Toil

zenarchery

This is how Merriam-Webster defines the verb Toil

: to work very hard for a long time; and

: to move slowly and with a lot of effort

I have my own definition (that I have created for myself):

: to work very hard, for a long time, without immediate reward, and without instant gratification;

: to work very hard, when no one is watching;

: to work very hard, despite the real risk of failure, knowing that the results you seek may take years to produce, if they are even produced at all;

: to choose labour over entertainment;

: the slow road to mastery;

: to turn off the noise of the world, and live most with inner peace; and

: to feel more alive than ever

I love toiling.  When I am toiling I know that I am EXACTLY on the path that I am meant to be on.  When I choose to work, doing the work that I love, rather than drug myself with TV, when I toil, knowing that my work may never be deemed “great” by the world, I experience the greatest personal victory of all.  The victory of self over self.

When I act, knowing that rewards, if they come at all, will probably take a long time to manifest, I know that I am on the right path.

Toiling has become spiritual in my life.   I have learned to associate self-directed hard work with harmony of spirit.  I am most at peace, and I feel most alive, when I am toiling – when the work is hard, and when the payoff is slow and uncertain.  Toiling turns off the noise of the world.  Self-directed work is a spring of happiness that doesn’t run dry.

In our society we discount far too much the value of struggle.  We avoid struggle as much as we can.  Perhaps because many of the struggles that we face aren’t self-directed.  This is a problem.  Externally imposed struggles are very challenging to deal with.  Despite this, we cannot neglect the empowering quality of self-directed struggle.

Most importantly, I know that when I am toiling, on my own accord, I am on the path to mastery.  I am being transformed by the toil, and through the toil. I am becoming a better person, a more patient person, a more grounded person, a more courageous person, a master, who is free from the influence and the rewards of the world.

What is true of archery and swordsmanship also applies to all the other arts.  Thus, mastery in ink-painting is only attained when the hand, exercising perfect control over technique, executes what hovers before the mind’s eye at the same moment when the mind begins to form it, without there being a hair’s breadth between.  Painting then becomes spontaneous calligraphy.  Here again the painter’s instructions might be: spend ten years observing bamboos, become a bamboo yourself, then forget everything and paint….Between the stages of apprenticeship and mastership there lie long and uneventful years of untiring practice.  Under the influence of Zen his proficiency becomes spiritual, and he himself, grown ever freer through spiritual struggle, is transformed. (Eugen Herrigel, Zen In The Art of Archery) 

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