Working Hard?

When we say we work hard, where does the "hard" come from?

Work is neither hard nor soft. The mind is hard or soft. For one person, making an apple pie is a grueling exercise in perfectionism. For another, it's a meditation.

As a teenager, I worked all summer on a farm. When storm clouds threatened, we worked 12 hours straight to bring in the hay before it rained. Throwing 75 lb. hay bales into a moving wagon hour after hour is as "hard" as any work you'll find. But we loved it. Our bodies sweated off fat, our muscles were toned, and it was the perfect workout to prepare us for football camp in the fall. Laboring in those rolling fields under the blue sky and mountainous clouds of Pennsylvania summer, we were ecstatic.

My friend Scott Hague is a professional artist. Here's his experience of "work":
"I sit and mix some colored oils together with a hair-tipped stick, then I touch that brush to canvas, leaving a thin film of paint. I guess you could say I work soft. Yet I painted intensely for six hours today. Hard or soft?"
When I was a Merchant Marine cadet officer in a summer internship, I got a job on a freighter to West Africa. In Dakar, Senegal, I witnessed racist oppression by white officers. They disdained and verbally abused the African longshoremen. You could cut the atmosphere of imperialism with a knife. Yet these depressed lethargic workers didn't perform much actual work at all, which only invited more disdain from the American officers. The officers gave them no physical abuse. It was all psychological.

When my turn came to supervise, the black crew leader whispered, "Boss man, let us do it the African way!" I didn't know it, but this was against the captain's rules. I said, "Why the hell not? Go ahead. Do it the African way."

Immediately the workers energized, they smiled, they hunkered their shoulders into the weight of a massive crate. Then they began to sing.

Chanting rhythmically, they danced their labor. On every fourth beat they heaved the crate across the deck, until that dance team deftly positioned it under the crane that lowered the crate into the ship's hold. Crate after crate danced across the deck like that. Work became music.

The captain was furious, I didn't know why. But in retrospect, I get it now. For a few hours, I allowed a handful of African workers to dispel the aura of empire.

I observed the same kind of work-song on little ferries in the harbor of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Hawking cold treats of frozen milk and honey, the merchant chanted, the passengers sang a reply: classic call-and-response singing, just like you'd find in an African-American church. What they were singing in their language I didn't know, but I think it was something like this:
"Frozen honey milk, 50 cents!" / "Hey that's too much, too much!"
"Frozen honey milk, 45 cents!" / "Hey that's too much, too much!"
"Frozen honey milk, 35 cents!" / "Hey that's too much, too much!"
I honestly couldn't tell the difference between work and celebration. But here in America, I've seen people sit at desks all day, doing little or nothing but complain about their work. The problem is not that our work is hard, but that our work is meaningless.

It won't be economists, but musicologists, who reconnect us to the meaning of work. It won't be politicians, but dancers, who teach our community the mysterious rhythm and melody of labor.


Sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the sorrowful, legislating justice, advancing science, and making peace between the nations - these are very good works. But the first work is to awaken. Awaken oneself, then your neighbor, to the infinite radiance of our Being.
We may work to the bone solving the world's economic and political problems. But if we are not awake, we fall back into patterns where we have wallowed for eons. My beloved teacher Mahesh Yogi used to say, "Don't water the leaves, water the root."
There are thousands of conflicts in the world, thousands of withered leaves on the tree. Only a madman tries to water each leaf. The wise gardener, in a single stroke, heals the whole tree by watering the root.
The root is consciousness.
Meditation is not escape from action, but action at the root. The world needs activists, movers and shakers, in the realm of silence.

Particle Song

This thought, "emptiness," clutters the universe. "I believe" drives God from the heart. The word, "Heaven," turns earth into the other place. But when the peony bud breaks open in morning sunlight, this mind is so astonished it ceases to exist. Dewy names that webbed things at night melt away in the golden chaos of silence. Even the name "thing" means nothing now. The breath of Buddha fills all flesh. The music of Shyam's flute shapes every creature. If I were not a particle of Christ's body, I could not sing this.

The Weed

I learned a lesson from a tiny weed bowed by the weight of its enormous flower. When I am full of God-like knowledge, creation is empty. When I am empty, every creature is full of God.

To a Pebble

You see the sacred as sacred because sacredness gushes out through your seeing. You anoint holy men and holy books with the power that arises from the holiness of your heart. You bestow divinity upon the divine, then you bow.

You believe in this guru, that savior, this scripture, that creed, but it is your own heart that consents to believe. Without your heart's consent, no savior, guru, scripture or creed would have any power over you whatsoever.

Why not consent to see yourself as holy? Bestow all that sacred on its source. Then anoint every human being with your golden splendor. To friend and foe alike, say, "I bow down to God in you."

Say Namaste to a pebble.


Over the gates of heaven there's a sign: 'Only Crazy People Allowed In Here.' (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)

What's your Dia-Gnosis?
I'm as borderline as Moses.

I wander off in the wilderness too,
listening to sunbeams in trees.

Ezekiel rode in a UFO, Elijah hid in a cave,
Jeremiah was ADHD Bi-Polar and Unmedicated:
in other words, they were great writers.

Apostles couldn't find Jesus half the time:
he ran away to be with desert flowers
listening to his own wild secret whisperer,
I Am.

What about Lalladev and Mirabai,
disgracing their families like that,
dancing naked down the sidewalk
with invisible lovers?

How about Buddha? He had issues,
squandering his father's fortune
to hang out under a banyan tree
until his legs nearly withered off,
finally staggering out of the forest
with one hand pointing up, the other
pointing down, as if that actually
meant something. Sheeesh!

And what about the guy who danced
with cowgirls, playing his flute all night
sighing, "Don't worry, ladies,
I'll split my personality a thousand ways
so each of you can ravish me at once?"

Know who's really borderline? Us.
We run around with these characters,
Krishna, Jesus, Moses, Mira.
We point to their whirling madness
and tell our children, "Do that!"

We could be listening to respectable fellows,
gray flanneled voices of authority, prosperity
and discipline like Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney,
Donald Trump.

But no, not us!

We dance with fools and poets on the borderline
out in the field beyond right and wrong where
Rumi drifted off and never returned...

No wonder we're alive!

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is my favorite holiday, free from the subtle compulsions that other holy days suffer. Fewer children are forced to church against their will. No one sets off fireworks to scare animals. Men don't march around with flags and guns, re-enacting the rites of war. No one has to fast. The only ritual is breakfast in bed. You can spend all day planting flowers. The back porch is a holy alter with a lady on it. At this Sabbath, you don't have to believe in anything but a mom. And everybody has one of those.

At dawn when it's barely light, before she awakens, I go out to the garden at the edge of the wetlands. I confess to an earthworm as raindrops mutter amen. Then I sprawl in the chilly weeds, gazing through green cathedrals of the ladybug.

So many creatures dwell here, smaller than dewdrops. When their voices rise out of the earth, like mist on the day of creation, we should listen. Here is what they say when my ear is pressed to the planet.

"God is exhausted by your penitence.
He doesn't need an apology.
Humans won't wash away their sins
by wailing, "Forgive me."
Wash away the "me" instead
in a pool of stillness.
Here on the ground, there's nowhere to fall.
That's why the one's who survive
are always bowing.
Just breathe and listen
to seeds sinking in the loam.
The stuff you exhale, we use.
Meditation is the deepest confession
because silence
makes everything pure."

I Have

Think of your most important experiences: the essential stories you tell about yourself. "I have an experience. This experience is my story. And through this story about the experience I have, I know who I am."
Now look carefully. In the heart of that experience you have, is there really any "I," or any "having"?
"I" and "having" are superimposed, a mirage of afterthought. Why do you need to claim that experience as yours? Have you ever asked yourself this question? If you want to penetrate life as deeply as the Buddha, you must doubt even your most fundamental assumptions.
The attempt to establish an empire of "I" and to claim experience as "mine" is not only the cause of personal suffering, but the actual root of political conflict. A political mind insists on validating "my" experience as the true story, while invalidating "your" experience as a false story. The "self-made" story of the rich person, the "oppressed" story of the poor, the fundamentalist's story of "one true religion," the American's story of "manifest destiny," the Israeli's story of "the promised land," the Palestinian's story of "the victim": each insists that the world not only listen, but adopt "my" story as truth. 
Human conflict is not rooted in economics, politics or territoriality, but in the illusion of "I" and "have."
That is why the solution to conflict never comes through economic or political revolution. Any change on the level of the conflict simply rearranges the conflict, simply rearranges effects without penetrating to the cause.
How can I root out the inmost cause of conflict? By doubting the validity of any story I tell myself about "me." How can we end world conflict? By refusing to participate in movements that project "my" personal story onto others. Real change comes, not when we engage in the turmoil of politics, but when we relinquish the outrageous claim that "my" experience should be the story of the world.
The work of uprooting our ego-story is meditation. Some people declare that meditation and work are very different. But meditation is work. Meditation is work at the most fundamental level of causality. 
If you want to do profound political work, start a meditation revolution. Serve humanity by dissolving the "I." Start the revolution in yourself, then spread it. This work is not a New Age fantasy: it is a survival technique for the whole earth.


 I feel like hell when I realize that I never have all that I want. "Abundance is not enough." I feel like heaven when I realize that I always have what I need. "Enough is abundance."

This feeling, "I have enough, let me share the rest," transforms the earth. It is a prayer-seed that contains a whole new economy.

That is why we need, not a new political system, but a new consciousness.

Transcend Opinion

If you try to convince me to believe what you believe, believe me, it won't do either of us any good. Your opinion interests me even less than my own. Your concerns don't concern me: I already have enough to weigh me down.

But if you share some hint of your Wonder, a moment of your Joy, a whisper of your Love, my heart will expand, my awareness will awaken, and my whole world will be transformed.