Labor Day – Chop Wood and Carry Water

Labor Day weekend approaches.  To most of us here in the USA, it has become “just another holiday” and marks the end of the summer, more or less.  Originally, though, Labor Day was intended as a celebration of workers who had taken steps to place value on their work during an industrial age that had somewhat neglected the importance of work and workers.  I believe that most of our holidays were created with noble intent, so I like to dive a little deeper, and find a contemporary meaning for them from a backdrop of spiritual and ethical values.

We spend a very large amount of our time working in any given lifetime.  Even in mankind’s earliest days, the need to “chop wood and carry water” was a daily reality. And, as an adult in today’s modern world, we still have to work in order to survive.

They key is to create a healthy balance between our time “chopping wood and carrying water” and time spent in engaging in the other important pursuits in life, such as family, exercise, entertainment, recreation, creative expression, and spiritual practice.  Work can be of great benefit to ourselves and others when this healthy balance exists, but when it does not, there is often a breakdown of some kind.  Our labor needs to be balanced with our love; time to love ourselves, and others.

In many developed countries in the world, work seems to take a somewhat disproportionate share of available time.   The USA and Japan come to the top of the list in “time spent working”.   On a recent trip to Tokyo, my hotel was near the busy Shinagawa Station.  In the evening, as late as eight or nine, there would still be many “salary men” rushing for the train for their commute home after a twelve hour day.

There is also the tendency for society to define us by “what we do” workwise.  This psychological drive to do more, and do it better in order to move up the ladder, can often become a source of ill health, broken families, and addictions.

The optimal is if we can find work that not only supports our material needs, but is also meaningful.  The meaning attached to our work is often part of its non-material value: the value derived from its contribution to others.  In contributing to others through our work, we can find more meaning, not only in our work but also in our own lives.  Finding or creating that sense of meaning is not easy, though.   It can often mean settling for “less” in the material sense, and we have to consider if the trade is worth it.

So I guess it has a lot to do with the perspective we hold, and the value we place upon the material vs. non-material aspects of the work that we do.    I like the message in this short video, which takes a look at work from a spiritual perspective that might be worth considering.   Take a look and leave a comment to tell me how it matches your concept of work.