There’s been a Post-It note stuck to my monitor for weeks. I was in Miami when a client asked again about the Survival Dance and the Sacred Dance. She was caught, she said, between choosing what felt like the job she needed to take versus the job she wanted to take. And disconcertingly she was replaying my own words—or rather the words I often quote—back at me.
“So what do I do?” she asked.
“[E]ach of us,” writes Bill Plotkin,
has a survival dance and a sacred dance, but the survival dance must come first. Our survival dance, a foundational component of self-reliance, is what we do for a living—our way of supporting ourselves physically and economically…Everybody has to have a survival dance. Finding and creating one is our first task upon leaving our parents’ or guardians’ home.
Once you have your survival dance established, you can wander, inwardly and outwardly, searching for clues to your sacred dance, the work you were born to do. This work may have no relation to your job. Your sacred dance sparks your greatest fulfillment and extends your truest service to others. You know you’ve found it when there’s little else you’d rather be doing. Getting paid for it is superfluous. You would gladly pay others, if necessary, for the opportunity.
Later, back home, another client asked a slight variation on the same question: “What do I tell my daughter?” The daughter is in high school and is just beginning to ask the deeper questions. Knowing what we know about the need to find your passion, or The Element as Ken Robinson calls it, what do we say to our kids who are applying to colleges or graduating into this awful economy where, despite the 13th Amendment, it’s becoming increasingly acceptable to pay people nothing for their work?
I’ve a client who’s worked harder than anyone I know to get his idea funded and every day there’s another impediment, another roadblock. And every day the bank account drops, the blood pressure rises, the clock ticks.
What do we tell ourselves about committing to our soul’s work, our Sacred Dance, when we can’t even pay the damn bills?
I struggled with my responses. I began questioning my own work, my own beliefs, the notions and insights I’d gained in so many years of wandering. The questions were especially poignant and provocative because my oldest son is deep in the same struggle now. On an evening walk with with his father in Riverside Park, at the fry station at Shake Shack, he asks himself the same questions.
I hated the place that left me. I felt unable to write.
Slowly, slowly though it’s been coming together. Yesterday, between sessions, I scribbled another note: “Surviving the Sacred Dance.” I thought, maybe that’s it; maybe that’s the deeper question…how do we survive living out the sacred?
I then thought of those who, in manifesting their deepest soul expression, still struggle to pay the bills.
This morning, as I rose from my meditation cushion, I thought, “No. That’s not it. The question is simpler. Simpler and harder: What do we say to those we love, including ourselves, about the balance between the two?”
Of course it’s not enough to say “Get a job and find your passion later.” That’s The Deferred Life Plan. Nor is it right to say it’s okay to ignore the realities of every day. After all: “Before Enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”
Re-reading Plotkin I went further than I usually do when I quote him to clients:
Hence, the importance of self-reliance, not merely the economic kind implied by a survival dance but also of the social, psychological, and spiritual kind. To find your sacred dance, after all, you will need to take significant risks… By honing psychological self-reliance, you will find it easier to keep focused on your goals in the face of resistance or incomprehension, initial failure or setbacks, or economic or organizational obstacles. And spiritual self-reliance will maintain your connection with the deepest truths and what you’ve learned about how the world works…
Then I understood. Two weeks ago, I replied to an email from JC suggesting that he try to find the sacred within the mundane, within the survival. Sounds good, I thought, but I knew it was hollow. It’s desperately important to be able to see the sacred within the present moment—even if it’s pulling double espressos at Starbucks. I knew that to be true. Yet, again, it felt hollow, empty. Finally I read this (as if for the first time):
…The first step is creating a foundation of self-reliance: a survival dance of integrity that allows you to be in the world in a good way—a way that is psychologically sustaining, economically adequate, socially responsible, and environmentally sound. Cultivating right livelihood, as the Buddhists call it, is essential training and foundation for your soul work; it’s not a step that can be skipped.
The gift of the mundane, the gift of the survival dance is self-reliance. And self-reliance is as sacred as any vocation, any calling from the divine. Without the ability to withstand the pathology of every day, we’re lost—no matter how inspired our dreams.