Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
~ Zen Proverb
This week, we receive a reminder from the Eight of Pentacles that the more we focus and work hard at something, the luckier we get.
Pentacles are, of course, the Earth suit, dealing with living in the physical, material world. The Eights of the Tarot are often about getting organized, setting priorities, and moving forward (or not). So in the Pentacles suit, this is about being efficient and effective with our work and our resources.
Here we see an artisan, who is focused on his creations. Although he is completely lost in his task, we see the city in the far distance. Perhaps this is reminder that there is a larger world to which his products must have relevance, lest his work be an act of vanity or waste of time.
In addition, as one of Pixie Smith’s stage cards (where there is a horizontal line hinting that the scene is on a theater stage), this may be a reference to the idea of playing to an audience.
There is no indication whether the craftsman is self-employed, or working under the authority of a larger business. But in this moment, unsupervised, he works with good cheer, concentration, and a high level of productivity.
Do What You Love?
I have to say, I was zapped with affirming chills when I pulled this as our card, thanks to a fascinating article I read just yesterday. Frankly, the writer gobsmacked me about the idea of “doing what you love, and loving what you do.”
The article notes, “Elevating certain types of professions to something worthy of love necessarily denigrates the labor of those who do unglamorous work that keeps society functioning, especially the crucial work of caregivers…
“If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.”
Few of us are actually paid to play, and insisting that our work should be the same thing as our pleasure is naive at best. At its worst, it deepens the divide between the privileged few, and the many whose labor keeps the roof up and the food on the table.
So it would seem that this card’s visit is a perfectly timed reality check for us.
As a “stage card,” how much of what we are seeing is actually real? How much is a facade?
Sometimes, as we can see by his contented expression, our work can have a relationship with our inner satisfaction and fulfillment. But what brings those feelings? The work? Or the nature of the worker?
Right Livelihood and the Noble Eightfold Path
I like to think of this card as a pointer to what Buddhists call “right livelihood.”
Right livelihood is a component of the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism, a moral teaching that guides us to a life of mindfulness and enlightenment.
Right livelihood does not propose that your work always be the expression of your innermost self, or a constant romp with some idealized fantasy.
Instead, it acknowledges that both the work that we do, and the way that we do it, are vital components of our spiritual and personal development.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion.”
We must be mindful of what we are doing, and how our work is interconnected, for good or ill, to all beings.
I believe the fact that humans need to work honors, and does not deny, the sacredness of the physical reality of our lives. Our requirement for material sustenance is a gift, not an obstacle. As long as it does not support violence, destruction, or harm to others, our work becomes a teacher, a guide, and a support system in our journey to enlightenment.
Wherever you are in that journey, the chances are, you will still have to chop wood and carry water.
So we are invited this week to consider – how shall we make our work meaningful? How does our labor offer opportunities for opening wider to our spirituality and embodying loving kindness in the world?
Rewards come from the skillful blending of our talent, and the world’s needs.
This card does not insist that our job be our identity, or that we do our work for love of the occupation. Instead, we bring our full presence to whatever we are doing.
Whether or not you are doing work that is satisfying and rewarding, be thankful, and continue to grow and learn. As long as it is not in conflict with your ethics, your labor is sacred, because of the holiness of the soul who is engaged in it.