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Excerpted from Work As a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond. Copyright 1999 by Lewis Richmond. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"Spiritual learning is nothing other than the accumulation, over time, of such small, modest awakenings."

Lewis Richmond, Work As a Spiritual Practice, Part 5

This book is based on the premise that our ordinary routine contains numerous treasures and the details of our workday, from the morning commute to the coffee break, the lunch hour, the afternoon meetings, the evening ride home, contain within them any number of gifts for our spirit, if only we would allow ourselves to receive them.

Here is a true story to illustrate this.

A woman named Julie managed a customer service department in an insurance company. Because of budget cuts, in addition to her managerial responsibilities, she had to spend a couple of hours each day taking overflow calls. The worst part of her job, she told me, was the unpredictable ringing of the telephone. As the week went on, she found herself resenting that sound more and more. She would try to turn the volume down, but if it got too soft she couldn't hear it in time, which was even worse.

One day, without really thinking about it, she found herself pushing the button to lower the volume on the phone in rhythm with the ringing itself and suddenly thought, "I'm the one doing the ringing." From then on, every time the ringing got on her nerves, she would raise and lower the volume of the ringing in time with the ringing, as though her finger were making the phone ring.

"It's a silly thing," she said, "but it made me feel in charge again."

In this case the koan of everyday life took the form of a ringing phone. Anyone who works in an office understands only too well how large that ringing phone can loom. We all have to deal with it, none of us likes it, and yet that ringing phone can be a wake-up call to our inner life. In having to confront the irritation of the ringing phone, we also confront the fundamentals of who we are and want to be. The ringing phone stands for everything in our life that we cannot control, everything that makes our life unpredictable, confusing, and difficult. For those of us who think of spiritual life as something to be found in a church, a retreat center, or a walk by the seashore, the ringing phone is the last thing we wish to hear.

But for those who are willing to see a spiritual opportunity in the ordinariness of everyday circumstance, the ringing phone is no less profound an encounter than the cypress tree in the garden.

What makes the difference is the resource of spiritual practice, which is a way to transform the mundane into the sacred, the ordinary into the profound. In Julie's case, her instinct to embrace the ringing not as something outside but as something inside was an example of a practice we will be exploring later as "Seeing and Hearing with the Heart." She was hearing that phone not with her mundane ear, but with a more spiritual organ.

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