The Blessing of Work

In the house where we stayed, women came to launder our dirty clothes, and when they folded them clean, they made each stack precisely the size of an elegant basket and tied the stacks with a bow. In each bow were fresh flowers. They loved the special touch. They loved their work…People who love their work, who are content in their craft, are people who can understand a deeper metaphor about having a place to belong.

-Amber C. Haines


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I have been reading a book recently by Cal Newport, called “Deep Work”. In it he talks about the value and necessity of creating extended periods of time to immerse ourselves in our work, to give ourselves fully to stretching our minds and our capacities to the edge of their limits, so that what we produce is not only substantial, but also meaningful. He encourages his readers to manage distraction in order to embrace the discomfort of engaging more profoundly with the work we care about. I am finding the book challenging and helpful, and over the past few days I have attempted to apply some of the strategies he offers. I am trying to make the transition from a way of doing life that is filled with distraction and bite-sized dips into various activities, to one in which I make space for digging into work that matters.

I love the quote by Amber Haines; it resonated with me the first time I read it. For the longest time I have not felt as though I belong in my life. As I think of it now, I have an image of a hovercraft, skimming across the water. It’s fast and it gets you places, but when you are in it, you are simply moving from one place to the next. You are not able to immerse yourself in the water. You cannot feel it’s currents, the bite of the cold on your skin, or appreciate the way the light glints off its surface. You are there, but not really there.

When I set aside time to write, and I honour that time, there is a kind of rest that comes upon me, even as I find my mind challenged and taxed. I enter an almost meditative state in which time disappears and I feel fully alive and engaged. When I come out of these moments of intense concentration, I feel refreshed and whole. I find that sense of belonging that Haines talks about. Belonging to my days. It is a powerful antidote to boredom, apathy and discontent.

I experience the same gifts when I give myself to a craft or to preparing a meal, when I lean into a deep conversation with the people I love, or in the focus and intent I exercise in a yoga class or riding my horse. The challenge is one of presence, my mind and body fully and completely occupied with the moment.

I am realising how addicted I am to distraction, how much easier it is to flit from one thing to the next. Emails and facebook posts, whatsapps and errands all compete for my attention and will. Newport suggests fencing these things off, giving them boundaries, so that they don’t interfere with the business of building capacity for more demanding pursuits, ones that will add up day by day into a body of quality work that reflects what really matters to us. This is what will give me a sense of connectedness to my life, a feeling of belonging. It’s a way of coming home to myself.


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