One Nail At a Time
I joke that I’m the daughter of a farm boy, which means I’m a little rough around the edges. Not only did my father spend quite a bit of time working the land in his younger years, he went on to become a firefighter, EMT, fire academy instructor and carpenter. My childhood memories reflect a man who worked very hard to support his 4 kids and wife, and who successfully instilled in us a solid work ethic, integrity and faith. It was an unspoken rule in my home that you never complained about being bored, otherwise you’d be tasked with stacking firewood or helping him with a roofing project. It only took one experience of schlepping shingles up a ladder in the humid, summer months of Maine to learn that was not how I wanted to spend my tween and teen years...even if he was paying me an hourly wage.
Needless to say, as an adult, I’m very grateful for the skills he imparted in me. These days, when I’m feeling insecure or lacking motivation to do the challenging work set in front of me, I call my dad for a loving kick in the butt. He’s a solid resource of inspiration on how to move through the tough stuff with grounded strength and slow, steady perseverance.
The last time we chatted I caught him taking a break from building a new bathroom for my brother. He shared with me how his body, now in its 60’s, was feeling a bit sore and tired. How the day before he’d been in his head about the amount of work he had to do, and how he wanted to give up. But instead, he decided to take breaks and just take his time with it.
“I can take as long as I want.” he joked. ‘It’s not like your brother can get this work done for cheaper.”
My dad is doing the project for free.
Now that he’s retired, he has the luxury of time to spend however he wishes. It’s a testament to his character that he chooses to spend part of that time working on projects for family and friends, simply in exchange for getting to share space and conversation with them. He says it brings him great joy.
We talked that day about how life can feel overwhelming when you’re moving through big change. How sometimes it feels like you’re grinding away with no end in sight.
“It’s like building a house.” he said. “There are days when the project seems too big, and my body hurts, and I’m tired and frustrated. It feels like there’s no end to it and I want to give up. Then I remember I have a choice. I can either get overwhelmed and quit, or choose to focus on hammering one nail in at a time. Over and over again, one after another, and have faith in the process. When I do that I get lost in the work and then, before I know it, I look up and I see the shape of a house forming.”
The truth is I think my dad loves the work. Sure, it’s satisfying and encouraging to see results, but for him it’s always been about honing his craft, moving his body and getting in touch with himself. He finds joy in being able to contribute, while doing things that allow him to connect to his spirit. Building a house, or other projects of that nature, are like meditation for him.
In Yoga there’s this Sanskrit term called Sadhana. It’s a daily practice that one does to support development and growth. It’s typically focused on spiritual growth, but can also contribute to healing the body and developing the mind. It usually incorporates meditation and/or some sort of devotional practice like chanting, or lighting a candle. The key to Sadhana is consistency and surrender. It’s the thing you do every day, with no attachment to the results. There certainly are palpable benefits to Sadhana, but that’s not really the point. The point is that it’s an act of faith and devotion to life. It’s a way for us to come back to ourselves again and again.
The cool thing about getting established in Sadhana is that we learn how to take that faith and devotion into everyday life. When there’s lots of change or a big project to tackle, we know on a deep level to believe in the process of getting lost in the work set in front of us. We can trust in letting go of the results, because what comes to fruition is always for our benefit, even when it doesn’t look how we planned it to. With that surrender comes a freedom because we aren’t responsible for how things shake out. Our one and only responsibility is to show up as fully as we can to the moment, and to be open to what life is asking of us. And though that openness requires quite a bit of courage, it’s a hell of a lot less complicated than having to have the end result figured out.
So whatever your Sadhana is - meditation, movement, music, walks in nature, honing a craft, building a relationship, etc., I encourage you to keep at it. Even on the days where if feels a bit like a chore, give yourself the gift of consistency. Learn to show up for yourself again and again, letting go of the weight of having to have it all figured out.
Let yourself get lost in the process.
I bet you’ll look up one day (and probably many days) to see a life forming that’s bigger, broader and more full of wonder than you could have ever imagined.