I was bumming around a used bookstore in Boston a few years back when I happened upon a book of aphorisms by Swami Chetanananda - no I didn't spell his name wrong just there. He's a beautiful writer and spiritual teacher, and one piece in particular leaped out at me:
In all things you do in this world, go carefully
And have it be your goal to remain at peace within yourself
No matter what.
Don't be ambitious to get everything done.
That will make you hungry and crazy.
It will destroy your ability to see your way.
When you find something to do, proceed with
Produce quality in the moment
And give the future to God.
(from Songs from the Center of the Well)
These days, I often wake up with a terrible hunger to attack my tasks of the day. The work I'm doing, thank God, is deeply connected to my sense of dharma, of true path in the world, so I'm anxious to get to it! I want to conquer, achieve, ascend, develop, connect, strive and pursue. But if I indulge this drive full-throttle, I notice that my stomach hurts. My shoulders have crept up towards my ears. My heart's beating fast. My breath is shallow. I'm groundless and I ache, and truthfully, this meaningful work has become arduous. I secretly can't wait to just be done with it.
Is this why we were born? To, in the words of Swami C., go "hungry and crazy"? Even if our work is vitally important, even if our projects can and do change the world, should we ground ourselves to pieces in order to achieve them?
Swami C. helps us understand. "Give the future to God," he teaches. Okay. So what's the difference between stomach-ache stress and giving the future to God? In both cases, the tasks remain the same. The To-Do List stays just as long as before. When we give our future to God, however, we begin our work with the acknowledgement that the work, finished or unfinished, is fundamentally an offering, a prayer, a gesture of devotion. We produce in this world as a form of "Halleluyah".
When I keep this "Halleluyah" approach to work in mind, I still work plenty hard. But now my stomach has stopped complaining. Now my shoulders heave a sigh of relief. Occasionally, I'll even smile. It's still a Monday afternoon. I'm still really really busy with really really important work to do. But I've discovered delight in the midst of the momentum. And when I have to break to go pick up my kids from school, I greet them not as a harried, frowning mess, but as their Abba, their dad, ready to play.