Work as a Spiritual Quest

This morning I’ve been thinking about work as a spiritual quest. Most of my writing has the quest for a spiritual life as a topic, but my work to market the work and the work to edit the work just feels like – well – work! How would infusing the spiritual into work, work – what would it look like? To pause before each step to give it the presence it needs?

Ah, being present. Being present all the time takes a lot of work. How to remember to be present? One way is breathing: consciousness of breath is an always task. But the words I’m using – work, task – don’t really lend themselves to turning the corner into acceptance.

What else would put spirit into work? A smile. And suddenly, I remember Bhante Kamalesiri, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk with whom I practiced meditation when I lived in Washington D.C.

He was a tiny man, dressed in voluminous, soft, saffron-colored robes, and he always smiled. He smiled as he taught before leading us into silent meditation. And if I sneaked a peek at him while he sat, he’d be smiling. How could he sit so calmly and patiently?

After about thirty minutes into sitting, I’d have lost patience: my legs would be aching, my back, my hips, and crossed knees. Learning to accept the suffering in life is an arduous practice and my entire consciousness would be fixed on my suffering body.

In the middle of my suffering, and probably for most of us sitting there, I’d hear his soft voice floating across the room, “Gently lift the corners of your mouth.” Just that. And that simple, kind reminder, when he knew we were all aching, would change the energy of the ache.

The corners of my mouth would lift, I’d smile, and everything lightened. His simple reminder always amused me, and with the smile, I’d feel my body take a deep breath.

Try it. Right now as you’re reading. Lift the corners of your mouth and smile. Close your eyes and feel how everything in your face lightens with that smile, how your shoulders relax and your body takes a filling breath. Take a moment, just a moment, to smile and breathe.

Too often we think of work as what we do to earn the money to do the other things we want to do. What if we could turn that idea of work into thinking of our work as the gift we offer: the gift of our talents, the gift of our ideas, the gift of doing a job well? How would our daily lives change if we were to say, “I’m going to gift,” instead of “I’m going to work”? For one thing, I suppose people would look at us a little strange, but who knows – it might catch on, we might have everyone around us thinking of their work as gift!

Today I will practice looking at my work as my gift. Whatever I do. After all, I still have legs and hands and heart and head. And the courage to lift the corners of my mouth and smile. I offer that smile to you.

12 thoughts on “Work as a Spiritual Quest

  1. I noticed this morning people playing bells in church were smiling while performing and hadn’t while rehearsing. I wondered if it was the holy spirit or the gift giving. I still feel fortunate to have gifted throughout my life as a social worker and to have loved the giving. Now my retirement work is to help at church. God has given me many smiles and because of your words, I am more certain that upturned mouths are a precious gift indeed. Thank you for increasing my awareness of our living God. Lynne

    1. What a lovely post, Lynne. Thank you so much for reading and for responding. I could see the bell ringers smiling in your words, and I smiled too. Maybe that’s the real spiritual journey – the smiles we offer. Bhante must have already know that.

  2. What a wonderful reminder! “I’m heading off to gift!” Even know this is so, we sometimes forget. Thank you for your smiles, and reminding us to do the same. Aloha Pume Hana

  3. Ah, Janet,

    What a lovely reflection! I have been trying to be present at work not for the structure of grammar and writing process (both important, mind you) but for my students. They come with such complex lives, and it can be tempting to see only the heartbreak and frustration but not the potential and joy.

    Your strong, gentle, and firm reminder just may be something I share with my students, that is – – of course – – with your permission. Thank you for articulating this call to a life’s vocation, not merely a job, so articulately and eloquently.

    My best,

    1. Please, please! Pass it around. Thank you. And thank you for the work you do. I know you reach beyond yourself for your students. And the more we touch, the more we pass on the possibilities of kindness.

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