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.  I was a nurse after all; I even worked with cancer patients and critically ill patients.  It wasn’t as if I was a 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. This is what I knew was true: I was a damn good nurse with over 20 years of experience, a solid meditation practice and a fearless courage to be fully present for death, birth and difficult conversations.

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, another as a trip leader for Backroads, an active travel company and a large part of my time building my business The Balanced Nurse.  While I adapt to a changing income and the balancing act of three work schedules - my heart is wide open, my experiences are rich, and I am happy.

Whether I’m encouraging a birthing mother, preparing bicycles at sunrise or introducing mindfulness to a nurse, I bring my full self to that moment. For me, Right Livelihood is about not leaving anything out and incorporating all aspects of myself.