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Peeling the onion to discover “Right Livelihood”

For many years I dismissed investigating the Buddha’s teaching of Right Livelihood on the noble eight-fold path. The Buddha encouraged his followers to make a living in a way that does not cause harm and to work in a way that is ethically positive. Well this was easy. I was a nurse after all - I even worked with cancer patients and critically ill patients. It wasn’t as if I was selling weapons or involved with human trafficking. In the eyes of the Buddha, a nurse would get an A+, right? Eventually the teachings spoke louder, prompting me to peel the layer of the onion away and investigate whether I was truly in alignment with my work. Questions like these:

Is what we are doing causing harm to others or suffering for ourselves?

Is the way we live and the way we support ourselves causing harm or suffering?

What are the purposes for which we work?

What values do we express in our work?

What consequence does our work have on the quality of our inner life?

What consequences does it have on the world?

Is the way we live our life satisfying and meaningful? If it isn’t, what can we change to create greater joy, satisfaction, and meaning?

This is what I knew was true: I was a dedicated nurse with over 30 years of experience, a solid meditation practice and a fearless courage to be fully present for death, birth and difficult conversations. Here’s what I wasn’t so sure about. Was I causing harm to myself and others? What were the negative impacts work placed on my inner quality of life? Did I have the courage to change my secure and convenient career for greater happiness? Was I crazy?

The next layer of the onion was a little more stubborn, requiring more effort; my resistance created more difficulty, causing my eyes to tear up – a consequence of working with those pesky vegetables. When I removed the hard shell of protection, I found myself exposed and vulnerable to the effects of a toxic workplace. Nurses are famous for caring for patients with kindness and generosity, however we don’t always bring those qualities forth when connecting with co-workers. Nurse bullying and workplace violence is the norm in many nursing units. I was able to identify how I actively contributed to the toxicity by guarding to keep myself “safe”. My investigation was getting interesting as I recognized “Do no harm” not only applied to patients but also to my co-workers – even those notorious difficult colleagues.

I found that what was called for was not more striving or defending – which I had become a master at – but gentleness and self-compassion. I gained a lot of clarity through self-compassion and inner critic work. Investigating Right Livelihood allowed me to see that I had a responsibility to myself to live in alignment with my passions - travel, adventure and helping people. Nobody was going to do it for me. If I wasn’t satisfied with my career, it was up to me to create changes. I strategically crafted my life by throwing all of these onions into one big bowl of soup.

As a result, I spend part of my time helping birth babies, teaching mindfulness, working as a trip leader for an active travel company, and doing my hearts work of normalizing conversations around death through While I adapt to a changing income and the balancing act of various work schedules - my heart is wide open, my experiences are rich, and I am happy.

Whether I’m encouraging a birthing mother, admiring a snowcapped mountain at sunset, introducing mindfulness to a new student or helping someone turn towards death, I bring my full self to that moment. For me, Right Livelihood is about not leaving anything out and incorporating all aspects of myself.


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