January 9, 2012

Find the Place of Contentment


I worry a lot about being productive, even though I don’t know what that means or why it is important. There are days when baking a loaf of bread is my greatest accomplishment. Sometimes the most I do is make sure strangers are comfortably fed and each table is taken care of. On those days at the restaurant, I don’t question my accomplishments because I know that I did my job as best I could and for that I will be paid. On the bread baking days, though, I wonder if there should be more. I wrestle with the challenging of doing what I enjoy, wanting to make a living with my creative skills, and hoping to share my knowledge and interests meaningfully with others.

I am filled with questions. Are we here to be productive and make the world shinier and better? Or is it enough to do the best with what you have and be satisfied with that? There are days when I am clearly aware of how short our time is here and how it all becomes dust and fossils in the end. The things we want, the experiences we have, even the love we shared will eventually be forgotten. In light of this, what does it mean to be productive? I am trying to get at the tiny seed at the center of this fruit, I don’t know exactly what it holds or why I need to understand. Perhaps there are no answers but I long to find the place of contentment where this doesn't matter so much.

I have a BA with a major in studio art but since college I’ve been making most of my money in minor management positions at restaurants that care about serving good food and knowing where that food comes from. I can stand behind this work, but I’ve always been sure to have other things going. Work that really means something to me, like growing food at a community garden, volunteering at an after school program, and more recently sewing and blogging. I am a firm believer that your job or source of income does not have to be who you are or what matters most to you. For me, it has been a means of support so that I can do the things I really care about. On the other hand, my creative pursuits allow me to justify a day job that doesn't feed my soul.

The constant forward motion of modern life, from school moving toward achievement and college pushing toward career and the milestones we think we must reach, doesn't always leave space for fully appreciating what we have right now. My interest in making food from scratch, stitching together cloth and spending hours planting and harvesting allows me to slow down, look around, and make much of my life by hand. I realize that I don't always accept this as enough but instead wish that I could do and be more. 

I don’t consider myself a minimalist, but I try to proceed with caution when it comes to material needs and wants. The hardest part is is the less material side of living simply. The simplicity of knowing that what you do each day is enough. It is important to try and to learn and to grow, but I hope there is a sweet spot where contentment can be found. I imagine the balance that trees seem to achieve. They root deeply into one place, but they are constantly stretching their branches in different directions, changing as the seasons do.

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