Challenging Our Perceptions of Work

Luang Por Pasanno • July 2013

It’s helpful to consider and reflect on how we perceive work. If we bring up the word work, what comes to mind? There may be a feeling of drudgery, that it’s onerous, maybe even odious, or a burden in some way. We often view work as something we’re beset with, something we have to get done and out of the way before we can be comfortable and at ease. Or we may think of work as something that keeps us from our meditation practice. These are merely perceptions that come up in the mind, and it's helpful to challenge these perceptions.

If we do challenge them, we can learn to bring mindfulness into the work period, which helps us develop a continuity of attention and reflective clarity. When we approach the work period like this, we realize it isn’t something to get out of the way, but rather, it’s an important aspect of the training. We don’t want to be like so many people who live their whole lives waiting for the work to be over: When I get this done, I’ll be happy, and I can relax . . . and as death approaches, they’re still waiting.

It’s also helpful to remember that the work we do in the monastery serves to maintain the facilities here. We’re looking after the places we live in for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of others. When we perceive our work in this way, we can recognize that it’s an opportunity for giving, for generosity, and for putting forth effort that benefits everyone. These are opportunities to do something quite noble. We’re reminded that generosity is not limited to material things, but includes acts of service—wholesome, skillful, and selfless actions. As a result, our work can become a source of well-being and happiness.

In Thai, the word for work also means festival. This blurs the distinction between work and enjoyment. If it’s a festival, it’s an opportunity to get together and have a good time. This creates a completely different perception than drudgery. During my time in Thailand, I was always struck by the northeastern villagers who came to the monastery to work. They really enjoyed themselves. They saw this work as an opportunity to do good things together. We can take a page from their book and use work as an opportunity to develop a sense of lightness within the mind—learning to enjoy work as generous and beneficial.