Aligning for “Right Livelihood”: Balancing the Elements

Balancing the ElementsBy Lauren Rathvon, DOM, AP

Imagine 11 years of working 24 hours a day, seven days a week—no lunch breaks, no going home, not even a bathroom break. That’s 4,083 days—98,000 hours, if you’re a clock watcher. Now take it out of the realm of the imaginary, because that is the amount of time you will work if you entered the working world at 18 years old and retire at 67, working 40 hours a week with two weeks of vacation a year.

Although we do go home every night, more of us are working through our lunches, staying late, going into the office on the weekends, and spending hours commuting. And even when we do go on vacation, we don’t truly “unplug.” All said and done, we spend an enormous amount of time—and perhaps even more energy—focusing on our jobs. What if this focus is not in alignment with our ideals and beliefs?

Buddhism has a concept of the Noble Eightfold Path, eight directives to help ease suffering. One of them is “Right Livelihood.” The other seven paths are also closely intertwined with this idea, making a Right Livelihood even easier to achieve. They are: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. In essence, we need a way to earn a living that does not compromise these precepts or our integrity.

In his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “To practice Right Livelihood, you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others…. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.”

Balancing the Elements

Keeping the body healthy and harmonized can help make this task easier. According to the Five Element model of Chinese Medicine, each element, when properly balanced, can bring a distinct quality to our emotions and actions. When we look at every element in turn, we can see how the characteristics of each one can do much to help us find (or create) a suitable, inspiring, and empowering livelihood.

The Wood element encompasses the liver and gallbladder and is most active in the spring. The Wood element brainstorms, makes plans, and creates blueprints. It represents the ambition of that little seed in spring, just starting the daunting task of breaking through the soil (or sometimes asphalt!) into the great unknown. Notice that the Wood element is responsible not only for making plans, but for following through as well. We may have a wish list of businesses that we would like to start or be involved with, but without the decision to follow through, where does it leave us?

We might next consider the Metal element, which corresponds to the lung and large Intestine. Just as precious metals have to be mined from the dirt, so too must we find value in what we have to offer. We must not shortchange ourselves, but truly realize the value in what we have to offer the world. In some situations, this means setting prices that are fair, not only to the consumer but also to ourselves. Too often, when we love what we do (and the people we do it with), we feel compelled to give our services away, shortchanging the energy exchange that takes place. It’s worth noting here that the Metal element corresponds with autumn, when the earth must abandon that which does not serve it anymore. Are old habits or thought processes keeping you from your dream business? A sharp Metal element can help cut them loose.

It is important when setting up a business to recognize the bigger impact it will inevitably have, and this is where the Earth element enters (referring back to the stomach and spleen). Think of this element as Mother Earth at harvest time (this element’s season), embodying care and kindness for everyone involved with the business, striving to see that there is “enough to go around.” This element strengthens compassion in your business—enacting fair practices to employees, minimally impacting the Earth’s resources, and establishing a system in which it is easy to give back to the community at large.

Once our business is established, this is where a strong Water element kicks in. Water, which dominates the kidneys and bladder, is all about willpower and self-determination. Much like the earth during wintertime (Water’s season), a strong will is needed to survive this harsh season, knowing that the new growth of spring is just a few months away. The early months and years of new endeavors can be difficult, and it takes a strong spirit to hunker down and fight for survival.

Finally, the Fire Element (relating to the heart and small intestine) allows us to fully embrace and love our chosen work. This element (whose season is appropriately summer) strengthens our connection to community, friends, and family; a healthy Fire element manifests in pure joy. After the careful planning and execution of our business plans (and the exhaustion that can bring), we need a gentle reminder that our careers should ultimately bring us joy. Ideally our businesses will become tightly knit within the fabric of our communities and that sense of connection that Fire thrives on will be strengthened.

Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

If we choose the path of Right Livelihood, then our jobs are merely extensions of ourselves and our integrity, not a chore.You don’t need to own your own business to be in a workplace that shares your core values. You simply need to be clear on what those values are. One of the best ways I’ve found to gain clarity is to make sure the body is in complete balance; my favorite method is through acupuncture and dietary therapy. In this way, all of the Elements can bring their strengths to the table, putting the “lively” in Livelihood.

Lauren Rathvon, DOM, AP is a nationally board certified Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine. She received her education at the East West College of Natural Medicine in Sarasota, FLwhere she earned her degree in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine. Certified in acupuncture point injection therapy, Lauren has also been trained in Constitutional Facial Rejuvenation. She currently serves on the Oriental Medicine faculty at Mountain Meadow Massage School in Ruidoso, NM, in addition to being an adjunct professor at the East West College of Natural Medicine.

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