Sunday, August 17, 2008

The work

For many of us, work is something we do to make a living, a job, a profession or some activity. It is also our daily routines of housework, paperwork, or homework. We tend to connect it with "a duty", something that needs to get done. In most connotations, work is not always easy to start, yet we are happy when it's done. Many times we get frustrated and impatient with work, it seems like it never gets accomplished. There are always more dishes to be washed, the paperwork tends to pile up, and the leaves keep falling into the yard. So, we get to do the work again, and again, and again. How can we change this ongoing cycle of our attitude towards work?

In Zen monasteries there is a practice called Samu (作務 ) - Work Practice. This is work, usually physical (like cooking, yard work, and cleaning), done in a mindful and aware manner. The different tasks are carried out in silence. Simply stated, Samu is a form of meditation done while working. It is an opportunity to concentrate on the work itself, enjoy the simplicity in it, or face the challenge it brings. Just working, being in the moment and minding the part of the task we are at. Immersing the dishes into the warm water, soaping and looking at the magical reflections of color in the bubbles, rinsing and feeling how the water is washing away the soap and food scraps and leaving the dishes clean. The towel soaks the water drops and dries the dishes. We were concentrated on each moment, rather than on a passing thought, or "this is boring", or " when is this going to end?". We feel in peace with the work, in appreciation for what is present in our lives (like clean water, for example) and thankfulness, for being capable to do work in our life.

Another type of work, that brings much joy, is community work and volunteering. Giving our efforts and time for a purpose of supporting and empowering others creates fulfillment - by helping others, we first empty ourselves, and then fill up again, for a new cycle or giving. This also provides us with a clear perspective and appreciation to the life we have. The fact we are able to be in service, is yet another awakening to what we were granted with, and to our own capacity of giving. While being in service we focus on things outside of us; the people we help, the environment we conserve, or the animals we care for. We do not expect a praise, a medal or not even a "Thank you". We do not do this work for ourselves.

At our Dojo, we sweep the mat after practice, and wash it. It is a form of Samu, cleansing our own space of practice and ourselves. This practice of taking care of the Dojo is taught to all new students and seems to be taken well. Some students choose to take on tasks without being asked for, and sometimes without being noticed. Students take out the trash, clean the bathrooms and dust around the Dojo before or after class.
As one enters the Dojo, a sacred practice space, one should keep mindful, notice what needs to get done and do it, quietly and without expectations for a praise, nor with resentful thoughts about the others who didn't do this task. We do it to deepen our own practice. We also do it for others, and for the community as a whole. Cleaning, tidying up, and offering help to other students, bring a true sense of wholeness, as work is a blessing we get to have and share.

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