It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things. –Theodore Roosevelt
Labor Day, the American holiday that began in the 1800s as a time to honor the everyday working masses, has become an occasion to mark the end of summer with hot dogs, parades, and lots of political speeches. For most, Labor Day is nothing more than a long weekend, but you can always reinvest a holiday with deeper meaning by becoming more conscious of what it means to you.
Is labor the sweat on your brow as you rescue hurricane victims or build a house? Or is it the grinding of your brain cells as you struggle to write a book, design a computer website, or compose a lesson plan for third graders? Those of us who don’t toil in factories or out in the hot sun or wear hard hats to work are also laborers, often in pursuits that are a “labor of love.”
For many women, labor means the hard work involved in birthing a child. The uterus contracts and the labor pains intensify until there is no choice but to open and allow nature to take its course. At least in a “natural” birthing experience, the pain involved is bearable because it has such a positive outcome—a baby. It’s amazing how much our minds control the way we experience pain: if it’s seen as pointless, it hurts a lot more.
Nowadays we do everything possible to avoid pain. Laboring women are given spinals to block the sensations. At work, laws are put into place to protect us from the pain of discrimination or sexual harassment or safety issues. Think of all the “labor-saving” devices we own to keep us from the pain of housework.
I’m sure you would like you and your loved ones to go through life effortlessly and pain-free, but then how would you give birth to your most courageous self and your most creative expressions?
Have you ever created something you were really proud of—a work of art, an intellectual achievement, a refinished piece of furniture, a change in your lifestyle, a new relationship? It took work, didn’t it? You may have labored long and hard to lose those fifty pounds, to perform in public, to get that degree. Undoubtedly, you experienced some pain in the process, but the result was well worth the effort. Or do you avoid projects or situations that seem like they are going to be “labor intensive?”
It’s a good thing your body doesn’t mind laboring. Think of how hard your physical body works—all those internal systems that have to function well for you to be healthy. Pain in the body is a warning signal: something is wrong, broken, sick. Hopefully you listen to the messages your body makes every effort to send you. And think of the effort involved in doing the hard inner work of clearing out old habits, stale beliefs, toxic emotions.
Without labor, without your willingness to undergo some pain and discomfort in the process of changing or creating the circumstances of your life, you would be stuck, stagnating, never getting off the couch or turning off the television. Appreciate the many ways in which you labor, and see what areas of your life require some more effort on your part. Create a ceremony this Labor Day weekend to honor the work you do. Meditate on your willingness to work hard to fulfill your life purpose. And enjoy that hot dog—beef, pork, chicken, turkey, or tofu—while taking a well-deserved day off!