Friday, May 4, 2012

Mastery & Drudgery

A Friend's Email 

Who "cares if I cleaned the refrigerator or changed the sheet?? My world seems too small and I start to question whether this life behind the scenes to fully support my family was the right choice for me after all. I would like a job, any job, to give me a purpose." 
from a friend's email (forgive me)

I share this because it has sat with me,  it has crossed my mind before, and because there is more to consider.

External Validation

Positions, job titles, and roles can give external meaning and have value in the outward appearances of life. External success may keep thoughts on meaning at bay. After all, if one is the president of the company, a Captain in the Navy, the mother of five, the star of the show, external validation quiets the internal murmurings.

The Problem of Meaning

In time meaning may be found in the work, the calling, the opportunity. But what if it doesn't or it comes to an end or it isn't our calling? Where is the meaning in cleaning the fridge? In folding the laundry? In answering the office phone? In solving the mindless tasks of any role?

The Yoke of Discipline

Every time I drift to the future or the past, my thoughts create resentment with the tasks at hand, what time sucks they are when there is so much to do. When I let the present be my only thought, the chores get done, no resentment builds, and a greater ease is felt. This requires discipline and like all discipline, I do not always like feeling its yoke. Yet the alternative discomfort is no better.

A Short Story

Whenever I complain about the drudgery of daily tasks, my husband reminds me of a short story by William S. Burroughs' "The Now/The Art of Do Easy." The story gets at applying focus and attention to each action performed in the life of a retired colonel particularly with the everyday things like the dishes and making the bed.

Our copy of the story is in storage. An online search revealed another gem, the 1982 film short "The Discipline of D. E." by Gus Van Sant, the future director of Good Will Hunting and Milk. Burroughs' reputation as a drug addicted writer may be a block to some, but to dismiss his writings because of the source is short sighted. Inspiration awaits readers of "Do Easy."

A Pioneer Evolves

The ongoing readings of the Little House series at bedtime opened me to A Little House Reader: A Collection of Writings by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Edited by William Anderson my children found at the base library. I have enjoyed the series for the pioneer stories of hard work, bygone ways, and for the direct experiences of nature, music, and fun that are too often missing from gadget driven modern life with room atomizers, recorded music, and computer games. As I read pieces of Wilders' other writings, my image of a simple pioneer girl has given way to a woman engaged physically, spiritually, and financially in her life on a farm and in a community with much wisdom to offer any reader. I think she would appreciate that work and tasks done well offer meaning to daily life as did Burroughs.

It is not good for any living creature to be idle. A horse that does not work becomes unmanageable and fractious in his stall; he begins eating the wood of the manger, which is not a good thing for a horse to do.  
Laura Ingalls Wilder 

Good bread is my pride now, rather than Wilton rugs, and I have found that friendliness not genuine in a kitchen is not improved by a parlor.  
Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Drudgery

Daily tasks can be an opportunity to create meaning for ourselves. If we value what we do and ourselves then the simple can serve as a spring board for stretching further, reaching out more. When our value and meaning comes from outside of us, then the outside world determines our worth. We are each so much more than our first impression, our public appearance, and there is joy in a good loaf of bread that is tied to the hands that kneaded it. Satisfied hands can reach out to feed others in word, in deed, or in mere presence.

Consider Mastery

Take the time to immerse yourself into a task. Think toward the precise steps of action, a sense of fluidity in motion, and go for mastery in the snap of a fluttering sheet, the gleam of a spotless sink, the completion of a typed report. It can be enough. Meaning is found in the details of our everyday lives. We get sidetracked thinking that external validation will offer it to us. It is a false road. If there is a passion burning for expression then surely make time for it but bring a passion for awareness into all that you have to do. We all have our figurative toilets to clean.

We all have our figurative toilets to clean.
Youtube Video to watch

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