In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.—Genesis 3:19 KJV
I have been too busy to write for some time, but I’m glad to get back to it.
One of the things I’ve had to do of late is a great deal of physical work. For someone who has spent decades training my body, I must admit that I have not done nearly as much “real work” as I should have. For that, I can see that I’ve suffered. Now I’m making up for lost time.
Looking at the quote above, what stands out is that our earthly beginning and end is humble, and we need to remember that. The average person—myself fully included—is in constant search of avoiding physical work.
Bestselling books are written, which extol us on the supposed virtue of this avoidance—The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris is merely the most obvious example. But work avoidance has become an epidemic. The rage in business, is to systematize everything, so as to minimize the time and hassle of doing the work.
Believe me, I’m as big a proponent of systematization as anyone, but it begs the question—why are we trying to run away from work?
What Kind of Work Should We Do?
In our zeal to abandon physical work, we have found—ironically—a more taxing work—mind work. The Bible says that the sleep of the laborer is sweet. I have found this to be the case. By work, we earn the right to eat, and the right to sleep sweetly. Think of those with sleep disorders, and consider how many of them may relate to the lack of physical work?
Now consider all of the mental work we do now—which is so often disconnected to physical work. The amount of this work, and the disconnection, I believe, are causing untold and unnecessary stress.
Booker T. and the Work Ethic
The late, great Booker T. Washington was a hearty proponent of the value of work. He knew the great intelligence that works through us as we not only perform the physical component of the work, but “work through” the mental challenge of completing the task. So important was this concept to Booker T., that he even wrote a book called Working with the Hands.
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Another great book on the mental and spiritual value of working with your hands, is Shop Class as Soul Craft. I came across this book a few years ago in a good friend’s library and couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend it.
Where We Learn—Or Don’t Learn—To Work
I’m quite clear about where I learned not to work with my hands. I was not particularly close to my father growing up, as I was something of a rebellious sort. My dad was a plumber by trade, and I remember he used to take my older brother along with him on jobs sometimes.
My brother was not rebellious, and got a chance to learn under the tutelage of my dad, and I would see my brother take apart transistor radios. He knew what he wanted to do early in life, got an Associates’ Degree in automotive training at a local community college, and was on his way to an exceptional career in the field.
Meanwhile—disconnected from my father and from working with my hands—I spent years without a solid vocation, and have only recently began to piece it all together and find increasing purpose.
I have seen old interests dry up before my eyes, and new ones (very old ones actually) begin to emerge. I’m no handyman at this point, but I’ve learned a great deal about myself in a short time.
Coming Full Circle
It’s funny the way things work, but as I’ve had to perform a great deal of physical work of late, I have also needed the help of my son. I have had the great pleasure of seeing him not only learn to work as I am, but in addition, our working relationship has brought our overall relationship into greater focus. I have (painfully) seen so much of what I have not shown him, which has repeated what my dad did not show me.
And we are getting to know each other better every day. His revelations about what he’s discovering are a delight.
We all give what we have in us to give, and we cannot give more. We must make peace with that, and know that today is a new day, with new possibilities to discover, grow, and make amends as appropriate.
Physical Value of Manual Work
The physical benefits of manual work should be obvious, and are obvious when you perform the work! I’ve moved heavy furniture, which taxes just about every muscle in the body. Chopping wood is likewise a whole-body effort. Turning a screw into a knotty piece of wood works the hand and forearm in a powerful way. And so on…
In comparison, when I watch bodybuilders in their videos, and exercise classes with a lot of running around and exerting, it looks so vain in comparison. Work creates value for yourself—but also for others. Where is the value to others in performing a biceps curl or running on the treadmill for forty minutes?
The heavy emphasis on mental work in today’s society makes it necessary for the mental worker to also get in some physical work, which all too often means exercise, and not work.
The Value of Exercise
Clearly there is some value to physical exercise, but personally I think that value is more related to the desire to play than to work. I’ve always intuitively promoted the value of play in our training, as I do in my Greek Physique eBook.
Performing simple, efficient, practical strength, balance, cardio, and mobility work such as that contained in progressive calisthenics can be highly beneficial, and correct imbalances that even construction workers can develop in their bodies. I cover progressive calisthenics in Greek Physique, and also cover intelligent weight training and even “Greek Yoga.”
Greek Yoga™ for Corrective Work
I began to develop Greek Yoga decades ago after surgery to patch my lung, after it collapsed while lifting heavy shingles onto a roof. I perfected this corrective technique over the years, and eventually put everything I knew about restoring proper spine alignment, strength, mobility, and balance into a video called Greek Yoga™ for Beginners. I highly recommend this presentation for anyone interested in one exercise program to cover all your fitness needs.
So in conclusion, I have been fortunate to rediscover the spiritual, mental, and physical value of physical work. It’s a true tragedy that we have been pulled away from it through the temptation to avoid work. We cannot avoid work!
Booker T. Washington—born a slave—knew that it was a mistake for former slaves to seek to avoid physical work. It is a mistake for all of us to avoid physical work. I truly believe that we have no idea the kind of hell we’ve created for ourselves by doing so, even down to the massive increase in mental health issues we see in the modern world, which includes even our very identity.
We would be indeed wise, not to reject this ancient wisdom, but to embrace it wholeheartedly. I believe our very lives depend on it.
Patrick Rooney is the Founder of OldSchoolUs.com. Its focus is natural health and independent living. Patrick is the author of GREEK PHYSIQUE: The Simple, Satisfying Way to Sculpt Your Body—Even if You’re Old, Weak, or Broken Down; and is also the creator of Greek Yoga™ and the Greek Yoga for Beginners video. He offers health and fitness consulting in-person in Middle Tennessee and worldwide via phone, Zoom, and Skype. To reach Patrick, email him at [email protected].