Labor Day, the first Monday in September, was created to celebrate American workers; now the holiday heralds the end of summer. It’s hard for millenials to believe today, but in the 60’s, jobs were readily available. Especially if you were white with a little education, you could take your pick.
Just a few years after graduating from college, I became a single Mom ‘head of household’. Suddenly I needed a job to support my family. Sometimes it was discouraging to work hard at work and at home. I wished life was more spiritual and romantic. We know that when we work on automatic pilot, bored and fantasizing about being elsewhere, this is demeaning of ourselves and those we work with. But until I found a teacher and began practicing the Dharma — the beautiful teachings of mindfulness and compassion we offer at InsightLA — perhaps like you, I didn’t know any better.
Before and after work, I spent lots of time sitting in meditation. Trading child care with friends, I sat retreats whenever I could. I began to realize that it’s not just whatwe do that shapes who we are, but how we do it. You won’t be surprised — but I was amazed to discover that my outlook played a big role in whether work felt depressing or interesting. Soen Nakagawa Roshi used to say that as our wisdom grows, “Our miserable karma becomes our wonderful dharma!” My “miserable karma” of feeling oppressed gradually changed to the “wonderful dharma” of appreciation and gratitude. This can happen anytime we remember to be mindful about how we approach our life.
When we deliberately practice being friendly and mindful, even work that is unchallenging and repetitious can become a fruitful field of practice. Through the quality of our attention, the miserable karma of restlessness and resentment can become the wonderful dharma of renewal and creativity. We come alive! Then we see our work, our labor, as spiritual practice. The whole experience can be transformed.