happy labor day!
i am thinking today of the majority of people i know, who work 60-80+ hour weeks, struggle with taking weekends off, or scheduling vacations. i worked that way for a long time. i remember the sense of working constantly on never ending work, everything feeling like work because it has to happen on the outskirts of overwork.
and yet unions earned these basic boundaries on work, to improve the quality of all our lives. they labored for this, for us. so what happened?
i suspect it’s a matter of practice. we didn’t consistently practice holding the boundaries on work, maybe we never learned how. we let life quality fall to the side of the accumulation of resources. in a historical context of slavery, capitalism, caste systems – we are deeply entrenched in the traumatic practice of working for our right to live and be loved. we forgot that our existence is enough to earn us life and love.
so much easier said than done, but if we want to have the higher quality lives that were implied in the work of those unions, we have to keep learning how to live higher quality lives. particularly outside the context of financial and material accumulation; i work across class lines, and the overwork doesn’t seem to ebb as people earn more money, or status.
i have recently heard that it takes 10,000 hours of labor – of practicing something – before you achieve mastery in it. and 3-5000 repetitions of a movement in the body for it to become a muscle memory. i liked when i heard these numbers, this mathematics of mastery and muscle. it made my shoulders drop, a pacing intervention in my work and thinking.
i have rarely wanted something that could be achieved quickly, even when i was young and more naive and everything felt almost within reach, a function of collective will. i cut my teeth in spaces where the work felt urgent and as if a victory was just around the corner.
but, but…but. not quite. not even close.
at first i thought the clear reason we worked so hard and things still took so very long was because of all the opposition – in a binary paradigm there was always someone pushing back in the other direction of a dream. it was satisfying for a while, to look at someone or some people and ask why they didn’t want justicekindnessliberationhealthpeacelongevityetc. it grew less satisfying as i became more self-aware. i started to notice the tendency within myself to act from fear and scarcity against all those beautiful things.
that fear led to overwork.
that scarcity led to constant seeking for something outside myself, some sign of impact.
when my practice, my labor, includes casting the burden onto opposition, then my skill set is blaming, deconstructing and redirecting. constantly moving without growing, constantly reaffirming the right and wrong, with little space for the mystery, the real, or the iterative. 20+ years of that and i can’t just let it go, this all-the-time looking for who it is creating my suffering.
even a small weight of good, or of power, a drop in the palm, can be impossible to hold. i have noticed how much i have to develop my capacity to hold justice, gifts, health, love, the present moment. i think a lot about how we develop that capacity at a larger scale than the individual.
i can attest, as a writer, that it’s not enough to be able to speak the language of my longing, to articulate a vision. i say a lot of things that i would love to live up to, i am actively writing myself a better future. and…i can’t write my body to health, write to make the babies in my life feel my love, i can never write enough to thank my parents for their unconditionality, i can’t write abundant food distribution for detroiters, i can’t write guns out of a world full of loved ones, i can’t write off the way my big brown body is targeted, exoticized or dismissed.
i can be healthy, love, be with, grow, love this body in ways that transform how it can be seen.
i am convinced now that ideas must be paired with practice if they are to become matter, force, tangible, viable, in and of the universe. like, not just the idea of a weekend, but the practice of laying in bed until the body wants to move, cooking and chasing babies and laughing and wearing next to nothing, reading and lovemaking and pampering and restoring.
we are what we practice being, ultimately what we are as individuals and as communities and as a species is what we practice being.
so…what do we practice? where do we want our labor to go?
for me, so far, it’s balance and abundance. this is emergent – i started three years ago with two practices – sun salutations, and protecting my weekends (or the equivalent, two days a week that belonged to me).
abundance was the first thing i noticed as my practice grew…it was all around me when i looked for it. then balance…after years of a palpable instability in my days, i noticed balance was inside me when i stopped looking outwards.
these two practices have already liberated me into a life i couldn’t have imagined. but i am still just beginning the work, i am setting myself into longer arcs of change. and while the iterations pile up ahead of me, horizons on a turning world, i am also finding instant results. every time i practice being powerful, i feel the learning, the realigning in my system.
i am practicing letting my work follow my attention – what matters to me, outside of reacting? outside of hoarding? outside of fear?
i am practicing being a mindful eater. preparing or purchasing and eating three meals a day that are good for my body, it will take me at least ten years of practice to master mindful eating. it will be a muscle memory in three to five years. my labor is in the choices, and learning to be patient. i have been in a long practice of eating emotionally, indulgently, irresponsibly, in ways that cause pain and suffering in my body. each mindful eating experience is in itself a gift, a healing, a strengthening, an hour of feeling more alive in the present moment, making choices.
i am also applying my labor to being a good daughter, sister, aunt, lover and friend. to living an active life in my body. to generating an orientation towards vision and solutions with the communities i support through facilitation. to resolving conflict in new ways in every aspect of my life. to listening for my purpose in this world and stepping into it. to giving and receiving love that, as thich nhat hanh teaches, feels like freedom.
to letting in the good.
it’s all within my power.
sometimes i feel the foreshadowing of mastery, of the practice unfolding before me for years. i taste liberation in those moments.
it doesn’t even feel like work.