Flip, spit. Flip, spit, Flip, spit. One page after another ejects from your printer as you print out hard copies of important e-mail messages each morning. Beep, beep, beep. Dial into your voicemail to pick up messages. Check, check, check. Audit the inventory. Click, click, click. Complete the required forms. Empty, fill, pour. Another pot of coffee ready.
Not everyone has the type of job that offers new and exciting experiences each day. Most of us do ordinary work, over and over and over. It’s hard to believe that such monotony could be considered spiritual practice, but when viewed from the perspective of Zen Buddhism, it all makes sense.
The Way of the Monks
When picturing the life of a Buddhist monk, you might imagine a serene atmosphere of meditation, yoga, and silent prayer. You are probably less likely to visualize monks performing hours of manual labor, such as sweeping, scrubbing, and polishing floors; cleaning toilets; or pulling weeds in a garden. But this type of work is indeed part of a monk’s daily life, a part that is considered no less important than the more esoteric spiritual practices.
As described in the book “Chop Wood, Carry Water,” the root meaning of the word “ordinary” refers to that which is in harmony with the order present in the natural environment—the ebb and flow cycles of nature. When we become more mindful of the natural rhythms of the universe and our connection to that flow, we begin to infuse our otherwise mundane activity with meaning.
The Sacredness of the Ordinary
When we view each moment of our work day as sacred, as an opportunity to reflect, grow, and harmonize—rather than anxiously counting down the minutes to quitting time—we experience an extraordinary fullness. We realize that the paycheck is just part of the purpose of work. The rest is about being fully alive in all that we do… again and again and again.