The first Sunday of September is ‘celebrated’ as the ‘Labor Day’ weekend in the USA. It was the first ‘long weekend’ that I encountered when I first here for graduate school. I was intrigued by a holiday that had the word ‘labor’ in it, and I also wondered why they did not spell it with a ‘u’. Over the years, I learnt a bit more about this classic American weekend that marks the passage from summer into autumn.
But, back to ‘labor’. The word itself seems to carry a sense of ‘heaviness’ about it for me. It conjures a vision of coolies carrying suitcases on their heads at railway stations in India, ascending and descending staircases with a seeming ease that defies their wiry frames. As a child, I was always impressed by their superhuman strength, and often felt a bit guilty about the tough negotiations we would do for hiring them. In their work, they seemed like Atlas carrying the weight of their shoulders on their back.
However, we all well know that not all ‘labor’ is manual. In this day and age of technology, our labor is often defined by our ‘finger dexterity’, ‘mental organization’, ‘oral delivery’ and ‘visual acuity’. The ‘gentler’ connotation of ‘labor’ is simply ‘work’. And the even ‘gentler’ connotation of ‘work’ is often ‘play. And some of us have mastered the niche and cultivated the art of ‘making work play’. They are perhaps the enlightened creatives.
So, what is it that defines those masters of ‘making work play’? I imagine that we would have to know what the words ‘work’ and ‘play’ mean to us at an individual level. For simplicity sake, let us assume that ‘work’ leans toward ‘labor’ and ‘play’ leans towards ‘fun and recreation’. When ‘work’ and ‘play’ tilt away from each other, like the two arms of the letter V, they tend to pull us apart. When they come together, as in the letter I, we feel a sense of integration, of wholeness, of wholesomeness.
And then, there is notion of ‘duty’. For me, the word connotes an even ‘heavier’ form of work than ‘labor’. When it first appears to do its bidding, ‘duty’ tends to invoke resistance. It is often inconvenient, and tends to be demanding of what we may be unable or unwilling to give of – which is our sense of freedom. Friction results, sparks fly, unfamiliar words and thoughts and feelings emerge. Play becomes the farthest thing from our hearts and minds when we approach the work of our duty as a burden that has befallen us.
We need not despair, though. It is time for evaluation of our (spiritual) practices. Do they feel like burdens, or like play? It is self-reflection that reminds us of our capacity to love, and it is that love which ‘greases the tracks of duty’. When approached with love, we take the first step on the path (towards doing our duty at hand) with a renewed lightness of heart. This leads to a sense of vairagya (non-attachment to the results), which leads us back to freedom, and to the joy of play!
Love of work. Freedom through love. Play through Freedom. This is our work.
The result? We find ourselves in That ocean where all of our work is a wave of divine play – Leela.
We have come full circle to the center, where ‘labor’ has become weightless. It’s time to celebrate!
P.S. Join us Sunday, September 2nd at 9amET / 630pm India for our weekly community chat on twitter. We will work on ‘Making Work Play’ in #spiritchat – bring your game-boards and game-pieces!
Nature’s (handi)Work – or is it merely Play?!