation and facilitation gigs with some professional and personal satisfaction. Given that healthy relationships are the number one predictor of happiness, helping folks resolve their conflicts more successfully is clearly a job that brings more happiness into the world.
And yet … lately I’ve been wondering, perhaps the Universe was really saying, “Meditation.” What if I misheard?
Okay, I’m not that woo-woo. The two words sound so much alike, I often trip up and use the wrong one. The idea that I may have misheard makes me laugh. And, the truth is, almost as soon as I finished my master’s degree — culminating with a Capstone study on “Mediation and Suffering” — I picked up Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness followed soon after by Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss. I didn’t know it yet, but I was already following a different career path.
Of course, productive conflict resolution is a HUGE part of individual and societal happiness. And I learned lots of great skills to use both in my personal life and in all my work efforts. I highly recommend the Champlain program, and the gifted teachers there. Mediation is most definitely a happiness path, a right livelihood to build greater well being on every level.
But I don’t think it’s my path. Teaching, coaching, advocating, and writing about the whys and hows of both personal and systemic well being — including meditation — that’s my path.
I didn’t leap blindly into meditation in the same way I took up mediation. After all, I’ve been meditating since the last century! However, I am surprised that it has become such a prominent piece of my overall career puzzle — surprised and extremely gratified. In all my secular meditation classes, which I call “Meditating for Happiness,” I hear the most amazing and beautiful stories about how participants are using their new meditation tools to live significantly better lives — to sleep better, to control blood pressure, to help their families be happier, to handle workplace stress and road rage, even to cope with death. Whether it’s in the corporate environment, at a health care facility or a senior center, students in every class thank me for teaching them strategies for much greater health and happiness. They thank me, but I also leave almost every class overflowing with gratitude. I often think, “I have the best job in the world!”
So what does all this have to do with anybody else’s happiness?
Both mediation and meditation are extremely good for happiness — yours, mine, and ours — in so many ways, both internally and externally. As I write this, I am struck by how much both practices rely on deep heart felt mindfulness, and especially listening — to the said, to the unsaid, to what really matters. I am fortunate that both have been part of my happy life.
More to to the point though, is the belief that living our best possible lives means choosing the best possible livelihoods. It allows us to experience days filled with both pleasure and meaning. Funny, I touched upon this from a very different angle in my previous essay (on The Happiness Walk). I quoted Aristotle then, and I’ll quote him again: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” It’s hard to beat Aristotle, but here a few other insightful takes on making good work choices:
- Balzac had a more literate touch, when he wrote: “An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man’s entire existence.”
- A more modern view comes from the wise and loving educator Parker Palmer: “A vocation that is not mine, no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self…”
- Then there’s everyone’s favorite Sufi poet, Rumi: “Discover vocation and creation. And joy will come like clairvoyance, where blindness was before.”
So the question is, what is your right livelihood, your vocational path to happiness? Perhaps you are already well ensconced in your own colorful and joyful crossroads between your talents and the world’s needs (of which, lord knows, there are plenty!). If not, perhaps you too can go to the Nobel Museum and sit in a Swedish cafe to hear what the Universe wants to tell you. Or at the least, you can meditate on it.