Monday, November 8, 2010

How Do You Work?

This is a picture of me in my flowered gumboots and my daughter's old down vest, working down by the pond. There is no shortage of things to be done around here and I have to be careful not to work with the grim determination of "there's so much to do around here". You know that crunched brow, shoulder to the grindstone body posture, it completely sucks all the fun out of the beauty of the day. I can get way too goal oriented when I decide there are things to be done and forget the value of the process. I can get so absorbed in this position that I see the landscape as "something to do" rather than something to enjoy.

The fall has been so amazing here, tipping back and forth between warm, misty days and brilliant sunshine and blue sky. It is truly a joy to be outside. Yesterday I reminded myself to enjoy the walk around the pond as I surveyed it for what needed pruning and assessed what dead and living wood required hauling out of the water. I liberated a curly willow from a tangle of salmon berry and pulled out the many little holly volunteers along the path. I pulled some fallen alder branches from the water and reminded myself that the ducks and I have different opinions of what makes a beautiful pond. Sometimes when I look down on the pond from the sunroom I think of Thoreau and Walden Pond. I will have to scour my packed books. I think of Mary Oliver and her poems of simply being with the land. I think of "The Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold, a delightful listen or read introduced to me by an American friend many years ago. I highly recommend it

Later in the day an email came in from my old Sangha that included a little blurb I'd written years ago on working meditation and it reminded me of what a morning's work at the pond could look like. Ah to remember to approach each precious task with this view:

Working meditation can be a valuable addition to our sitting and walking meditation. Essentially we are doing the same thing, cultivating our awareness. In working meditation this takes a more active form. We attempt to be fully present with what we are doing, be it sweeping the floor or trimming a hedge. We are aware of the sights, sounds, our movements in a light and focused way. We are not rushing to complete our task but experiencing it as fully as possible, bringing our mind back when it drifts. We speak when necessary about the work at hand, but strive to maintain a quiet, contemplative atmosphere. While we work we can develop and notice our gratitude for the things we are caring for, in this case the wonderful home for our Sangha, the earth we live on. This working practice gets us in touch with our everyday life in a deeper way. We can carry this practice home with us and with time will find that it complements our other forms of practice and enriches our lives in a profound way. As we do this we can see how we are chipping away at our habitual tendencies of rushing to complete the many small, seemingly inconsequential tasks that make up our days. Our cultivation of being present will give us back our life in small and astonishing ways. It can increase our energy (which is depleted by rushing) and cultivate joy and appreciation that comes from noticing something as small and miraculous as a mote of dust caught in a beam of sunlight.

And how is it when you work?


  1. "A morning's work at the pond" looks and sounds beautiful, approaching it as you do with a heart full of awareness! More than I do! Your flowered gumboots would be hard for me to fill! Your words give me encouragement to remember to approach everything with contemplative awareness.

    And love the photo too. Looks kind of like New England in Sept (where I grew up). Everything is still so green! We're about to get out first snow... Thank you - Christine

  2. >>Our cultivation of being present will give us back our life in small and astonishing ways.<<

    This needs to be in boldface on my bathroom mirror! This week is an overwhelming mash of work-work. While away I resolved to take more time for art-work, tea-work, writing-work and sitting-work. Your post reminds me to not make all that work-work! :-)


  3. Beautiful reminder to be present when working instead of just in a mindless hurried fashion. The possible results of feeling more gratitude and joy and peace has me wanting to at least try on the next household 'job'.

  4. I am also 'winterizing' my zen gardens and ponds--moving pots into the greenhouse and cleaning up leaves and light pruning. never thought of it as work meditation though I will now. Actually I have tried meditation 3 mornings in a row which is progress for me.

  5. Thanks! You're the second re-minder to 'chop wood/carry water' that's come through this week...that plus the whole natural rhythm slowing down...yay...makes me very grateful.

    Lovin' the boots ;-)