The Real Work



All this past year I’ve been asking myself many times: “what’s my work?” “where is it and who should I serve?” “how?”

In my life, I’ve had many roles, hopefully contributing to the welfare and well-being of others, but the planet, its ecosystems and inhabitants were not a big part (if any) of that equation. I was unaware of my own impact through things from the places where I chose to live, the food and stuff I consumed, the clothes I wore, the places I visited and even the work I was doing. (Yes, there is social and educational work that can be socially approved as “good” but terribly impactful to the systems sustaining life).

A few years back, I finally realized the overwhelming complexity of our predicaments in all fronts: social, financial, and political but most importantly, spiritual and ecological.

I’ve asked myself many times (and still struggle with those questions): where is my place? Is there anything I have to leave behind to do what I’m called to? What if my work is actually supporting the damage of what I love most: Nature? What if by helping people I’m supporting a system of drudgery, abuse and oppression that’s driving all of us to extinction?

The changes we do in our lives are always constrained and impacted by the choices or circumstances that have shaped our lives so far plus the state we are in when we decide to make those changes. The older we are, the more difficult is to change, to leave things behind: a career, a lifestyle, sometimes even family and friends…

But when we allow ourselves to be complacent and comfortable, when we allow fear of the unknown or doubt about our own ability to do and sustain change to creep up, we are not only robbing ourselves from our dreams and potential, we are stealing the world!

There may be a reason why we became aware and awake of these realities. There may be a reason why we have certain gifts. It may be that this knowledge requires us to become accountable and responsible. It may be that those gifts need to be used and shared.

Or it all may be just random and “because”, but then it is up to us to create meaning, not to expect it will be given to us.

Did we come to this world to live a path put forward for us to follow or to discover and create our own?

Did we come to this world with all the answers of to ask questions and dig deeper?

Did we come to consume and accumulate or to create and share?

Did we come to ignore others’ well-being and compete, or to acknowledge our interdependence and cooperate?

Did we come to be delusional about the consequences of our behavior and choices, or to learn and growth in both soul and spirit?

From all the messages I’ve been receiving, this poem by Rumi proved to be the most powerful:

The Real Work

“There is one thing in this world that you must never forget to do.  If you forget everything else and not this, there’s nothing to worry about; but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.

It’s as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do.  So human beings come to this world to do particular work.  That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person.  If you don’t do it, it’s as though a priceless Indian sword were used to slice rotten meat.  It’s a golden bowl being used to cook turnips, when one filing from the bowl could buy a hundred suitable pots.  It’s a knife of the finest tempering nailed into a wall to hang things on.


You say, “But look, I’m using the dagger. It’s not lying idle.” Do you hear how ludicrous that sounds? For a penny, an iron nail could be bought to serve the purpose.  You say, “But I spend my energies on lofty enterprises.  I study jurisprudence and philosophy and logic and astronomy and medicine and all the rest.”

But consider why you do those things.  They are all branches of yourself.

Remember the deep root of your being, the presence of your lord.  Give your life to the one who already owns your breath and your moments.  If you don’t, you will be exactly like the man who takes a precious dagger and hammers it into his kitchen wall for a peg to hold his dipper gourd.  You’ll be wasting valuable keenness and foolishly ignoring your dignity and your purpose.”

~ The Teaching of Rumi edited by Andrew Harvey


“My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird-
equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be

The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.”

~ Mary Oliver


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