Creating Space for Leisure and Sacred Endarkenment (Or, How I Quit Job-Hunting, Revamped My House Cleaning Business, and Realized My Life Purpose)
A few weeks ago, I received a lovely postcard with an appreciative personal note from one of my house cleaning clients. She wrote that “a single mom’s most precious resource is rest,” and thanked me for the work I’ve been doing in cleaning her home every two weeks for the past several years, as it has given her some much-needed rest and leisure time.
I thought: By cleaning houses, I am creating space for others to enjoy leisure. I love that. I mean, that seems obvious enough, right? Yet I have somehow failed to appreciate the full significance of this until now.
As I pondered this, it dawned on me anew that running a solo house cleaning business as my “day job” while I write and lay the groundwork for the future Hermitage is perfectly aligned with my path of monastic service. I’ve written before about house cleaning as an appropriate job for a Pagan nun; monastics in many religions do manual labor. Yet there are some deeper forces in play here, too.
My client’s kind words catalyzed a flash of insight. I think I now finally understand one of the deepest metaphysical reasons why doors have effortlessly been opening for me to keep on doing house cleaning work, while all of the doors I’ve been knocking on in my search for an office job have remained closed to me despite many years of diligent study, effort, networking, and struggling to get a ‘foot in the door’ with employers. It’s my version of the kind of life purpose James Hillman describes in his book The Soul’s Code:
I create space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.
This is what I am here to bring forth in the world. There’s a sense of destiny in it — a sense that “This is what I must do.” This is my service work. I do it for the gods and spirits, for my community, and for myself. House cleaning work provides regular opportunities to do this — which is, I think, why Those I serve approve. In fact, making space for leisure and sacred endarkenment are the two intertwined themes that are threaded throughout all of my endeavors — work and play, paid and unpaid, religious and mundane. By physically getting down to the earth on my hands and knees to clear out dust and clutter, I am embracing the dark — i.e., practicing one among many forms of what I call sacred endarkenment. (I’ll have a lot more to say about sacred endarkenment in future writings.) In terms of devotion, I consider my house cleaning work to be an offering to Níðhöggr, a being Who eats and removes rot from the roots of the World Tree. And at the end of the work day, I have made a tangible difference: my clients have more space and time for leisure.
I serve this way through my house cleaning business, through my contemplative and devotional religious practice, through my writing, and through my Rethinking the Job Culture project. I do this even when I’m not thinking about it consciously. I live this. I embody these themes, literally and metaphorically. Accordingly, I am drawn away from things that interfere with leisure and sacred endarkenment, and toward things that further them.
No wonder I’ve had so gods-damned much trouble finding a conventional job for the past six or seven years (in addition to systemic factors, which surely play a part as well). I feel like I’ve been walking around with some kind of metaphysical “stamp” on my forehead that subconsciously broadcasts a message to employers: “No. Sorry. This one, she’s not for you. She’s marked. Her skills are needed elsewhere, to serve different purposes.” I mean, how many employers do you know whose mission involves creating space for leisure? And how many do you know that would know or even care what “sacred endarkenment” might be, for that matter?
I’ve sensed intuitively for quite some time that something like this was going on underneath the surface of my life, although I couldn’t explain it to myself or anyone else in ways that made sense. I was often accused of just being lazy and not wanting to work. I knew I wanted to work; I knew I was a writer…but I also knew that the work I needed to do most wouldn’t be done through a wage labor job.
I think my difficulties in finding an office job are just the most recent manifestation of this enduring undercurrent in my life.
A few months back, I wrote that for years, everything I’ve tried to improve my financial situation and earn more money has backfired somehow. I’ve had trouble even meeting my own financial needs, let alone laying the groundwork for the future home of the Hermitage. And in March, I saw a doctor after experiencing debilitating foot pain and numbness. I was diagnosed with tarsal tunnel syndrome. I feared I might have to give up any kind of work that required me to be on my feet.
So I kept on looking for office jobs, even in the face of my long-standing awareness that getting an office job wasn’t the right path for me, and would never be the right path for me. Since we don’t yet have unconditional basic income, and I have no savings or spouse or trust fund to fall back on, I figured I didn’t really have any viable choice but to job-hunt. I certainly don’t believe financial struggles are what the gods “want” for me. Yet here I am, with no end in sight to the financial struggles — despite years of prayers, petitions, job-hunting efforts, networking, study, responsible spending and saving habits, cutting my expenses as much as possible, and money-conjuring magic.
Ah, but wait a minute. There’s more to the story than that. Strictly speaking, it isn’t true that EVERYTHING I’ve done to improve my financial situation has backfired. I do, after all, have some wonderful supporters on Patreon right this very minute, and several other people who have told me they would pledge their support if their own situations permitted it. And my frugality and lack of debt has certainly prevented my financial situation from worsening.
Still, I’ve often wondered: might Someone be interfering with me getting a job? After all, it was only six months ago that I was told, in the clearest communication I’ve ever received from Those I serve:
“You must resist the conscription of your time into the service of capital. You must resist getting a full-time job so you can do your WORK.”
And there have been all kinds of uncanny things interfering whenever I try to get jobs — web application forms crashing three times in a row just as I clicked send, job requisitions being pulled immediately after I sent in my application, and so on. So I started to get suspicious that there was more going on than bad luck, a terrible economy, or a competitive job market. And what about the timing of my tarsal tunnel syndrome diagnosis? It arrived just as I was intensifying another round of job searching, after all. Was that also a not-coincidence — an effort from Those I serve to steer me in another direction? Or was it simply a medical diagnosis, with no further significance beyond that?
Finally, confused and not knowing where to turn next, I asked a fellow polytheist: “If you were me, and you suspected that your gods and spirits might be interfering with your ability to get a job, but you really needed to bring in more money, what would you do?”
Her suggestion: “Ask Them if They’re interfering. And if the answer is yes, ask Them why.”
Good advice, I thought. So I did. (Seems obvious enough, right? So why didn’t it occur to me to try that? I have no idea!)
The answer I received, as best as I can translate it, is something like this:
“You are an anchoress-in-training — a nun on a path of service to the divine and the land. The way you support yourself must be aligned with this service.”
I interpreted this answer as vagueness — in other words, “maybe We are interfering, maybe not.” But now that I better understand my life purpose as one of creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment, that answer makes more sense. Why? Because there are few, if any, wage labor jobs in which I can do that. So perhaps They aren’t directly interfering with me getting a job, but not-getting-jobs is happening indirectly because They are guiding me toward things that further those goals, and away from things that interfere with them.
But They haven’t guided me away from house cleaning, and in fact They seem to be opening paths for me to do more of it. (More on this below.) And my foot pain from tarsal tunnel syndrome is now gone! It has improved greatly through my unfailing use of corrective shoe insoles, special foot exercises, application of Datura ointment, and Earthing — regular contact of the soles of my bare feet with the Earth.
I conclude that the financial lack I’m experiencing is not the gods’ intent. It’s a side effect of the interaction between these two things:
1) living in a culture where wage labor is pretty much the only viable way to survive for most of us, and
2) having a life purpose that is in active opposition to compulsory wage labor for survival.
This is a huge realization for me. Huge!
I mean, I always had a kernel of awareness, deep down inside, that this was a driving force in my life…and yet I’ve still struggled with the implications of this truth, in one form or another, for all of my adult life. I knew when I was very young that I was a writer, and that the seeds of what I needed to write were already living inside me, and that what I needed and wanted most was time and space to read, think, and develop my craft. There was a rebellious spirit living inside me that didn’t want me to ever take a 9-to-5 job that interfered with my writing. I have called this spirit my inner two-year-old, or my “Feral Imp.” I figured out quickly that the game in our culture was rigged, and not in favor of people like me who were called to do creative and spiritual work on their own terms. But not until now did this enormous piece of the larger puzzle finally fall into place.
I’ve now given up job-hunting so I can do my work. I’ve surrendered to the tides.
When I think of all the energy I’ve expended on job-hunting in recent years — energy that will now be freed up to serve other purposes than “the conscription of my time into the service of capital” — I can’t help but be excited. I spent 1.5 years studying web development, for example, and then failed to get a job in the field, despite my best efforts. That was a huge blow at the time. But now all that freed-up energy can be applied toward ramping up my business, writing, and working on projects for the Hermitage.
The very same day I surrendered and gave up my job hunt, I received a good omen.
While cleaning my client’s home that day — an artfully arranged and spiritually peaceful home that I feel privileged to spend time in — I stepped outside briefly to take out the recycling, and “just happened” to run into the neighbor, who saw what I was doing, and said excitedly: “You do house cleaning for my neighbor? Great! My cleaner is on the way out, and I’ll be needing a new one soon. Are you available?”
I’ve never before crossed paths with this neighbor in three years of working in that client’s home. And she happened to be right there at the same moment I was, and happened to be looking for a new house cleaner, the very same day I surrendered. This was not a coincidence. To an outsider, it might look like mere happenstance; and from that perspective, it would be. But for me, this experience had an additional dimension of meaning. I “heard” it as an affirmation that there would be more house cleaning clients for me if I committed to expanding my business, whether or not this particular client panned out.
That’s a door opening if I’ve ever seen one. And here’s the key: it required no effort.
Well, let me clarify that. It required me to show up in the right place at the right time, make a good impression when addressed, and follow through on the lead. But it didn’t require effort in the sense of struggle. I didn’t have the sense that I was swimming upstream against the tide, the way I always had with job hunting. This client came to me; I didn’t even have to advertise!
That day, I decided to re-vamp and expand my business. I recognized that it was time for me to stop knocking on doors that were closed to me (applying for office jobs), and start walking through the ones that were opening for me (accepting new house cleaning clients). Best of all, I am now expanding my business with full recognition that house cleaning is one of few ways of earning income that are perfectly aligned with the mission of my monastic path of service: creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment. That makes the work more meaningful to me than it was before.
I’ll admit there were times — especially in the early days of my business — where I wallowed in self-pity often, because I started my house cleaning business largely due to financial desperation, and because people treated me differently than they did when I worked in an office. Our culture doesn’t give much respect to people who do manual labor. In any case, I had been delivered a one-two punch by 1) the aftermath of a devastating divorce, and 2) my inability to get hired elsewhere in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008. So I sometimes thought to myself: “Oh, come on now, cut it out with all this metaphysical talk. You’re some kind of meaning-junkie, making a virtue out of necessity.”
But I have found meaning in the house cleaning work I do. For the sake of finding meaning, I’ve learned, it doesn’t really matter whether the doors to conventional wage labor remain closed by my own choice, or by forces outside of my control. House cleaning is honest and unpretentious work, for one thing, which is more than I can say for many office jobs. And since my clients have all been found through the arts and esoteric communities, I have often thought of cleaning their homes as an indirect way of supporting the arts. Which it is! But I’ve now found another layer of meaning: it’s actually an integral part of my monastic path.
I believe my experience is an example of the way the world can work when we learn to get out of our own way and fully surrender to our callings. There is support available, through mysterious means of not-coincidences and omens, for those who can find the courage to let go of the reins of control and allow the gods and spirits to guide their paths. But you cannot dictate in advance how, or from what sources, this support will arrive. You must find the courage to do what you are called to do in the world, listen for inner guidance, and follow the promptings you receive, even when they sound crazy. Which they almost certainly will, to people who are not you. And sometimes they’ll sound crazy even to you! But you must follow them anyway, if this kind of path is yours to walk.
I am reminded of a quote I love from yoga teacher Vanda Scaravelli:
“You have to allow things to happen and to learn how to stop preventing things from happening. For example, you don’t do anything special to feel gravity: you let gravity affect you. And if you don’t have a clue what that means, then you become curious about what it might mean and look forward to a time when the words might resonate with you.”
You have to learn to allow things to happen. And stop preventing things from happening. That is what I mean by “surrendering to the tides.” It doesn’t mean just passively accepting whatever comes my way; it means actively using my powers of discernment to detect what “wants” to happen, getting myself aligned with that, and allowing it. I will simply find ways to do the work I’m called to, and allow that to lead me where it will. And I will stop job-hunting. That fruitless effort has wasted a great deal of my time.
“There is a way of doing the yoga poses that we call ‘asanas’ without the slightest effort,” says Vanda. Yes. And I know there is a way that I can do my work without engaging in effortful struggle, too — but that seemingly paradoxical path of “not-doing” or “un-doing” can only be found through being true to the callings that live in my heart and bones and flesh, and by trusting my intuition and Those I serve to lead me in the right direction for this co-creative process to unfold.
Scaravelli’s yoga-based wisdom has helped me to remember that one of the ways this path is given, or revealed to me, is in response to a deepening of my connection with the Earth. It is found through cultivating conditions — including leisure and sacred endarkenment — that allow the intelligence that lives in my body to fully awaken, through grounding in the Earth. This path can’t be found through imposing a formal, culturally approved plan to “earn a living” on top of pre-existing patterns of holding tension in my body. My path toward working with a sense of ease, rather than a sense of struggle, involves abandoning the effort to “earn a living” through wage labor, doing the work I am called to do instead, and allowing support to come to me in response. I must listen attentively for what lies underneath the surface and “wants” to come forth and be made manifest through me. Then I must do it.
That’s very difficult in a culture that makes no provisions for this way of living and working, and in fact leads us away from it. It involves learning to receive without shame when support comes to me, even if I’m not meeting cultural standards for “productivity.” It also means learning to say “no” a lot, because every day I face pressures to abandon my callings, the most pressing of which is being poor. (Not to mention the unrelenting shame our cruel culture heaps on people who don’t have paid jobs, or who don’t get paid enough to meet their survival needs, and therefore need financial support from others. This shame is one of the ways people are coerced in directions that lead away from following their inner callings. But that’s a topic I’ll delve into in much greater depth elsewhere.)
So there’s a paradoxical truth here too: namely, that there are things that must be actively resisted — such as shame about receiving, and cultural pressures to “get a job, any job” — in order to walk the path of working through trusting the wisdom of “not-doing.” I also find that resisting unpaid and unreciprocated emotional labor as much as possible is very useful in keeping me focused on the right path. (Thank you once again, dear feminist foremothers, for introducing me to this concept…and thank you to the folks at MetaFilter for the monster thread that catalyzed even deeper realization of the importance of this for me.)
In surrendering to the tides instead of fighting them, I must trust that I am also laying the groundwork for the future home of the Hermitage, even if I can’t see how yet.
I have many things to be grateful for in my current situation, and these feelings of gratitude live right alongside the money fears in a kind of ongoing creative tension. I’m grateful that I’ve even managed to come to the realizations I’m writing about here — all my life I have “known” the truth of this, in a sense, but not until now have I had sufficient skill, insight, experience, and time to put it into words this clearly.
And in that spirit of gratitude: there are many things I appreciate about being a self-employed, solo house cleaner with an established business, rather than an employee in an office job. I’ve written about this before, but here are a few things I didn’t cover in earlier posts:
* I can choose the clients I work for.
Since I’m asthmatic and allergic to fragrances and animal dander, this ability to choose clients is very important. In office jobs, my health limitations are often a liability. Through my business, though, I have been able to turn the knowledge I’ve gained about how to clean homes for allergic people into an asset that attracts the right clientele for the type of services I provide.
* I have an established reputation in my community for good service.
Never underestimate the power of a good reputation. My clients know that I am reliable, trustworthy, and do quality work. They tell others about it, and this is how I have grown my business. After I found my first client, I have never had to advertise. Word of mouth and a good reputation have done it all. I love this so much! It’s the best way to build a loyal clientele.
* I can dress as I please when I’m at work.
In this line of work, there’s no need to spend money on uniforms or a business wardrobe. I wear a t-shirt with jeans and Doc Martens. I love having that freedom.
* I don’t need to own a car.
I am fortunate to live in a location (downtown Portland) that permits me to run a house cleaning business without driving. I travel to all my clients on public transit, and haul my supplies in a wheeled backpack. Since I hate driving, and don’t want the expense and responsibility of owning a car, I see this as a boon, not a burden. It also ensures that physical exercise is built into my work day.
* House cleaning is a great job for someone who savors solitude.
I usually clean when my clients aren’t home, which is wonderful for this introverted soul. I can listen to dark ambient music or Swedish language learning recordings on my headphones while I work, and even slip into a light meditative state. This pays off handsomely later, when I get home and sit down to write. On really good days, house cleaning helps me cultivate patience, and even becomes a part of my contemplative practice! What office job can offer that?
* My business is literally founded on trust.
“My business is founded on trust” isn’t just a slogan for me. I got my start in this business because someone in my community liked what I wrote on my website, met me in person, and trusted me enough to give me a chance. She then recommended me to others, and they recommended me to others, and eventually I had a clientele…all of whom have entrusted me with keys to their homes. Quite a far cry from job applications that require applicants to jump through hoops such as drug testing.
* I am doing ecologically responsible work.
This is true not just because I use only biodegradable cleaning supplies, or because I travel to clients’ homes on public transit instead of driving, though that’s part of it. It’s also true because being self-employed keeps me out of jobs that are ecologically irresponsible but must be done anyway for the sake of economic survival. (Even doing nothing at all would be far more ecologically responsible than many of the jobs on offer, which is a point I am also writing about in my book On The Leisure Track.)
I could go on, but I’ll stop there for now.
Charles Eisenstein, one of my favorite writers, speaks beautifully about the power that you can step into when you enter into service to something that wants to happen, and allow yourself to be guided by your inner compass. In a recent interview, he said:
“…if it’s something that wants to happen…and you enter into service to that thing…then miracles start happening. Things fall into place. The right person shows up at the right time with the right resource; synchronicities converge; and you find yourself at the center of a creative process that is far beyond you. The money comes in when it’s needed; you don’t have to worry about that part. All you have to do is devote yourself. That is the secret to expanded creativity.”
This is what I believe, too. Wholeheartedly so. And I believe I am now being given more opportunities for things to fall into place, and for the money to come in when it’s needed to support me and the future Hermitage. Why wasn’t enough money coming in before, despite the fact that my original vision of the Hermitage occurred in 2011? Well, some of it was…but a major portion of my focus was also being diverted toward looking for a job (a.k.a. “conscription of my time into the service of capital”), and I think that was interfering with the path that is right for me.
(And of course there are really important systemic and political reasons why money is scarce for people in the USA, too — I haven’t lost sight of that! I am writing about those reasons elsewhere, most notably through my Rethinking the Job Culture project. Here, though, I am keeping my focus on the metaphysical reasons that apply to my situation specifically).
In order for this right path to open to me fully, I had to first find the courage to leave behind the hunt for a job. That’s a particularly difficult task when I’m under such intense pressure to find one from so many corners, and many people think I’m “crazy” for abandoning the job hunt. Our entire culture seems to believe that the proper way to money is through jobs. And for many people, it is! But for whatever reason, I am not one of those people. I must find my support in other ways, and through other sources…such as self-employment, for starters. And while I need money to survive, it’s also true that support comes in many other forms, and I have a lot of those other forms of support right now. I have a strong sense that I am headed in the right direction one way or another. So I’m going to trust that. That self-trust is my only guide to navigating the uncharted path in front of me.
I am now walking through doors that are opening along my path, even as I type this. I am re-vamping my eco-friendly house cleaning business, and putting more of who I am into my promotional materials by emphasizing the earthy hearth-witch magic I do. My existing clients are all involved in the arts or esoteric communities anyway, and they all know I am Pagan. And why shouldn’t they? I live in Portland! “Have broom, will travel…to banish dust and clutter!” is my new tag line.
I think one of the reasons my clients like me is that, consciously or not, they sense the difference I make in their homes in subtle ways as well as in obvious ones. I clean with intent to improve the flow of subtle energies. I might do a mini spot cleanse using herbs or salt, for example, or a cedar smudge, or use a homemade aromatherapy spritzer (made with purified water and conifer-based essential oils such as pine and fir) to freshen stale air. And I make all my cleaning mixes in small batches by hand, using only biodegradable ingredients — baking soda, distilled white vinegar, tea tree oil, pure essential oils, and botanicals.
I also bring prayer and devotion into my house cleaning work. Whenever I clean a client’s home, I always pause to say a short prayer of thanks and blessing at the end of my service day, just before I leave and lock the door behind me. Usually it’s something like “May this home be blessed with peace, love, good health, and prosperity.”
At the end of the day, when I return to my beloved Hermitage with pay that I’ve earned, one of the first things I do is kneel before the altar on which The Black Stone sits, place my pay on the altar, and thank the gods and spirits for today’s opportunity to earn money for the Hermitage and serve my community.
Then, after I rest and replenish, I write, meditate, pray, make offerings, and work on other creative projects for the Hermitage.
I think this life I live is about as close to a Pagan nun life as it’s possible to get without more formalized religious support.
I don’t yet know where my next client or source of support is going to come from, but I trust that it will happen, as long as I continue to do my part and listen for guidance. And I am grateful to everyone whose support and belief in me has made this humble and meaningful way of life possible for me so far. Thank you.
My other freelance business venture — which will also be included under the Black Stone Home Service moniker — will involve accepting new clients for the proofreading and copy editing work I’ve been doing. I’m very excited about this, and will be making a more formal announcement about it in the not-too-distant future. My very first semi-official job — even before I worked in restaurants — was given to me at the tender age of 13, when my seventh-grade English teacher hired me for a few hours a week to help him correct other students’ spelling exams. And then I got my first proofreading job at a news office at age 19! How I wish I had been able to fully appreciate, at that time, how incredibly fortunate I was to have paid jobs like that when I was so young.
So it looks like I’ve come full circle. As an adolescent, I was hired to clean out neighbors’ garages and organize their closets. I was also hired to find and correct errors in people’s writing. And now, as I’ve been cut adrift from wage labor jobs in middle age, I am building a solo business in which I do both of those things once again!
I’m sure it will surprise no one who knows me that I specialize in editing and proofreading promotional copy for dark ambient musicians. My hope is that I will be able to grow the copy editing and proofreading side of Black Stone Home Service in the coming years, such that I will be able to transition into it as I age and become less physically capable of doing house cleaning for a living.
I am thrilled to be giving up job-hunting and committing myself to full-time self-employment now. Conventional employment arrangements are insecure at best (and are structured in ways that strongly favor employers), and our social safety net in the USA is woefully inadequate. With self-employment, and diversification of income streams, I have more stability. If I should lose a client or two, or if some of my Patreon supporters decide to opt out, I won’t be left completely out in the cold.
Finally, in closing, a bit of inspiration:
“Grounding is the operative word. When we clean, we connect with the ground, we take ourselves literally down to its level. The same process happens when we are gardening, when we plunge our hands into the soil of the earth. We are getting in touch with our base, our origin, our ultimate home. We are saved from the flights of fancy of the ego; we are put back in touch with the base chakra, the grounding earth beneath our feet.”
~ Jane Alexander, Spirit of the Home: How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary
“Life is composed of primarily mundane moments…If we don’t learn to love these moments, we live a life of frustration and avoidance, always seeking ways to escape the mundane. Washing the dishes with patience and attention is a perfect opportunity to develop a love affair with simply existing. You might say it is the perfect mindfulness practice.”
~ David Cain, “Mindfulness Lives In The Sink”
For more about my work, click on the image above to visit my main site — you’ll find links to almost everything I’ve published online!
(Thanks to Ilana Hamilton of Blackthorn Photography for the great photo.)
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