There Is Only One Work

What do you define the word "work" to mean?

Is your job your "work"? How about your household duties? Are your children "work"? Are your hobbies and activities "work"? How about your friends- are they "work"?

If we think of the word "work" as meaning labor for which we receive compensation, then the word has a very narrow scope indeed. Alternately, we might view work as anything that requires effort. "If I'm not sitting on my couch in my pajamas eating bonbons, then it's work," is something I have said from time to time, not entirely in jest. But that, too, is limiting because if that is true, then everything is always work, all the time, and our brains start to feel cramped and panicked. 

Parenting is undoubtedly some of the most demanding, confusing work anyone can possibly do--there is no set job description, everything is at stake, and the pressure of constant physical and emotional labor can be exhausting. Yet many people proudly proclaim with every bit of their hearts that becoming a parent is the best thing they have ever done. So then, is that technically "work" or is it something else? Is "work" the word for it?

When you volunteer somewhere, does it feel the same as when you go to your job, or does it feel lighter, freer somehow, because money does not enter the equation? When you sit down with friends to play a game or do an art project, you are clearly exerting effort...but is it "work?" When you clean your house, your payment is a clean and enjoyable space, so was it "work" that yielded that result, or something else?

The word "work" is a vast-and-yet-reductive way to describe "doing stuff" in a wide variety of categories. When we use the word in different contexts, it means different things. Your personal filter also has a lot to do with what you think is "work" and what you think is play, or something else.

The reality is, there is only one Work. It is the Work you came here to do. It is the Work of your heart, your spirit, and your relationship with the divine. It is unique and it is essentially, permanently yours. You express your Work in everything you do, from your job to your parenting to the time you spend with friends to your hobbies. It is all one Work: the work of being YOU. You get paid for some of it, but not all. You enjoy some of it, but not all. You share the labor of some of it with others, but not all. Some of it feels like duty and some of it feels like pleasure, but all of it is Your Work.

If you need respite from labor, take it. Put it on the calendar and defend it from your own or others' expectations. If you need child care, pay someone reliable or find a friend in the same circumstances and trade so you can have a day to do your own thing. If you need a break from socializing, thinking and pondering, do something mindless for a while or turn off your phone or close your door and let the world wait.

But do not allow yourself to succumb to feelings of exhaustion due to Your Work, because living your life is the entirety of Your Work until you die. If you are not dead, you are thus still suited to doing The Work of being yourself, along with all of your choices, karmas, and unforeseen realities, and there is no use in letting that weigh you down. 

Do what you need to do to care for yourself so that you can do Your Work with a whole heart, whether it pays you in money, pleasure, frustration or pain. In fact, if you are truly doing Your Work in earnest, it will eventually pay you in all of these things, and just like the work you do for money and the work you do for free, all of these things have inestimable value.

The Heart of Kuan Yin

In the midst of unbelievable chaos, the ocean of samsara churning, worldwide suffering, internal doubt and turmoil, war, and grief, where do we turn? To whom do we dedicate the energy generated by suffering so that it can be transmuted into wisdom?

In the midst of celebration, closeness with beloveds, happy achievements, spontaneous declarations of love, contentment, friendship, and good news, where do we turn? To whom do we dedicate the energy of our joy so that it can be transmuted into wisdom?

"She Who Hears the Cries of the World" receives our exclamations and dedications of both suffering and joy. In her vast heart of wisdom is a lotus flower that is nourished by the mud of our sorrow as it turns its face to the sun of our happiness. She does not differentiate between "good" and "evil", and instead shows us that in reality, all is one. There is no duality. There are only manifestations of phenomenon that serve to enlighten us with increased awareness. In order to receive this awareness, we cannot choose to see ourselves as separate from one another. We must choose to see ourselves as cells in the same body, each doing its part to sustain the whole.

But what happens in the body when a group of cells becomes diseased? The body then creates new cells with the express purpose of restoring wholeness. On the surface, the assertive action of these cells might seem violent or revolutionary. White blood cells "devour" disease, rendering it harmless, consuming the fire of disease so that it cannot cause damage. Would we characterize the activity of the white blood cells as violent, illegal, or thuggish, when, in fact, the restoration of health is the ultimate act of compassion for the ailing?

To the same token, occasionally white blood cells go rogue and begin taking over the body. They can form clusters that become tumors. They can overrun the blood. Then, the body requires regulatory measures to cease the enthusiasm of the white blood cells. Treatments for this condition can involve potent chemicals, the administration of radiation, and surgery. Would we characterize these methods of treatment as willfully aggressive, overbearing, or cruel to Mother Nature, when, in fact, the restoration of health is the ultimate act of compassion for the ailing?

The Heart of Kuan Yin beats in each of us, reminding us to come home to the center of stillness where compassion may be found. It is not wrong to heal the diseases of suffering that threaten to harm our world. It is neither wrong to rein in our impulses to go overboard in doing so, especially when our actions replicate the tactics of the diseases we are seeking to heal.

In times of suffering, and times of joy, as well a times of confusion, we can dedicate the energy of our undifferentiated, painful, gorgeous, terrible, beautiful experiences to the Heart of Kuan Yin, and thereby return to true compassion, which is both fierce and tender at once.

May the merit of this practice,
and all of my activities,
be of endless benefit
to all beings in all realms,
beginningless and continuous.
May all obstacles be overcome,
and suffering cease,
at the sound of liberation. 
May all beings be freed from suffering and its causes.
May all beings have happiness and its causes.
May we carry the essence of Kuan Yin in our hearts.