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Friday, October 18, 2019

Work is play

Be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. -- Alan Watts

Strictly speaking, Buddhist samu is communal labor toward the construction and maintenance of the monastery, zen center, or hermitage, or toward some helpful outcome in the wider community, such as building a bridge to help people cross a dangerous river. Samu is also dana, or giving. Working for family is generally held not to count. 

(A separate issue is work that is wage slavery or actual slavery; work that is good work is not compelled.)

In the course of a lay Ango in the midst of modern life, samu is wherever you find it, including working for yourself or family, as the mindfulness is paramount, just as with meditation. 

I was raised on the notion of self-sufficiency: "no work, no eat (this is also a Zen saying)," not merely as a form of selfishness, but, by means of doing my share, or sometimes more than my share, of the things that must be done, benefit society by at least not being a burden to it.

Which is great when you're thirty and bursting with energy, but by seventy, some of us are dead, some of us are immobile, some of us can't remember who we are, and nearly all of us are beginning to produce work that is beginning to be a bit lopsided. Where better for the elderly half-time hermit to do samu than within the family, where the effort can hopefully be appreciated without too much criticism of the outcome? But when called upon to do a thing, one does the best one can.

Raising or preparing food, with the object of feeding family but also producing gift baskets for others, is pretty obvious samu, and very much in line with monastic work. Dogen famously gave detailed instructions for the monastery head cook, but also for the head gardener. Masonry and carpentry are only mentioned by implication in most texts, as in "a monastery was constructed." 

Daughter bought a house in a very walkable section of town not too long ago, with the encouragement of the rest of us, to build her equity but also, as she put it, provide a place for the oldtimers (Beloved and me) to die of old age, and for her alter-abled brother to have somewhere to live if we all predecease him. She calls it, with some optimism, La Finca.

Stony Run Farm, where she was raised, is an acre plus with run-down buildings and will certainly be too much for us before very long -- in the best case we have less than ten years left here, and whoever takes it on after us will have their hands full. The house should be razed and replaced for safety's sake. None of the kids plans to undertake this. The acre was sold to us with the understanding that the house was a total loss, and it still is. On our budget, what kept us well and happy here was our somewhat haphazard homesteading skills, the most haphazard of which were carpentry, plumbing, and electrical.

I have been working (haphazardly, of course) at Daughter's to prepare us all for the transition. The little house is sound (for a change) but tiny, with scant storage. The lot, a fifth of an acre, came with grass and blackberries mainly, and this in a neighborhood where all the neighboring homes have beautiful landscapes -- achieved mostly by mounding up earth and planting on the humps -- the water table is right at the surface of the ground, at least in winter and spring.

I have the run of the yard, so I drew up a tiny sketch of what to do and am pretty much on schedule. 


The carport is now gone. Patio enclosed. Trees planted the first year are shown in green, those planted the third year are shown in red. Future rain barrels are blue. The greenhouse, chicken pen, and garden beds along the back (north) fence have not yet appeared
So, after getting the blackberries under control, I'm planting fruit and nut trees hither and yon, and preparing to do some raised bed gardening for the first time.


Making tree boxes at Stony Run
Siting tree boxes at La Finca (name of the new place) and planting fruit trees
I'll be in need of a new hermitage, of course, and am converting the old dark, leaky wooden tool shed for the purpose. It's nine by eleven, so actually has more floor space than Gogo-an. But the floor is asphalt. Much to do.

Lumber for my projects is courtesy of the rotten carport that had to come down.
Beds are constructed between tree boxes and are slowly filling up with compost.
Windows that have been lying around for decades are appearing in tool shed walls.
Steel shed in background is beyond repair, we think, and will be replaced with something.
Leftover paint from the house is used to match the house paint scheme. Salvaged door was too tall for the door frame so I simply suspended it from two two-by-fours nailed on.
I found a tiny Guanyin at a thrift for two bucks.
She has some fingers missing, so I have appointed her as shop steward.
The hut will be called Manzoku-an. Nobody likes the name but me, as they find it a tongue twister, but it suits me: Hut of Contentment. Contentment is thought dangerous in Zen, as there is a struggle-ish onward-and-upward aspect to practice, but things are already what they are, yes? When you're seventy, just sitting in the shade watching an apple drop can be pretty damned good practice. So Manzoku-an it is.

Currently, I'm enclosing the back "porch," at least the part where the concrete slab is, for increased storage and activity space. It's not really a room, as there's plenty of airflow at top and bottom, but more a hey-burglars-you-don't-see-what's-in here space. 


Plywood is up, scrap window installed, exterior primer applied (just ahead of a storm).
The entryway provides access to the meter reader (meter on wall off to the right) and has a door (also at right) leading into the house and another (shown here) leading into the "porch" room. Brown rafters are being painted gray, a laborious business.


Bright and airy, suitable for storage, shop work, and maybe cider making. It certainly helps that there was already a roof!

Exterior painted. Next, the remaining posts and rafters.

After all this, maybe a greenhouse/shadehouse behind Manzoku-an. Yah? Because, as some say, work is play.

1 comment:

  1. Out of the mud two strangers came
    And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
    And one of them put me off my aim
    By hailing cheerily "Hit them hard!"
    I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
    And let the other go on a way.
    I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
    He wanted to take my job for pay.

    Good blocks of oak it was I split,
    As large around as the chopping block;
    And every piece I squarely hit
    Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
    The blows that a life of self-control
    Spares to strike for the common good,
    That day, giving a loose my soul,
    I spent on the unimportant wood.

    The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
    You know how it is with an April day
    When the sun is out and the wind is still,
    You're one month on in the middle of May.
    But if you so much as dare to speak,
    A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
    A wind comes off a frozen peak,
    And you're two months back in the middle of March.

    A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
    And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
    His song so pitched as not to excite
    A single flower as yet to bloom.
    It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
    Winter was only playing possum.
    Except in color he isn't blue,
    But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

    The water for which we may have to look
    In summertime with a witching wand,
    In every wheelrut's now a brook,
    In every print of a hoof a pond.
    Be glad of water, but don't forget
    The lurking frost in the earth beneath
    That will steal forth after the sun is set
    And show on the water its crystal teeth.

    The time when most I loved my task
    The two must make me love it more
    By coming with what they came to ask.
    You'd think I never had felt before
    The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
    The grip of earth on outspread feet,
    The life of muscles rocking soft
    And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

    Out of the wood two hulking tramps
    (From sleeping God knows where last night,
    But not long since in the lumber camps).
    They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
    Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
    They judged me by their appropriate tool.
    Except as a fellow handled an ax
    They had no way of knowing a fool.

    Nothing on either side was said.
    They knew they had but to stay their stay
    And all their logic would fill my head:
    As that I had no right to play
    With what was another man's work for gain.
    My right might be love but theirs was need.
    And where the two exist in twain
    Theirs was the better right--agreed.

    But yield who will to their separation,
    My object in living is to unite
    My avocation and my vocation
    As my two eyes make one in sight.
    Only where love and need are one,
    And the work is play for mortal stakes,
    Is the deed ever really done
    For Heaven and the future's sakes.

    --Robert Frost

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Stony Run Farm: Life on One Acre

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