Somebody’s got to do it

October 10th, 2007

That’s how I feel whenever there’s a bag of chips in the house. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

We’re looking this week at our lives as parents and whether we call that a job or a relationship. Last weekend while I was on retreat, I did quite a bit of introspection on the ultimate truth of our existence (translation: wondering what’s for dinner) and what I came up with was this recipe:

Life is a Five Layer Bean Dip

Everything you do well requires these ingredients.

Attention – Giving undistracted attention to what appears in front of you. If you are only paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, that is fantasy. Fantasy is what is far away. Fantasy jobs and relationships are the easiest to maintain, because they don’t have the sticky stuff of:

Proximity – Showing up, shoulder to shoulder and hand to hand. This can be uncomfortable at times. And because a lot of the time we have a lot of reasons we’d rather be somewhere else, we have to make a:

Commitment – We can quit anything, and we will. There are even ways to opt-out of parenthood in one way or the other. To keep showing up requires:

Self-discipline – The will to get out of bed. To overcome inertia. To transcend self-interest and delay gratification, which isn’t delayed forever, but eventually comes in one of the many faces of:

Love – Sometimes it’s a direct deposit into your bank account, sometimes a pat on the back, sometimes a burp, a smile or a cuddle. Love is currency, the only currency in the universe. The more you give (at work, they don’t use the l-word, they call this passion), the more you receive in return. What I’ve noticed is that love is nothing but attention, and that brings us neatly back around to a bottomless bowl of bean dip.

Now when you take your tortilla chip and dive in, you don’t just scrape the sour cream off the top. Oh no, you don’t just extract the beans in the center. You can’t! You go for the whole thing at once. It’s all one thing: the flavors intermingled, the textures combined, the taste complete. You swallow it whole, or at least I do, in about 15 minutes.

Although there are many ingredients in your life, with many names, you only have one life. It’s you! Every relationship is you, every job is you, the salsa and cheese are you! Somebody lives your life, somebody eats every bit of it, and it can only be you. Your only job is to have an intimate relationship with yourself, and the more you do, the more you’ll enhance your life and everything in it. You’ll see that there is no separation between job and relationship. They are just words for you, who happens to be hungry right now.

A final desperate prod to elicit your erudite comment and thereby up your chance to own an as-yet unpublished dustcatcher volume that I will further adorn with the nib of my 99-cent Pilot finepoint before expressing to our lucky winner drawn at the end of the week!


  1. The thought I like best here is “your only job is to have an intimate relationship with you.” Says to me that I have to be open and honest with myself, not hide from what I know and wish I didn’t have to know. Just hold still and see me. Hard to do sometimes, but looking at it as being intimate with me may help.

    Comment by Moanna — October 10, 2007 @ 12:27 pm

  2. I like the line that “Love is currency, the only currency in the universe.” I try to approach world with that idea, but it is sometimes harder to bring that to home, to the daily minutiae, not just the moment, but the moment after moment (after moment after moment) – particularly those which include two little boys screaming at each other over a mirror. Like now. Hmmm. Proximity. 😉

    Comment by denise — October 10, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  3. Good observation Denise, remembering that love isn’t just “oh how wonderful!” Because love is attention, it brings the razor sharp edge of pure awareness to the moment at hand. Sometimes love is “Stop that right now!” After all, we don’t demonstrate the same kind of love to a rattlesnake as a kitten. We respond to each moment in an appropriate way.
    (Not suggesting that your boys are snakes, just perhaps at the moment kittens in rattlesnake attire.)

    Comment by Karen — October 10, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

  4. Dear Karen:

    This is the first time I’ve written to you although I’ve been reading — and loving — your blog since your interview with Maya Talisman Frost.

    It’s true that we have fractured lives — work, recreation (precious little), family, church, volunteer work, exercise, the list goes on and on. As a result, we always feel pulled in different directions. Mentally and emotionally it’s as if we’re spread-eagled with our head being being pulled one way, the left arm being pulled another, the right arm another, and each leg being pulled in different directions, with little nagging “distractions” tugging at the sides of our waist. What’s important is to live our princples and focus on our purposes. If you say family is important to you, but you spend more time working that interacting with them, it’s a problem. Or, just as bad, if you spend time with your family but spend your time THINKING about the other things you should be doing, it’s a problem. We have to look at our checkbooks and our calendars and make sure we’re spending our time and money on the things we say are important. In other words, if you say God is important, but you spend more money on golf than at church, what really are you worshiping? If you say your kids are important to you, but would rather watch TV on your down time than go to the park with them, what’s really important. Maintaining the focus on what’s important is something about which we need to be ever vigilent — you can remove the distractions and streamline your commitments, only to find 6 weeks later your life is in chaos and out of whack again. I think we need to prioritize what’s important in our lives, and then make sure we do the JOBS that fulfill those priorities and BUILD THE RELATIONSHIPS to fulfill those priorities. Sometimes we make commitments (of our time and resources) without doing so purposefully and making sure it lines up with our priorities. The bottom line is I think people, in general, get distracted by the jobs and fail to build the relationships behind the jobs.

    Comment by Connie — October 10, 2007 @ 3:33 pm

  5. I love how each ingredient leads to another. Back to the topic of job vs. relationship, I have been observing here and around, that when pondering the question, most of us look down to our children and forget to look up towards our mothers. Am I my mother’s job? Or just the fruit of her labour 🙂 ?

    Comment by Mika — October 10, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

  6. Love as life’s currency! OOOOO!!! Today I definitely feel like the cheese, not so much the salsa. And now I am hungry. 😛

    Comment by Shannon — October 10, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  7. Love is attention. YES! It is not sentiment or language or feeling. It is attention, giving it.
    Thanks too for your comment here about snakes and kittens. How did it happen that we came to equate love with only sweet words and tender glances?

    Comment by bella — October 10, 2007 @ 4:12 pm

  8. one more thing.
    If we comment several times a post, or day, is our name entered multiples times in the drawing? 🙂

    Comment by bella — October 10, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  9. Bella, you smartypants. When I say “everytime” I mean “everytime.” You can’t win if you don’t play. I always buy the most raffle tickets and I never win anyway. Make your own luck!

    Comment by Karen — October 10, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

  10. I have more trouble being present for my job (not the mothering one–the one I get a paycheck for) and this helps me even in that. So many places for my mind to be–so little mind!

    Comment by marta — October 11, 2007 @ 2:16 am

  11. i love this metaphor. and a five-layer dip just isn’t the same without all the parts (i.e. if you’re out of sour cream, it’s just not worth making it!) so we need all these parts to make our lives complete…

    what a great post!

    Comment by Phyllis Sommer — October 11, 2007 @ 2:24 am

  12. Mika, I believe we the “job” of motherhood goes on forever. My mother is still working on me and in me!

    Comment by Karen — October 11, 2007 @ 4:12 am

  13. Connie, so true, so true. It can be shocking to see what we’ve made our priorities. But I’m terribly glad you made this a priority today.

    Thank you for showing us yourself.


    Comment by Karen — October 11, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  14. I don’t feel pulled apart so much anymore, as someone commented above. Most of the time, I’m complete, I’m there with myself doing what needs done the best I can and I’m allowing myself to be okay with things how they are. My life has this very doable rhythm, my toddler has some of my time, my kindergartener has some, my house, my God, my husband, even my self gets some attention. I’m sure something is lurking around, waiting to try and throw me off, but for now, there is a nice balance in my life, like never before. The laundry is mounting a surge against me, but, with the help of a toddler, I am making some headway.

    And about Love being the currency of the universe, I definitely agree. We spend our time, our precious 24 hours each day, on what we love. You would never say you love TV (well, I might about one show), but too much time is thrown away and lost there.

    I say to unhappy people, watch yourself, what are you spending you time on? Do you love it? Love what you do.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — October 11, 2007 @ 3:43 pm

  15. Love is attention.

    That is so true yet I never really looked at it that way. Thanks for opening my eyes.

    I do agree that when all of these things are used properly, and with balance, it is the perfect bean dip.

    I’m hungry, too.

    Comment by Shawn — October 11, 2007 @ 5:41 pm

  16. I love, love, love this post. And it must mean I needed to hear these things right now…

    Comment by shauna — October 11, 2007 @ 6:07 pm

  17. Since the prize has been upped to something involving Karen’s writing, I must post more 🙂

    Isn’t it interesting that the list involves five things that you do not “do” per se; and five very important things that I find popping up in moment after moment as a stay-at-home-dad.

    Paying attention isn’t really something to do exactly; and I find that just-turned-three year olds are better at noticing when my attention dissipates even than my Zen teacher; even my second grader can instantly tell if I’m not here but she wants me here. When the “Be Here Now” people talk about the mess that comes from not paying attention, I think they are often being metaphorical – but in my house, one daydreaming walk through my thoughts is more than enough time to take all the china out of the cabinet and get down the bean & cups box, and have an actual mess arise. At other times, my son will put his two hands on my cheeks, turn my head towards creation, and gently and firmly say, “Daddy, watch me.” So attention is naturally of vital import to the parent.

    Proximity, there’s another humble virtue for you. Just me, my body, my warmth, my enjoyment of this weeks little reassuring glance-filled shy-ness game, is all that’s needed. My grand ideas about how to live better show up in the “blah-blah-blah” filter by the time they are four years old, but my hands’ touch is powerful yet. It’s not glamorous, but it’s so parental.

    Commitment, in the context of parenting, is not a specific commitment to do or not to do anything; most of those specifics probably get broken in the first few years (no TV, no plastic, no yelling, yes time to smell the effen flowers on the walk to the store); commitment in this furnace of action is to keep trying, keep being open to a small dependent life, to allow their view of reality into my eyes; to keep learning from the reality they show, rather than what I hoped for or expected. Just a commitment to breath deeply next time before a freak-out is warranted is quite enough. Or if not the next time, the commitment to drop the freak-out as soon as I notice it the breath will be more useful for the situation than the freak-out.

    Self-discipline is another thing which sounds grand, but in the context of parenting arises naturally. Waking up somehow is not a problem; even in our lax household oversleeping isn’t in the realm of worry. Doing the same things day after day lends a certain amount of discipline not based on the thought that “oh dear, I better try really hard to do this right” but your eyes and hands responding to earlier days without naps or without extra clean clothes in the bag, or whatever. If we are talking about discipline to continue with the task before us, then we have the many ways in which our biological selves are prepared for caring for our own young. Sure, hours of bouncing up and down, but then look at that face of sleeping grace. Sure, these contentious lot of arguing siblings wears out certain parts of my brain, but it only takes one shifty looking stranger (we live in a big city, although even a cell-phone talking driver on our road will do) to fully mobilize me to my highest most urgent task.

    And love; really what can be said. I never understood love before. Feeling my life force flow so rapidly through me into these little beings is the greatest, graying delight I’ve known. Loving my coworkers at a corporation was at times challenging, you know. Loving one person for decades isn’t like falling off a log. Love for the kids arises and knocks me down at least everytime I see them sleeping, and at, you know, countless moments during the day: when they stand up for themselves against some foolish error I’ve made; when they comfort one another; when they run around screaming in mad delight; when they lay on my chest and our breath is in such attentive proximity 🙂

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — October 11, 2007 @ 6:36 pm

  18. I wish I could have gotten in on the giveaway but I’ve been on vacation and away from all outside world contact. It was actually blissful. 🙂

    I love love love this post and find every bit of it to be true. What a wonderful full circle this makes, huh?

    Do you mind if I post a link to this post in my own blog?

    Thanks for being so wonderfully inspirational.

    Karen Beth 🙂

    Comment by Karen Beth — October 14, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  19. Karen Beth:
    Nothing would be tastier than a link or two or trillion. Eager to see how you use it.

    Comment by Karen — October 14, 2007 @ 10:53 pm

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