Lately I’ve been gardening part-time for some extra cash. I enjoy sweating profusely and getting physical exercise, so it’s a good activity to do in New York in the summer. I also get to see a lot of cool houses and yards. I’ve learned to apply my meditative practice to my work and it has thus become deeply satisfying.
Alan Watts said, “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” When you apply your Zen Mind to the act of anything, you do only that thing. You don’t burden yourself with trivialities or external thoughts. When I garden, I do every task as its own task. Every weed pulled is an individual task. Every hole dug and tree planted is an experience in and of itself.
I’m not just “working”, but doing a million different things, one after the other. You cannot do two things at the same time, so do everything in seamless sequence. I don’t rush and I don’t meander, I just do each micro-task within the moment. Pretty soon 4 hours have passed. I eat lunch, rinse, and repeat.
To the Western mind, gardening is a blue collar dirty job, not a significant or glorious activity. The same goes for cleaning the dishes, walking the dog, preparing a meal— these are things people overwork themselves at lucrative jobs to pay other people to do. To the untrained mind, these day-to-day activities seem like boring trivialities. In reality, they’re the tasks that make up life. When you learn to fully immerse yourself in them, they become deeply satisfying.
It’s hard to want to blow $100 at a nightclub when you can get the same amount of satisfaction from sharing some wine with a friend at your house or going for a long walk enjoying the summer air. People spend millions on works of art, vintage cars and other objects of opulence when a houseplant or a cat is endlessly more fascinating. Living simply is not a sacrifice but a mere matter of perceptual change.
You may not be a part-time gardener/freelance writer like me, but you can do what I do throughout your day. Focus on something, ideally something natural. Follow a cloud through the sky. Look closely at a tree. Breathe in some fresh air in a park. Go for a walk. Treat every step as an individual experience and let the present moment devour you. Watch your quality of life soar and cost of living drop.