Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Is Your Work?

A Day's Work
Mixed Media on Matte Board
8" x 8" matted, image size 3.75" x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

"Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it." the Dhammapada.  I bought a card with a beautiful Buddha and this quote on it when I was on my way to a Meditation retreat quite a few years ago.  It spoke to me because my koan at that time was "what am I supposed to be doing?"

Work has a lot of meanings and connotations.  At it's deepest level we talk about our life's work.  What is it?  For me there are two important aspects to our life's work and they aren't necessarily separate.

There is our spiritual work and if we are fortunate our spiritual work and our work in the world have an obvious connection.  They feel integrated somehow.  But if I had to say what the most important work is that we do in our lifetime here I believe without a doubt it is our spiritual work.  Here's a good example. My mother has known for a long time that not having love shown to her as a child resulted in her being unable to communicate love to others.  At 94, through the work we have done together, she has realized with great shock, the impact this has had on others.  When she talks about it I hear the deep regret in her voice and suggested that just having this realization is such a big accomplishment for a lifetime. I told her that this well could be her life's work.  I think it releases a lot of karma and allows for her to move past that position in her next life.  My friend the Buddhist monk suggests that my mother still has the opportunity to change her behaviour now, in this life time, to act on that realization.  While we are alive it is never too late.

Finding our work in the world can be confusing for a lot of us.  Not that long ago I used to quip "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up."  Many people confessed that this was also true for them.  But it seems in the last couple of years I have committed to my art and writing.  Rather than doing it half heartedly or citing all the reasons it won't work, I have learned to just do it, to quote a running shoe commercial.  I don't ask questions, or tell myself it's foolish.  I don't get too attached to making a great sum of money from it.  I just follow what it seems good to do, stumbling along the way, getting up, dusting myself off and carrying on.  For the most part I have given up trying to understand it with my head.  These are my passions, what I feel called to do and I don't need to ask the unanswerable question, "why?"

Some people have the good fortune to be born knowing what their work is and the rest of us, it seems, need to spend some time being still enough to receive some insight on the question of what to do and then be willing to hear what comes up.  Step number 3 it seems is to just do it and have faith that we are doing what we are supposed to.  This doesn't mean we can't adjust our course or take input from other places, it just means that like so many things in our life, the direction comes from deep inside, from that "still, small voice" as my Zen teacher calls it.  And sometimes we have to be very quiet to hear it over the din of everyday life and all the adverts and mainstream culture that tugs us in different directions.  What are you hearing?


  1. Just what I needed to hear!! Having recently quit my job because my artist self was dying.

  2. Good for you! A brave but life giving move. It reminds me of something my friend the Zen monk says, "To train in wisdom, we stand against the world" And in the same way, finding your true work in a culture that doesn't really value it, is standing against the world.