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Work and Spirit


Thomas Erickson




This essay was an email note written in response to a friend who asked me to reflect on the role of spirtuality in the workplace for a project he was working on. At the time I wrote this, I had been telecommuting to my job at Apple in California from my home in Minneapolis for two to three years.

I've had the theme of work and spirit lurking about the edges of my thoughts all day. But I'm not quite sure how to bring it into focus.

Perhaps the place to start is here and now.

It's about 5:30 in the evening. Right now I'm sitting on my screened-in front porch, watching and listening to a thunderstorm. Cool, moist air is blowing past me, and through the house. I just finished a snack, a bowl of blueberries and milk. I sit here and hear thunder and the wind in the tress and dogs barking and the whish of cars driving past (some are driving too fast for a residential area!). And of course, I have my powerbook, which is where I'm writing this note to you.

There's nothing special about any of this, which is why it's a good place to start. I believe that true spirtuality is manifested in the ordinary, everydayness of life. And, for me, spirituality has to do with the awareness of the richness and interconnectedness of life. That's why, in a sense, my present position of working out of my home feels right.

A neighbor just passed by, carrying an umbrella, and walking his dog.

In many important ways my home is a much richer, connected place for me, than work (as, perhaps, it ought to be). Consider the contrast between my work day at home, and my work day as it would have been a week ago at my Apple office. Here, I'm sitting on the porch, listening to the rain; there, I would mostly be insulated inside a giant building -- I could actually miss a rainstorm. Here, I had a snack of blueberries and milk; there I probably would have gotten a latte -- it's too much extra effort to keep perishable things like blueberries and milk at work. Here, when cars go by, I see them in terms of myself and my neighborhood... some are going too fast; there, they're just a background phenonmenon that doesn't matter. Here when I print something, I might go out and check on my garden while the document prints; there, I'd probably do something else work related.

There goes a kid on a skateboard. He obviously doesn't care about getting wet. If I'd lived here longer, I'd probably recognize him.

Working out of my home feels right. It has all sorts of indirect, positive effects. I eat better. I'm more aware of my environment. I care more about what happens outside. I'm much calmer. I have more time and space within which to reflect. I presume this has positive effects on my work as well.

My activities tend to be more interwoven here. This afternoon I walked to a nearby cafe where I often go to write. I had a to figure out a paper for a workshop. I go to the cafe often enough that the people there recognize me. Anyway, I got in a couple of hourse of work, and then I noticed it had gotten dark out -- a storm was coming, and so I decided to hoof it home before the rain came. I have a water resistant pack for my powerbook, but I don't like to push my luck. On the way home, I ran into Simon, a colleague of my wife's, and we walked together a ways and chatted. His wife, an artist, had had an 'open studio' party while we were gone, and we chatted about that and their plans to make their return trip to England via the Viking route: Newfoundland to Greenland to Iceland to the Shetland Islands. I fantisized about taking that route to a workshop I'll be going to in London in the fall (the one, for which, I was writing the paper). Simon and I chatted a bit more, and then parted ways, agreeing that we ought to get together pretty soon. Had rain not been on its way, I would have stopped off at the local market and picked something up for dinner.

All this is ordinary, ordinary, ordinary. Yet it's a richer day than I would typically have in California, even when I lived there. Here I'm recognized at the local cafes, and the markets; there recognition is much rarer, because I don't live and work in the same neighborhood. Here it is not uncommon to bump into friends or acquaintences as I go about my daily routine; there -- except, of course, for coworkers - it's decidedly uncommon. Again, it has to do with living and working in the same geographic area, and not being tied solely to the rhythm of work.

It's popular to talk about the boundaries between work and leisure getting increasingly fuzzy. But for me, until I began working at home, it felt more like work was seeping into my leisure and home time, and that the non-work aspects of life were shrinking. Technology has made it easy for work-life to follow us home, but not as easy for home-life to follow us to work. Only now that I work at home, do I find that there is a better feeling of balance between the two.

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