The zen master handed me and another seeker of enlightenment bottles of window-cleaner and paper towels. Our work detail during the one-day retreat at the New Haven Zen Center this Saturday was to make all the windows on the second floor sparkle. The task was to be performed in complete silence.
My co-cleaner, I have a hunch, had been a manager of some type or maybe an engineer. He immediately came up with a system, elegant in its simplicity. Since he was tall, he would do the top of the windows, and since I was short, I would do the bottom. We finished up a few minutes before the 45-minute deadline. This experience could be something we present at TED.
Other work projects for those who also took part in this retreat included polishing the wood, bleeding the radiators, cleaning up after the lunch, and sweeping the front and the back of the house. Those too were to be done in silence. The abbot of the center was assigned by one of the program planners to dust the altar of the Buddha.
The objective of the worker-bee period was to approach work with "mindfulness." That is, we were to be one with the task, with ourselves, with our co-workers, and with the now. The awesome thing is that, once work was framed along those lines, it wasn't work. It was just what we on retreat were doing as part of acquiring the mindset and tools of zen. In that, it was no different than the sitting and walking meditations, chanting, and sharing a meal in a ritualistic manner.
The trick, of course, is to be able to transfer that spirit of seamlessness or wholeness I was introduced to on the retreat today to making a living on Monday. I will keep you posted.