We are offered a false dichotomy and most of us have purchased it.
We learn young that there are days of labor and days of leisure. Each week we are to work or study in the affairs of men for a certain number of days, then rest or party for the other days.
Like a spinning hamster wheel, this commodity market of time is a street bazaar that people wander for a lifetime.
The professional work week is the heartbeat of the community. It’s the rhythm of the industrial fabric of our social sphere. The falseness of it doesn’t come out of this relationship of self to the community; the falseness of it comes out of our ideas about labor and leisure.
Days of Labor
The days of labor are sold as serious times when we shoulder the burden of earning a living. The hours you spend working for pay is expected to be uninteresting and uninspiring at least part of the time. At least, you can’t get much sympathy by saying that your work is boring and tedious. Go find other work you’ll like better, people will say, or maybe you need to discover your purpose. To the business community, the game of moving paper money around is the very essence of life – and to them, if you’re so crass as to think lowly of that game, it’s your fault that you haven’t figured out how make it interesting for yourself.
That’s a terrible thing for your happiness, if you buy it – it means that money is life.
How much money is enough for you? Are you working to be able to walk around in style? Or to have enough money to enjoy your weekends? Or to secure a future where you’ll finally be able to enjoy yourself?
What does enjoyable work, or work with a purpose, mean for you? Are you working to be able to work less in the future? Are you working so that you can prove yourself to be worthwhile in the eyes of others? Are you successful if you make a lot of money, make change in the world, or find a way to match your personal expression to a paycheck?
These are the bad questions that arise from the days of labor. They have nothing to do with happiness or spirituality.
Days of Leisure
The days of leisure, during young age, are days of frivolous pursuit and freedom – exploration and discovery, beauty and adventure, mystery and enjoyment. As we get older, most of us lose those values and repurpose our days for healing and recovery. Somewhere in the middle of that, we settle down and have families, inadvertently training another generation for the false dichotomy through example.
If you spend your time off recovering from work, then you’re laying the burden of physician on your family and friends. That cycle of recovery and unhappy labor is the very essence of the dreaded rut. Whether you work to work or work to play, spending days of labor to earn days of leisure is a surefire way to slowly become a miserable mess.
What’s to heal from? Are you spending most of your life with people you don’t like? Are you profiting people you don’t want to see profited? Are you spending the week being some fake version of yourself, and need the weekends to touch up your mask? Aren’t all of those things injuries you’re doing to yourself?
Are you making your weekends an alternative life? Is it to explore some interest that you think has no bearing on your life – how could you have some interest that has no bearing on your life? Is the weekend the time to spend all that money you spent all week working for? Is it the time when you can finally spend some time with your loved ones?
Don’t play the endless games of people who are biding their time – waiting, breathless, for the ship to come and for the “real” journey to begin. You’re already on the ship and this is the journey. We’ve already set sail… oh, dear friend, won’t you please stop waiting?
A Question of Perception
There’s not some innate transaction in the human species requiring you to trade some part of yourself each day for financial gain. Labor doesn’t have some natural quality of difficulty or easiness, and profit has never been proportional to effort. We’re all told that “if you work hard, you’ll succeed.” That’s no more true than “if you manage your time, you’ll be more productive.” In both cases, you’ll only be successful or productive if you work on the right things. It’s far more important for you to stop doing things you don’t need to do than it is for you to work hard or manage your time.
It’s all under your control – what you judge to be labor versus what you judge to be leisure. What is difficult, and what is easy. What is necessary, and what is pointless. To change the amount of work you have to deal with or how difficult your work is, you have to start with your judgment and evaluations.
The changes we make in our lives come out of changes we make in ourselves. Changes of your workplace and profession are secondary to that lifelong effort.
If you want to enjoy your work, learn to enjoy yourself first. If you want to encourage peace out in this deciphered expression of the infinite, then create peace in yourself. If you want love, express love. If you want money, be generous. The world is your mirror.
Are you listening to the spiritual lessons being offered to you in that unpleasant work? Why should you need the weekends to heal, or to be yourself, or to spend times with the ones you love? Why is it that work hurts you, or that you have to be fake, or that you don’t spend times with the ones you love every day? All these things imply unnecessary emotional attachment.
Your place of work may need to change, but many people find that changing jobs just means having their same problems in a new place. That’s because you are always only experiencing yourself – you carry this discomfort, this unease, this pain inside of you. The more you rest in silence and stillness within yourself, the easier it will be to enjoy any work, anywhere, with anyone.
The days of labor boil down to a simple exchange – your time to create some gain for others in trade for currency from people wanting to acquire that gain. When you don’t like the type of gain you are creating or who is profiting from your work, you are only disliking your own expression and relationships. It’s up to you to find ways to be expressive and artistic as you go through life. It’s up to you to find ways to help the environment, human rights, animal rights, or whatever cause stirs you most in every case, wherever you find yourself. Creativity, purpose, and success are definitions that we can either take from others or invent ourselves, and how you perceive them arises from how you define them.
If only you’ll stop taking everything so seriously and treat yourself better, the way forward will materialize before you. Success is not a mathematical calculation of how many days of labor you put in and many days of leisure you take.
Days of Labor, Days of Leisure
The false dichotomy is a coping mechanism, a rationalization. It lets you pretend that most of your time – the time you spend earning a living – is somehow unreal when compared to the rest of your time. It lets you ignore spiritual lessons at work. It lets you pretend that you’re not responsible for your own happiness and the world most of the time, because you’re just biding that time.
Most people think that the way everyone else is at work is how they really are, while thinking they’re putting on a mask just to get by during that time themselves. Both are true, for everyone. If you wear a mask too long, the mask consumes your life.
We’re all here for one reason. You’re not here to work from the schoolyard to the retirement home, or to be a provider, or to change the world. You’re here to fully live out your life, all the good times and the bad times. You’re the universe experiencing itself, as am I. You can’t find other meaning except as you invent it – and by all means, do invent it, but also re-invent it often. Defining a life purpose is making a compass direction always pointing out, away from you – but the grace of your existence is always just right now, right here.
You don’t need to always strive for more money – you need only strive to lift burdens off of others and in turn accept your blessing of daily bread. You don’t need to strive to be worthy either – you have already been found worthy by the only One that matters or else you would not exist. Having been given bounty and grace, you’re free to redefine labor and leisure. You can do away with the ideas that you’re not doing what you were meant to do, or that you’d be happier doing something else. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change directions, it means that you should let your outward direction manifest from your inner direction. That way of life is more successful than eternal planning and striving, and happier too.
When we put down expectation, we are blessed with living and can be successful by directly working in collaboration with the phenomenological experience that is constantly presented to us. There’s abundant grace all around us, soaking us as a morning fog drifting in off the sea. In internal stillness, ride down the railroad track of your life and observe the rising and subsiding of all things. Without doing anything more than witnessing, you can be constantly busy and accomplish everything.
Lay down your expectations. You can’t expect that you’ll work hard and get awarded. You can’t expect that you’ll slack off and have terrible consequences. You can’t expect that you’ll have a miserable time today and then a wonderful weekend. Expectations are traps of the ego, your mind trying to control the world… so that you are not afraid.
That pressure and unending desire isn’t really within you, anyway. It’s the weather of our social environment, rising out of the discontentment and alienation of most people. You’re feeling other peoples’ rhythms and expectation, when they haven’t quieted down. Take your time, do what presents itself as needful, and don’t lean against the hurricanes of desires and fears that other people have whirling around them. Don’t let yourself get lifted or pushed by them either.
Stand in those winds as a spirit. Let the storms pass through you – for they can only warp and bend the frame of your ego, which is a fiction, and can only take your happiness if you let them clog your heart.
A Different Approach
Everyone knows that Google is supposed to be a wonderful company to work for. Great benefits, and all that. But surely there are miserable people at Google who have identified themselves as employees of a vast man-made empire and who are deeply afraid. It doesn’t matter what they’re afraid of, except that whatever it is arises out of their egos and attachments.
Let us not identify ourselves as employees of men. You don’t need to be afraid, because you and your loved ones are ultimately on the payroll of divinity. You are always and forever right where you should be, right in the dead center of your life journey. Your automatic deposit is of boundless blessings and grace. Dollars are a poor substitute.
Let us call all right action good labor. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is. You’ve done good work if you practiced mindfulness, compassion, and good intention. Sometimes this requires great effort and sometimes it arises spontaneously from within you. Fading to transparency so that the desires and fears of others pass harmlessly through us is the work of a lifetime.
Let us call all right action good leisure. Regardless of the situation, if you manage to find stillness and quiet within yourself – you are restored. You are boundless, and the most difficult of labors cannot sap your emotional or mental strength. If you settle into it, it is from this leisure that the bad relationships, the bad work environments, and the struggle will flee. The world is your mirror.
The days of labor and the days of leisure are false divisions of life, and worthless in the cultivation of happiness and spirituality. Until you free yourself from them, you can only pay homage to happiness on the weekend – just as a religious person who only has faith on Sunday.
Many blessings to you and thanks for reading,