Work as prayer

In Buddhism, we might say “daily work is an expression of the suchness of each moment,” This daily work is our expression that “each moment is complete,” or as Katagiri Roshi wrote, “Each moment is the universe.” How do we demonstrate that, amongst the tedium of our daily chores or the boredom of repetitive work or our frustration when we do not see the results of our actions fast enough. Many of us compartmentalize the sacred and the ordinary, which makes our daily life somewhat of a nuisance.

Zen practice/realization is quite an antidote to this daily despair. We practice in each moment, (we could say “pray”) by bringing the particular moment and the universal view together in our mindful attention. Coming back and back to Now. Just this is it!

It is possible even in the worst doldrums or in deep grief, to notice the beauty in life. I put this in the Abode practice of sympathetic joy. We return to noticing life’s beauty and mystery and allow that to nurture us. For example, noticing that I have running water in the sink (the miracle of that!), that my sink has a window to see the sky and the trees, noticing the sensuousness of warm water on my hands and all the human work that went into producing my dishes, which I wash and dry and return back to order. Noticing the “universal joke” that as soon as the dishes are done, someone puts the next dish into the sink.

Someone gave me as a gift, a Christian-based book, The Quotidian Mysteries, Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris, which I found very much, reflect the Zen attitude towards daily life. 

Quotidian: occurring every day; belonging to every day; commonplace, ordinary. (Merrian-Webster Third New International Dictionary)

In order to be able to see the ordinary as mysterious, we cannot be caught up in the busyness nor tossed away by the accomplishments or lack of, in daily life. Our daily life needs to be upheld by the recurring daily rituals of our spiritual life and these rituals enforce our ability to hold our mindfulness and universal perspective as we go through the activities of daily life.

She writes:

“Workaholism is the opposite of humility, and to an unhumble literary workaholic such as myself, morning devotions can feel useless, not nearly as important as getting about my business early in the day. I know from bitter experience that when I allow busy little doings to fill the precious time of early morning, when contemplation might flourish, I open the doors to the demon of acedia. (spiritual torpor or apathy, lack of care). Noon becomes a blur –no time, no time – the wolfing down of a sandwich as I listen to the morning’s phone messages and plan the afternoon’s errands. When evening comes, I am so exhausted that vespers has become impossible. It is as if I have taken the world’s weight on my shoulders and am too greedy, and too foolish, to surrender it to God. Having discarded contemplation, I render it, and the worship that is its fruit, meaningless, futile, without issue.”

This is an admonition to us to keep alive our daily spiritual rituals, which provide the ground for our Right View in daily life. We need to use the support and connection with sangha to help us do this. Let us allow the supports in religious life so that we can enjoy the true meaning of mindfulness. Encouraging us to remember the most important thing, Just this is it!