Work and Awakening


I spent last weekend at an alumni retreat with the Institute for Zen Leadership. It was held at the Spring Green Dojo, a lovely Rinzai Zen dojo (“place of the way,” or training center) being carved out of the Wisconsin woods under the leadership of Gordon Greene Roshi.

The space is inspiring
The space is inspiring

The space is inspiring. Structures are built in part from thick walnut and oak timbers cut from the forest, milled at the on-site band saw mill, and joined with classic mortise-and-tenon joinery. Massive limestone slabs are quarried on the land. The dojo walls are thick to retain the wood-fired heat through Wisconsin winters.

Building a place to last for 300 years is not the easiest or fastest way to build. Speed and comfort are not the priorities here. Awakening is.

Here, the space is the Teacher
Here, the space is the Teacher

Here, the space is the Teacher. The stone, the wood, the ground, the forest are simply there, along with the coyotes and owls and sand hill cranes we heard in the night, and the Milky Way stretched across the sky. We are part of it all, simply another expression of this world.

Yet, even as we seek to shape it to our intentions, the rest of the world has no commitment to cooperate. No amount of good intentions make three-ton limestone boulders move themselves into position! The world shows up, and reveals us as we interact with it. The exquisite precision of this infuses the space in this special and not-so-special corner of Wisconsin.

I am no stranger to building, to hard work, to creating something beautiful out of imagination and the products of the earth. I have created beauty, and have loved the craftsmanship and artistry of working with wood, stone, glass. In an earlier stage of my life when this was central, the awareness and rigor I experienced this weekend were not yet available for me. Our handmade home in Boone was an expression of me, a way to form identity, to build the self.

Now, this space has reminded me of what I always have known. We, our work, the world are inextricable. All work illuminates us. The process of writing this new book exquisitely reveals when I’m expanded or anxious, how I’m distracted or energized, when I’m trying to be someone I’m not, and when life is simply arising through my fingers into words.

I’m writing a book. And, a book is writing me. There is no difference.

You are creating your work in the world. And, your work is creating you.

Our actions beget our unfolding. Always. We face and enter, and through the harnessing of our self towards our doing, we discover that we already are, that there is no self, that life simply lives through us.

Let life live through you.