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Work Is Worship

Henry Miller once said, “When you can’t create you can work.” In other words, if you’re an artist, you can’t wait for inspiration to strike. You have to use the uninspired moments to mix paints, revise sentences, or revisit old pieces. It’s not meaningless drudgery. Just the opposite, by putting your hands in the clay, as it were, and keeping them there, you’re putting yourself in position to receive insight when it comes.

As our capitalistic society unravels into something possibly even more monstrous, it’s become fashionable to see work as something only suckers do. We see systems of exploitation everywhere, and rightly so. The trouble is, we often don’t see the system of our own minds, which, unemployed, tend to veer off into dangerous places: depression, jealousy, hatred. You can and should challenge society’s values, but you can’t get away from the question, “What am I doing with my time?” It always comes back to work.

In Buddhism, there’s the concept of “making merit.” You do something generous, practice kindness, or meditate, and then you reflect that, in some incremental way, these deeds are getting you closer to true happiness. Some people have contempt for this idea, seeing it as a delusional system of brownie points and preferring more lofty concepts of “awakening” or “insight”. But in life, most of the time, we don’t have access to Big Clarity. Often, the way forward isn’t clear at all. You need something else to hold on to. You need trust in the accumulation of smaller actions.

Painting by Tanmay Singh

So don’t be afraid of work. Sweeping the floor or doing dishes or carrying boxes may seem lowly, but that’s just your ego, not Karl Marx, talking. In reality, the simplest forms of labor are where you will find the deepest understandings. Work is worship, as they say in India. It’s a prayer always answered, if only we pay attention.

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