Me­nial tasks

The Tatura Guardian - - News - — Brian Spencer, Min­is­ter, Tatura Unit­ing Church

There are many more me­nial tasks to be done in life than there are heroic and in­ter­est­ing tasks.

Even if you’re work­ing in a highly cre­ative job, your daily work rou­tine will likely in­volve a fair amount of repet­i­tive, hum­drum tasks.

It doesn’t mean the me­nial tasks are not chal­leng­ing, the dan­ger is that we do them poorly.

Nor does it mean the me­nial tasks are unim­por­tant, the dan­ger is we make our lives mis­er­able by con­tin­u­ally look­ing at the clock, wait­ing for knock-off time.

As you may know, I split my time be­tween my min­istry role and run­ning a small vine­yard and win­ery.

These are both cre­ative and in­ter­est­ing roles and I am truly blessed to be able to do them.

But par­tic­u­larly in the win­ery and vine­yard there are many hours of me­nial work.

This week it has been bot­tling the 2017 vin­tage.

We are a small op­er­a­tion (our big­gest batch of wine is 5000 litres of Shi­raz), so we have cho­sen to bot­tle the wine our­selves.

We could get in a mo­bile bot­tling plant and knock it off in a day, but we pre­fer to em­ploy a few lo­cals and do it our­selves.

The costs are sim­i­lar (if any­thing, slightly cheaper) and it spreads some money around the com­mu­nity.

But it is repet­i­tive and takes a few days.

Wine­mak­ing, for all its ro­mance, is about 90 per cent clean­ing. Ev­ery­thing needs to be kept clean and san­i­tary, and bot­tling 4000 litres of wine this week trans­lates into hand sani­tis­ing, hand fill­ing, hand cap­ping, hand dry­ing, hand la­belling and hand stack­ing 5500 bot­tles go­ing at about 12 bot­tles per minute.

It’s a six-per­son job done to a back­beat of hits from the 1980s and ’90s as we work to­gether to achieve a com­mon goal.

When we get it right each per­son is mov­ing flu­idly through their in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and the en­tire group’s ac­tiv­i­ties are synced to­gether in uni­son; much like a choir singing beau­ti­ful har­mony.

But in the midst of this repet­i­tive, hum­drum ac­tiv­ity some­thing won­der­ful can hap­pen.

These tasks can be the se­cret gate­way that will help tackle the most dif­fi­cult tasks in your dayto-day ac­tiv­i­ties: think­ing and con­tem­pla­tion.

Have you ever started to drive home from work, and sud­denly you’re home and you don’t re­mem­ber a sin­gle thing about the traf­fic?

Have you ever been hav­ing a shower when sud­denly you have a ‘‘light­bulb’’ mo­ment and you sud­denly know how to solve some dif­fi­cult prob­lem that has been nag­ging at you all week?

These sud­den re­al­i­sa­tions are not sim­ply co­in­ci­den­tal.

As we per­form these tasks re­peat­edly, they be­come part of our pro­ce­dural mem­ory, up to the point where we can func­tion on au­topi­lot.

Pro­ce­dural mem­ory is a part of the long-term mem­ory that is re­spon­si­ble for know­ing how to do things, also known as mo­tor skills.

As the name im­plies, pro­ce­dural mem­ory stores in­for­ma­tion on how to per­form cer­tain pro­ce­dures, such as walk­ing, talk­ing and rid­ing a bike.

These ac­tiv­i­ties de­mand less con­cen­tra­tion from the think­ing part of our brain.

Ap­par­ently, en­gag­ing in re­peated tasks ac­ti­vates and stim­u­lates our higher lev­els of think­ing and cre­ative rea­son­ing by dis­tract­ing our hands and fo­cus­ing our minds.

While it may see counter in­tu­itive, in his­tory we know that David was a shep­herd, the prophet Amos de­scribed him­self as a pruner of fig trees and Je­sus was a car­pen­ter.

The lead­ing dis­ci­ples were fish­er­men.

And St Paul, a tent maker, urges Chris­tians to ‘‘work with your hands’’ (1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 4:11).

Does this mean mind­less rou­tines and me­nial tasks are the se­cret to great achieve­ment and spir­i­tual in­sight?

Per­haps not, but they may cre­ate the nec­es­sary space for creativ­ity to take place.

Start us­ing your me­nial tasks to pon­der, plan, and or­gan­ise your thoughts.

You might even find your­self in a state of con­tem­pla­tion and prayer.

This is the gospel, and it’s good news.

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