When the sun rises, I go to work.
When the sun goes down I take my rest.
I dig the well from which I drink,
I farm the soil which yields my food,
I share creation, Kings can do no more.
Chinese proverb, approx. 2500 B.C.E.
While life right now is pretty scary for over 800,000 out-of-work U.S. federal workers, also imperiling countless interdependent businesses and contractors, let us hope that our card this week is a good sign. A visit from the Eight of Pentacles is always welcome.
Ruled by the element of Earth, the Pentacles emphasize how we exist in the practical, physical, material world.
Eight is the doubling of the number four, which is all about deeply grounding and the power of Earthy stability. So Eight would reflect that calm pragmatism, but even more so.
It is no accident that Eight is the symbol of the lemniscate, the representation of eternity. It deals with the cyclical nature of all things and the energetic flow that resolves the illusion of duality or conflict.
We see this symbol in the ultimate Eight of the Tarot, the Strength card.
So the sensible Pentacles Eight is going to be about getting organized, setting priorities, and moving forward (or not). It’s time to turn our attention to work, efficiency, and resources.
Here we see an artisan, who is focused on his creations. Although he is completely lost in his task, we see the city in the far distance. In addition, as one of Pixie Smith’s stage cards, he may in some way be aware he is being observed and is playing to an audience.
Perhaps this is a reminder that there is a larger world to which his items must have relevance, lest his work be an act of vanity or waste of time.
There is no indication whether the young man is self-employed, or working under the authority of a larger business. But in this moment, unsupervised, he works with good cheer, concentration, and a high level of productivity.
He has hung his wares up for all to see and admire. His success can be seen in both his demeanor, and the abundance of goods he is displaying with pride.
While the dream of winning the lottery and basking in endless idleness is seductive, for most of us, it would soon become boring and unhappy. As we can see by the craftsman’s contented expression, this card affirms that working can be important to our inner satisfaction and fulfillment.
Right livelihood is a component of the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism, a very pragmatic moral teaching that guides us to a life of mindfulness and enlightenment.
Right livelihood does not propose that your work must always be the expression of your innermost self, or a constant romp with some idealized fantasy. Even the most glamorous-seeming jobs are still, much of the time, work.
Instead, it acknowledges that both the work that we do, and the way that we do it, are healthy, vital components of our spiritual and personal development.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion.”
We must be mindful of what we are doing, and how our work is interconnected to all beings. This, in turn, has profound consequences for our personal peace of mind and happiness.
For over 3,000 years in the West, the story has been told that having to work in order to live is a punishment.
But what if that’s not really true? Perhaps instead, the fact that humans need to work honors the sacredness of the physical reality of our lives.
What if our requirement for material sustenance is a gift, not an obstacle? As long as it does not support violence, destruction, or harm to others, our work becomes a teacher, a guide, and a support system in our journey to enlightenment.
The proof is that when the economy contracts, or hard times come, it can shake us to our core. Not only do money worries strike at our hearts, but the desire to create, to be useful, and, yes, to work — especially if it’s at something that we can be proud of — is a fundamental part of human nature.
Fallow Times Are for Growing Our Roots
And if, for some reason, you are unemployed — your job has been outsourced, made redundant, you’re out on disability, furloughed from the government, or waiting in your shop for customers that are not showing up, the temptation may be to binge on Netflix and Chunky Monkey (or worse).
Fallow times occur in Nature, and humans are no exception. In Winter, although perennial plants may appear dead or gone in the surface world, below ground, the roots are actively growing. Cycles of growth and decline are nothing to be feared or fought.
Our ancestors would not have recognized our artificial world of never-ceasing noise, bright lights, and incessant activity (which is not the same thing as working). The modern world’s refusal to slow down, get quiet, and align with dormant times would certainly strike them as a soul-draining malady.
Instead, during this time when they were forced indoors for long weeks of cold and dark, they remained occupied with more creative endeavors: storytelling, carving, weaving and all forms of stitchery, repairing tools, and, weather permitting, mending fences, animal pens, and general repair around the home.
In other words, although the main agricultural activities were suspended until the land was tillable and the animals began giving birth, work did not cease. It simply changed, and often was more intimate and artful.
For the millions of people impacted by the government shutdown, either directly or indirectly, being unceremoniously thrown out of work with no income and no end in sight is terrifying. There are countless thousands who will never see any reimbursement for this time lost.
But whether you are undergoing the ripple effects of the shutdown, or in some other way missing out on the occupational contentment of the Eight of Pentacles, his visit this week points to finding creative tasks that you can do, that will ground you with a sense of accomplishment.
All those little chores you may have been considering — sprucing up your website, updating your resume, touching base with your favorite customers just to say hello, freshening up the display cases, browsing the vast online resources for improving your know-how, even cleaning up your desk — is time well spent.
This is not about mindless busyness, but meaningful, satisfying undertakings that will enhance your professionalism and security.
The Practical Wisdom of Good Work
The man in the Eight of Pentacles is clearly in “the zone,” immersed in turning out a reliable, consistently good product on a timely basis. What would that look like for you?
No matter where or how you make your living, who signs your paycheck, or even whether or not you are officially employed, you are always the most important manager of how you spend your time, labor, and talent.
When we remember that our creativity and enterprise are our gifts to one another, and to the Divine, we do not complain, cut corners, or pretend that mediocre work can slide by.
This card invites us to be self-starters. You need not wait for someone else’s permission to develop personal mastery, to cultivate and hone your proficiency, and enjoy the confidence and pleasure that come from a task well-done.
Experiment with systems that will streamline your activities and improve your efficiency. Develop a habit of taking ownership of your work responsibilities — you really are the boss of you.
Are you considering a lateral move at your job, or a promotion to a new, more challenging level? What new expertise might enable you to be more capable and find joy in your occupation? Perhaps you are ready to change your career completely.
The Eight of Pentacles offers wonderful guidance for creative folks who are gifted in craftsmanship or in the arts, but unsure of the stability of going for their dream. I often see it come up as an affirmation for people who are restless in their conventional, but unfulfilling careers, and who seek a life-changing shift to more creative or entrepreneurial endeavors.
But all the inspiration and good intentions in the world will not compensate for ignorance, carelessness, poor technique, or a failure to understand how your visions and the actual desire of the marketplace must intersect.
Pay close attention to the details this week and polish your skills.
If your job is satisfying and rewarding, be thankful, and continue to grow and learn. If not, who can you ask for honest feedback regarding your abilities and possible limitations? What new tools or practice can improve your results?
Remember that your labor is sacred. Whether you are technically employed or not, this week’s guidance is profoundly simple: Do good work. Kings can do no more.