September comes with the ‘back to school’ feeling, the children have their new slightly too big school uniforms (grow in to it, very practical), the house is clean and clear from a summer of sorting, the preserving pan is out for jam, chutney, pickles, summer completion projects. A hive of industry, but it is the kind of work I love doing, at its best it feels like play. In meeting the requirement of the season, I find energy, joy, refreshment.
What do we take pleasure in? Do we have to consign pleasure to leisure? How can we love and be pleased by our work? Capitalism is not really a system based in the currency of pleasure through work, even to suggest it seems transgressive, a smidgen Baudelairean. I am not sure how much pleasure the bees get from their work – I was watching the bees on the flowers and in the hive today – there was no particular sign of pleasure as such, but they seem content (except when I try and steal their honey….). Bees, of course, serve their hive. Is service the key to the work/leisure/pleasure question? It might be. But perhaps the next question to ask is what or whom are we in service to?
In a discussion of his recent book ‘Unforbidden Pleasures’ at the Freud Museum last autumn, the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips suggested that a way of thinking about psychoanalysis as as a history of our obedience, an exploration of all the things which we consented to but did not necessarily agree with, particularly as children. This is a very arresting way of narrating life. He asks what kind of freedom would we encounter if we did not comply with the rules imposed on us concerning behaviour when young? Who would we be if we just did as we wanted, spoke as we wanted? Would we descend in to violent chaos? Possibly. Probably. But being conscious of where the ‘rules’ are is important – to whom or what do we act in compliance. To whom are what are we obedient? This is a vital question, full of life and passion. But the question does not go far enough. It does not open the field sufficiently.
Bringing consciousness to our compliance has the potential to liberate, but not just at a personal level.
The transpersonal perspective offers understanding on this. Doing what we have to do is a form of service. Service, whilst it may look like being in service to another person, to the world, to a cause, is always and everywhere service to God, to Reality itself. All work is service to the One, and put like that, it offers us the chance to open to consciousness of our essential servanthood in the cosmic order, fulfilling the role of rendering the divine visible to itself ‘I was a Hidden Treasure and I so longed to be Known, that I created the world so that I could be Known’ (Hadith of the Prophet).
This offers the possibility of bringing our awareness to our capacity (and often our struggle) to come in to balance with what is presented to us, to serve that which is presented to us. I suspect that the easy sense of pleasure in seasonal jam making is derivative of this balance, it is easy to see how this is work (service) in alignment with what is necessary to the moment. More of our work can be experienced and known like this. It has the potential to be a delightfully subversive way of living.
Phillips, A. (2016). Unforbidden Pleasures. Farrer Strauss and Giroux. New York.