Since Windhorse closed in April my work life has been in a state of a evolving flux. One minute I think my future work situation is settled into a predictable routine, the next its ruffled its back and unsettled itself again. I sort of hesitate to say anything about my current set up lest it puts a hex on things. The amount and type of work I'm doing for Casey's Yard is in an experimental stage; can they provide me with enough work to meet my basic income? Thankfully I'm getting other occasional work from Windhorse Trust that is helping keep my head above water. I have to keep reminding myself that its still early days, just four months since finishing at Windhorse, so my future work pattern is unlikely to have finally established itself yet. Something is still being worked out between myself and reality even as I write this.
My aim to do eighteen hours work a week, is happening, but it is proving to be quite variable, if not vulnerable to change. Nothing ever turns out as you'd imagined or wished it to be. Casey's Yard is casual and non contractual work, but it is regular and they are lovely people to work for. Nevertheless, when and how much I work changes week on week, so creatively making the most of my days off is difficult, on a 'finding your groove and staying with it' level. Without some regularity I don't find it easy maintaining momentum on Jnanasalin and I's plan to start a website selling handmade goods and refinished furniture. We are making progress, but its more a slow shuffle than a briskly walked pace. He and I are just too busy earning a living and recuperating afterwards,which does distract and dull creative momentum.
It's almost nine months since I had a retreat, a holiday or any kind of prolonged break. After this Summer of working hard in humid conditions, I'm a bit bushed. As it is, a day without working isn't quite a day without eating, but it can seem like that. A holiday or retreat is both an additional expenditure and a loss of income that has to be planned for in advance.Yet planning ahead confident I'll have the money when the time comes is not quite where I am at just at the moment. But if I don't get a break soon my energy and engagement will gradually deflate like a leaky balloon. I can sense the beginnings of it, I'm just a bit too pooped, too often.This year has felt like its been wall to wall with work or work concerns. I don't have any post Windhorse issues to work out, just a sort of psycho/physical/emotional exhaustion to give myself time to rest and recover from.
At Windhorse it became second nature how to make my work my practice. How you make cleaning a practice is something that's emerging, but I need space to reflect on more. Cleaning is,after all, an excellent example of an impermanent action, you do it one morning and its trashed by teatime, and I'm cleaning the self same flats all over again a few days later. It's reminiscent of the story of Milarepa and Marpa's Towers. Marpa asks his disciple Milarepa to build a tower, every night he leaves it almost finished but wakes in the morning to find the tower has been completely dismantled by Marpa. This happens not just once but over and over again. It's a parable that demonstrates how easily we become personally identified with a job, imposing a sense of purpose and meaning onto it that it doesn't deserve. Any job inevitably comes to define us, any job will come tumbling down of its own accord, because it is an impermanent thing just like everything else.
There is something about repetitiveness in a job that on one level provides stability and structure, but its predictability can prove quite taxing,if not testing, of ones tenacity, boredom and patience. There can be a growing appreciation of a jobs futility, yet there is also an integrating as well as a grating quality to it, its a teaching in a truer sort of humility. We are never quite as important as we'd like to make believe we are. Cleaning is the same task over and over again, simultaneously a meaningful and a meaningless action, which can be a bodhisattva activity; saving all sentient beings from filth,
Cleaning has low status in our society, but most low status jobs are not unimportant. Myself I'm not that bothered by what other people may or may not think, I find my own pleasure and satisfaction from doing any job as well as I'm able. If I'm to maintain any sense of personal integrity, its important I don't short change either myself or others, and the latter aren't just my immediate employers but includes the people who are hiring the holiday flats, At the same time I know things cannot ever be perfectly clean, there's inevitably a flaw in it somewhere. The immaculate nature of the flats when I've cleaned them is an illusion I self-create around the task. My ego always attempts to stick some meaning and self-esteem onto it. but its just a barnacle clinging to the side of a ship that it depends on the hull for life and support. This doesn't mean I should decide to do a job badly, In the pure light of perfection I'm already doing that.
I've taken to cleaning things, not because they aren't clean, but because they haven't had much attention for a while. If you focus only on what is seen as dirty then that limits your perspective on why you're doing it. There is a broader sense of a place being well cared for too, and a caring for others pleasure in staying in the holiday flats. A room feels noticeably different after its been cleaned, and it isn't just that it looks cleaner, one senses the presence of the cleaner whose been there, the overall attention the place has been given. After a visitor has left, you also are left with an impression of the sort of people who've been staying there. Some live very lightly, and its hard to tell they've been there at all. Others leave a lot of mess and detritus behind them, loads of half eaten food in the fridge etc. Being a tidy person myself, I have to work constantly on not being too harsh and judgemental, particularly when I have to clean up after them. Other peoples way of being collide with mine all the time, that is how life is. It's challenging.
I've been reflecting recently on how in the spiritual life, we can use our personal habits and prejudices as our starting point in assessing the spiritual value of something. As I said I'm quite a tidy person, and I can take that tendency to be tidy and turn it into a spiritualised quality of say a Zen like aesthetic or mindful attentiveness to things and environment. An untidy person might do the same, turning a lack of concern for aesthetics and cleanliness into a renunciation of worldly standards or viewpoints. These both attempt to redefine and sanctify previously held views via Buddhist values This can allows us to carry on holding the exact same views about ourselves and others we had before we became a Buddhist, and put them beyond question behind a religious veil. Whether we are tidy or untidy is spiritually speaking not that important, its all in our volitional intent. If we were to be so as a result of a lack of mindfulness, or a lack of care for oneself or others then that's a different matter to simply being tidy or untidy. When we sanctify our habits in this way we are being disingenuously untruthful not just to ourselves, but also to others. Paradoxically resisting change by colluding with Buddhist ideas and values.