Though the term derives from the Buddhist tradition, right livelihood has evolved to refer more broadly to any meaningful, fulfilling work that makes a positive contribution to the world and expresses a compassionate or sacred intent. For some people, right livelihood takes the form of a career devoted to social change, ethical business practices, and environmental sustainability. For others, it emerges as creative, innovative work that directly expresses their deepest aspirations, passions, and talents. For many of us, it might simply involve doing what we can, at the jobs we currently have, to add to the world’s collective store of peace, love, happiness, and material well-being.
Yoga Journal Aug. 28, 2007
I suggested the subject of this article before the second wave of the pandemic once again shut down the few, in person, classes I had just returned to teaching. Already struggling with the smallness of my pandemic life, I began questioning whether I should try to find more work, different work, more ‘essential’ work, or try harder to break into the online teaching world. These new restrictions pushed me deeper into doubts and questions about my working life that I had finally stopped asking prior to the pandemic. I also felt a push back from the part of me that just wanted my livelihood to be enough; that I was enough; that my work was enough, and that I could wait and see what opportunities become available again once this pandemic blows over.
“It is better to live our own destiny imperfectly, than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
I LOVE teaching yoga. It feels like the BEST use of me in exchange for money. I often describe my job as, ‘holding space for intentional presence’ and I am very committed to offering this through the practice of yoga in live, public, group classes. At this point, I’ve yet to come up with other satisfactory ways to do this, I just like to have a ‘space to hold’, being present with the folks that are practicing ‘intentional presence’. It feels like the ‘right livelihood’ for me.
“The idea of ‘right livelihood’ is an ancient one. It embodies the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation, which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth’s resources.”
The Right Livelihood Foundation
Even before the pandemic I was aware of my privilege in being able to pursue teaching yoga as my main source of income. I have worked hard to balance enough work for enough pay with the amount of energy required to teach so many classes per week while still serving my family as a householder yogi.
This spring I was able to teach some live, on-line and outdoor group classes while my workplaces were closed. By fall, the promise of a few indoor registered and drop-in classes created pockets of ‘normal’, a reminder of what I have to give. And though I do teach two pre-recorded classes per week for the local hospice, the live classes help set the tone for those classes when I record at home. When I teach in person, I use all of my senses to guide and adapt the practice based on the collective energy in the room. It’s a different teaching experience on-line, one that I admit I resist.
“The duty of privilege is absolute integrity”
I have always valued time over money, but I am aware of the privilege implicit in my having also always had enough of both. Even if I could not be a yoga teacher, I would want my work to contribute more peace to the world. But my work is not an essential service, and at times I feel guilty of not being more of a helper in this time of heightened need. My ego sometimes wishes I would use this extra time to hustle and self-promote and follow the money as an on-line, self-branded, yoga teacher. My heart knows that I feel most at home in myself teaching accessible, small classes in quiet studios, rec centres, homes and health care settings in my community. I know there are so many others who choose the same.
“Small world. Much peace.” The expansion of desires is expansion of world. There is no peace in desires. The more desires increase, the more pain comes.”
Baba Hari Dass, Yellow Book
This is enough. My small peaceful world serves myself and others to the best of my ability. I have been given the gift of time. I’ve picked up a few home-based side-hustles baking and quilt making, and I find this to be soothing work that has always woven its way through my life and my hands. I’m also writing for this newsletter again because there is time for that.
So many aspects of the last eight months have felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but when I dim the lights, start the music, and settle in at the front of a yoga class and begin to hold space, I come home to myself. The centre holds. My place in the world feels just right. It’s a small world, but there is so much peace in it.
…And Keep interested in your own career, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time…
…Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.
Kenzie Pattillo is a householder yogi living in North Vancouver, with her beloved partner and two rapidly growing tween/teen boys/men(!). She completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga waaaaaaaaaaay back in 2002, and her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College in 2015. She currently teaches much less than she did pre-pandemic, and is most inspired by her ongoing work with Every Day Counts, a North Shore Hospice initiative. Through this (currently entirely on-line) program she has been given the opportunity to offer folks with life-limiting illnesses as well as their family, friends and caregivers, access to free Restorative and Therapeutic Hatha Yoga classes.