Monday, October 24, 2016

Everything Counts

"Another Ordinary Day"
- desert sunrise -

I’ve noticed that a lot of people lately seem to be lamenting over the stress of this ugly presidential election and wishing it would soon be over. Yesterday someone told me that November 8 (Election Day) couldn’t come fast enough for him – I totally understand.

While this does seem to be a season of “greater than usual” anxiety, it also seems to me that many people nowadays always live in some state of perpetual anxiety. When Monday morning comes along lots of people get up to go work or school and even before the day begins they can’t wait for it to be over – five more days and it will be the weekend again.

Some current research into work attitudes in America has suggested that, when it comes to their everyday jobs, up to 70% of the people today “hate what they do.”  Many people in all walks of life are on the road to burnout.

As an average week begins lots of people will come to work, go to school or begin their normal activities feeling depressed, fatigued, and tired, sometimes dreading the week yet to come. My guess is that these “depleting” feelings are exacerbated in these times of more-than-usual stress such as we are now experiencing in this election season.  

I suppose there are lots of reasons why people might “hate what they do” or feel bored with or anxious and depressed by their everyday lives. Many say that the work they do is “tedious and unrewarding.” They find themselves in jobs that are very demanding or demeaning and yet this demanding work is hardly appreciated and it seems to make little or no impact on the bigger picture of life.

It may be that many people find their ordinary routine lives so unrewarding because they have “bought into” the popular myth that every one of us is always supposed to be doing big, world-changing things with our lives and if we aren’t doing this we are frittering away our valuable time. People graduate from school and they are told that now they are supposed to go out there with their big dreams and big plans and change the world; and then when they land a job and live their ordinary lives it’s all nowhere near as wonderful or grandiose as they imagined it might be.

I am reminded of the story of a Zen master who would gather his students every morning before breakfast and give them a little “pep talk” as they began their day. We might imagine that he would try to motivate them to use the day to achieve great and noble spiritual heights; instead every day he would tell his students:

Today, work at being ordinary.
Now go put on your robes, eat your food and pass the time.

As I see it, this is good advice for all of us to follow.

In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as telling his disciples:

Do not do what you hate.

Some may hear these words and imagine that Jesus is advising his followers to stop what they are doing if they hate what they do and go do something else. I actually think Jesus is saying: Stay with what you are doing and learn how to love it, stay in the moment and learn how to embrace it.

Because we may imagine that we should always be doing something big, bold and adventurous with our lives, we may always find ourselves continually planning for that bigger project and that better job because where we presently are seems so ordinary.  But instead of looking for the bigger and the better, maybe the goal is to learn how to love what we do, to embrace whatever comes our way in every moment of every day.

When we are always engaged in looking for something more because we are so depressed or anxious about what already is, we may easily lose sight of what is already staring us in the face: life in all its fullness.

Buddhist author and teacher, Susan Murphy, puts it this way:

Don’s miss anything
everything counts, everyone counts.
Find out what it all means and do what it wants of you.

In this season of heightened anxiety, as a new work-week begins, I am going to do my best to stay in the present rather than wishing it was already all over. I have discovered that when I can stay focused and pay attention in those times when I “just can’t wait for it to be over,” I find the greatest joy and deepest truth.

1 comment:

  1. In the movie about St. Francis of Assisi, "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" there was a song "Do few things, but do them well. Take your time, go slowly. Small beginnings, greater ends, heartfelt work grown purely....