Work (and Life) as a Sacred Activity

“Don’t be a board-carrying fellow.” This expression, sometimes used in Zen, refers to a carpenter carrying a long, wide wooden board on his shoulder, blocking his view in one direction. It is an admonition about seeing the world and ourselves as ordinary and mundane without also considering the sacred, mysterious, and unfathomable aspect of our hearts, minds, and surroundings.

This expression can also help us understand that our work is not separate from our lives. One side, an important and vital side of work, involves goals, achievements, money, ambition, and developing your career. Understanding and implementing the technical and strategic aspects of your work are critical for your organization or business to fulfill its mission.

What about the other side? We are all human beings. We all bring a vast set of rich and complex experiences, skills, patterns, needs, aspirations, and emotions to our work. The other side, often more difficult to see, is the sacred aspect of your work, the way in which your work can expose and transform habits and patterns in your life while uncovering your authentic, compassionate, inner wisdom.

When you remove the board from your shoulder, a new world opens, a new way of understanding yourself, of seeing others and the true meaning of your work. Removing the board doesn’t mean turning your work into a self-help workshop. As a business owner with an M.B.A., I understand the importance of results, hiring and motivating talented people, sales and marketing, strategic planning, and cash flow management, as well as the many skills required to start, manage, and grow a business. As a human being and a Zen teacher, I also understand we all bring our full selves to work: our wishes, dreams, desires, anger, and frustration, as well as a deep yearning to find real inner peace, freedom, and happiness

One of the most famous pieces in Zen literature, read or chanted every day in Zen practice centers, is called the Heart Sutra, which in a few paragraphs describes the essential path of Zen practice. A phrase from the Heart Sutra says, “without any hindrances, no fears exist.” These hindrances are the ways in which we protect ourselves, shield our hearts, and keep ourselves closed and separate. Zen practice provides a method and discipline for identifying and loosening the ways we get in our own way. It helps us move from living and acting from fear, to living and acting with fearlessness. By searching for safety and control, and from responding out of fear, without realizing it, we sacrifice the freedom, flexibility, and connections that are our birthright.

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3 Important, Life-Changing Questions
14 Lessons from a Zen Monastery Kitchen


Elisa F.
Elisa F4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago


Judith C.
Judith C7 years ago

Thanks very much.

Mitzie W.
Mitzie W7 years ago

You know I get that work is not a separate part of our lives but work (employers) want to make it a separate part of our lives. As if our lives stop existing once we arrive on the clock.

Victoria S.
Victoria S7 years ago

most of us work because we have to, unfortunatly I've been through many jobs where there was absolutlly nothing fulfilling about it. So the next best thing was to try to have fun with it

Carina Engstrom
Carina Engstrom7 years ago

I think a big problem is that we split our existence in 8-8-8: work, "spare time", sleep. This division is nothing but a creativity killer. I have found that my work is a part of my being and it feels good. I get more stressed if I have to be something I necessary don´t want to be after 8 hours at office. I work with people, I wright sometimes short stories, I think a lot and meditate and just try to be. If I have to do all kinds of sports or other things that´s "normal" in a "normal" life" I get irritated. People seem to work for the need of spare time and that´s nothing but an illusion of "the good life" according the western way of thinking. Work is a curse, spare time the meaning of life and sleep a release from everything. And sometimes even sleep seems to be something bad because then you can´t have enough spare time - for what?

Ernie Miller
william Miller7 years ago


Roxana C.
Roxana Cortijo7 years ago


Kathlene Lentz
Kathlene Lentz7 years ago

Call it Zen practice or whatever else you want, people these days *really* need to open their minds and see the big picture! Hatred and narrow minds go hand-in-hand, and there are just too many narrow-minded hate filled people in this world.

Bon L.
Bon L7 years ago

Thanks for the info.