I often write about how busy I find himself, that it’s an old habit I’ve had trouble loosening up. Trouble giving the old drive a rest. What’s the cliché? Take time to smell the flowers. Don’t fall victim to society’s sense of urgency and overwork.
But recently I’ve been looking at it the other way, and that is appreciating my work more and more. Asking myself why I think I have to change so much, why I need to improve in some way. Yes, holding tightly to anything can feel like locking yourself behind bars, but doing what gives you a sense of purpose and meaning?
Getting into action, feeding Aussie, looking at emails and what’s ahead for me today—and doing them—actually energize me. Lots of emails, conversations, and lately research re plane travel in connection with the Zen Peacemaker Order, plans for next week’s teaching, plans for the winter intensive here at the local Green River Zen Center, writing, studying, looking at what’s needed by low-income immigrant families—these call out the best in me. Still taking action to fulfill my vows to ameliorate the suffering in the world, still finding renewal almost everywhere, even on a snowy afternoon in the middle of the woods.
Many people have family nearby and taking care of children and grandchildren becomes their big focus. Others like to gather the local community at certain times, have lots of coffee with friends. I also like to do small talk with really good friends, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that doctors now find that it’s healthy and life-prolonging. When I spend time with my sister in Israel, we do lots of small talk, which leads to lots of laughter and much health for both of us.
But I can’t do a lot of that, I got to get to work. That’s what I hear myself saying without thinking: “Lori (after we both feed our respective dogs), I have to get to work.” Or: “Aussie, you’ve had your breakfast and your walk, now I have to get to work.” Or even as I get up from the morning meditation, there’s the unstated resolve: Time to get to work.
Not for me reading during the day, certainly not watching television (except when I binge-watched during covid, at the express order of the doctor). No, it’s sitting in front of the screen, tentatively touching the computer keys while wondering how much longer this old computer will last, opening up emails, the news, and most important, the calendar with reminders of what’s up for today. Okay, I think to myself, let’s get to it.
I’m aware that it’s not just through taking action that life is meaningful, it’s also through watching snowflakes come down, following the birds in the feeders, the squirrels foraging on the ground for spilled birdseed, Aussie slumbering her way through a rainy, snowy day, the gray stones lining the paths slowly turning white. Presence is everything, but work requires presence, too.
I am one of those who has always found great energy in work, as well as solace. Whatever angst or dread I may feel as I face the day—fear of death? Vague existential anxiety? Seeing the delusion behind the very notion of control?—it disappears when I write these posts, or when I go back to an old writing project and look at how I can pick it up again, write anything, ideas and words rolling in from I don’t know where. Broaden my life even as I try to simplify, give permission for meandering, and continue to work.
Work has always been the pivot, especially now without Bernie. I’m no longer the stay-at-home caregiver, he didn’t want me to be that, so he died. I’m also not the day-to-day doting grandmother picking up small children from school and giving them supper if their parents are still working, or the main holiday cook. Relationships are so important—but me, I love to work.
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