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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Volitional’ work offers a chance to experience egoless sense of self

Donald Clegg

I’ve been doing a lot of canning lately, or “putting up,” as we used to say back in Kansas.

My late summer garden is a delightful riot, as the straw paths between raised beds have been totally taken over by the traveling vines of squash, cucumbers, sprawling volunteer tomato and tomatillo plants, and many other happy denizens.

It’s easy to lose myself in the search for hidden treasure, ferreting out cucumbers that hide under a fan of leaves, looking at the corn tassels, or finally noticing the lunker zucchini that somehow escaped my notice.

I tend to go away at these times, something you no doubt do, as well.

If you doubt that you have a somewhat itinerant “self,” the proof is in the form of questions like these: “Now, where was I?” Or, “Wow, where did I go?” Or, the classic, “I guess I was just lost there for a minute.”

We all lose it at times. We go somewhere. We go somewhere else.

Where and what might that “else” be?

Putting up garden produce is a serious engagement. I don’t think of it as fun, so much as rewarding, as the jars represent investments of time. Part of my life is in each, from the hours I spend preparing beds with compost, planting and nurturing small seedlings, to the final harvest.

I take great care – no botulism, please – making sure the brine mix is right, washing the jars in hot soapy water, then pouring boiling water over them to keep them hot.

Making sure the rim of the jar is clean before I put a fresh cap on, and processing long enough to sterilize the jars. Finally, waiting for that “Pop!” when they seal.

My bounty this season includes bread and butter pickles, some with summer squash, some with cukes, some with both. Lots of onion, of course.

I mix up my own pickling spice mix, and like to add a good amount of dill, garlic and hot pepper flakes to the usual suspects of celery and mustard seed and turmeric. Also, cucumber dill pickles, and I’m trying out zucchini spears, too.

Jars of absolutely killer sweet onion relish with, well, I’m not going to tell. And garden “V-15,” which just makes every one of my taste buds give a standing ovation.

I call immersive, nontrivial activities like canning “volitional” engagements or work. Volition combines intent with awareness with pleasure. To be engaged is to be involved, to be connected, and to take part in.

Work connotes vocation, calling, and, of course, output – the collected body of one’s time here. Volitional works are those partaken of fully, willingly, in the moment.

I can lose myself in trivial ways, of course – watching a movie, driving on autopilot, any number of things. I differentiate volitional activities from trivial ones by the amount of inherent meaning they contain.

And, since what’s meaningful for me may not be to you, and vice-versa, no one can say what another’s volitional engagements might be.

I’m fully aware in work such as canning, but not of myself. This type of awareness is not self-awareness. I lose my “self.” I lose my beliefs.

In awareness, I simply am. I am “my” best when I’m fully aware.

And when my me is nowhere to be found at all.

And that expression of the purest self, absent of ego – which is to say, meaningful, volitional self-expression without the self – is the essence of religiosity. To be religious is not to “believe,” but simply to fully be.

I need no God to be. In both senses.

Donald Clegg, a longtime Spokane resident, is an author and professional watercolor artist. Contact him via e-mail at
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