Shambhala Sun | March 2014
The Work of the Moment
Like the monk who
strived so hard he couldn’t see the goddess right behind him, if we push too
hard for results we miss what is most intimate. When we and our work are one,
says ROSHI PAT ENKYO O'HARA, even the most mundane of life’s activities are profound
Several years ago,
I was in the Catskills with a colleague, celebrating the completion of a
two-and-a-half-year project. It was summer, and it can get very hot in the
Catskills, so we were sitting on the veranda of my friend’s place with tall
glasses of iced tea and stacks of novels. We had worked really hard on this project, and we
were ready for relaxation. As we sat there, I kept looking to the side of the
house at a hillside entirely overgrown with shoulder-high tarweeds, the kind of
weeds with leaves that are sticky to the touch. They had so completely taken
over the hillside that they were killing all the other native plants.
even thinking, I rose up out of my chair, got some tools, walked up the hill,
and began pulling up and cutting away the weeds. I worked up there for the next
three days, covered in sweat and sticky pitch, my hands stinging because I
didn’t have any work gloves. My colleague couldn’t believe me; she could easily
have had her caretaker do it. However, I remember it as a time of rapture, of
enormous, satisfying pleasure. It wasn’t about “work” as we usually understand
the word; it was about my whole body and mind being fully with the smell of the
tarweed as I pulled and hacked away at it. It was about complete mergence with
that hillside, not thoughts of how it would look later, but a complete
at-oneness with what I was doing in a most profound and beautiful way.
That’s how I
experience intimacy with work, even when the work is challenging. Spreadsheets,
for example, are hard for me to understand and manipulate, and I find myself
butting up against the software, asking stupid questions, and so on. Still,
being immersed in that kind of work can also be a source of joy.
The word work is
apparently about five thousand years old, and from the beginning—in its
Proto-Indo-European version, werg—it simply referred to “something being
done.” How are we in relation to this something being done in our daily lives?
What is the heart of our work? What are the qualities surrounding our something
Work can mean our
career or simply how we make money; it can be our calling (our “life’s work”)
or simply our functioning in the world: cleaning the zendo floor, making the
beds, doing the dishes.
I like to think of
work as what we do; it is the activity of the life we live.
Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges, by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, ©
2014 by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala
Publications, Inc., Boston. www.shambhala.com
Image(s) by Mark T. Morse