20 Missions 12: Physical work with Nature

Mission 12: Physical work with Nature

Mission 12. This weeks mission to rewild yourself is to ‘lose yourself in some hard, physical work’! Preferably with nature involved. There is something very pleasant about getting ‘into the zone’ in a purely physical task, like with dancing above. Once again it links you with your animal nature.

Once, I was mucking out a horse stable with a pitchfork. It was quite a large task. I didn’t fight it, I didn’t hate it – I suspended judgement and just got on with it. During this process at some point I forgot the fact that I existed and just became the work. It was not until I paused and looked up and out of the stable door for a moment to see the sun shining on nature that I suddenly came back to myself. My consciousness had just ‘merged’ for a moment with everything around me, to give me a time out of being, a time out of self-awareness and ego. I’ve always been quite lucky like that!

I’m fortunate to find this state quite often in ‘work’ and its not just about physical work like digging my garden or sawing, chopping and stacking wood. You can find this state with dancing, with making music, art, cooking, writing – anything in fact. It’s called ‘being in the zone’.

A well-known Zen story depicts a disciple asking the master, “What is enlightenment?” to which the master responds, “I chop wood. I carry water. What joy! What bliss!” There is bliss to be found in physical work and in exhausting the body in the routine tasks that fill our lives; the bliss is to be found in simply being. Just letting go of thoughts and worries and becoming one with the work.

I often take-on what appear to be initially gargantuan tasks – real labours of Hercules – as a result of enjoying my body in physical work. I move rocks. Nature has taught me well! In the same way that the sun moves across the sky just too slowly to perceive, even the fastest-growing plant is difficult to see growing. But every day the pile of rocks grows just a tiny bit. Every day. And this is my key to handling what seem to be unfeasibly huge tasks whether it be building a wall or writing a book.

Gone is my impatient; ‘If I can’t do it in a day then I’m not going to do it’. Gone is the ‘trying too hard’ huge initial energy investment that results in a failure. It has been replaced by the gravitas of nature’s ‘just a little bit every day’. Piles of rocks melt away – just move six or seven a day, tons of wood is tidied and stacked away for the winter, wheelbarrow-fulls of leaf mould make it onto the garden beds. My maturity in dealing with ‘work’ has a great deal to offer not least the moments of work related bliss as I enjoy the simplicity of sun on my face, wind in my hair and the warm glow of physical work. It’s one reason why I choose to live in the countryside. It is much better than a gym!

So look around you. What needs to happen that might involve a fair amount of physical labour for you to get lost in? There is no greater metaphor for ‘taking your life into your own hands’ than physically moving a load of stuff, or building something brilliant.