This past Saturday I had planned to get into the garden as much as possible but Mother Nature had other ideas and raged and stormed. Andy and I changed our plans and went to a movie instead (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was loads of fun). Fortunately Sunday morning there was a window between downpours when I took the opportunity to do some weeding. There is nothing better than freshly soaked areas for pulling out weeds. Though never really easy, at least the soft ground makes it a bit easier.
Weeding nonetheless is an endless endeavor. Being on your knees or on your butt for a long time is a practice in being meditative and patient and flexible. At first I tried to push myself really fast to get the task over with quickly. But pretty soon I realized that the area I was trying to get weed-free was rather large and I’d burn out at that fast rate. There was nothing much to do other than resign myself to dig in both figuratively and literally.
And so began my plodding and Zen weeding session. Once I resigned myself to the task, it became much more enjoyable. And that got me thinking about how often when you struggle and push yourself to do something, it can leave you in pain and/or not making any progress at all. It’s as if you are working against yourself. If instead you let yourself go and just do the task—without pushing—the task becomes less difficult or uncomfortable and possibly even enjoyable.
Relaxing into things is rarely our natural stance. We hold our breath, we tense our body, or we think really hard to accomplish something. Hard as it is to let it go during meditation, it is even harder to do during daily living and working. Meditation practice is called a practice because it acknowledges that practice is required to loosen the stronghold of our minds. We meditate regularly to practice letting go while sitting silently. And in turn with continued practice the talent of letting go becomes just a bit easier at times when we are meditating and even when we aren’t meditating. A wonderful goal of meditation is to have the effects stay with you when you are “off the mat” and in your daily life.
Here’s an exercise to try to help with letting go even while you are getting stuff done. Perhaps you are sitting at your desk about to do some work or pay bills or something else that makes you stressed. Instead of forcing your way into the work, sit back in your chair. Take three slow and deep cleansing breaths and release slowly through your mouth. You can even make a sound. Now roll your shoulders and let them relax into your back. Maybe even keep your eyelids ever so slightly droopy. Say to yourself slowly and silently, “Let it go, let it go, let it go.” Repeat as long as you wish. Now keep this position and attend to whatever you need to work on. Periodically hear the voice again that says, “Let it go, let it go, let it go.” Notice if you get tense in some area of your body again and just breathe and let it go as you continue to work. With practice, when you remind yourself to ease up from your thoughts while you are working and you remind yourself to relax your body, the work will flow more smoothly and effortlessly. That is the Zen of work. It does indeed take practice, but it is so worth it.