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Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. - Khalil Gibran
Most of you reading this are probably engaged in two types of work. One is the activity you do to pay the bills, take care of a family home or perhaps a part-time job while going through college. The other work is time we devote to our spiritual practices. If we live the life of a householder, rather than a recluse, both types of work are equally important. Each supports the other, and both should create a feeling of love, joy and contentment.
Like the majority of people, you will probably spend around eight hours a day for forty years working to support yourself and a family. Does this work energize and invigorate you or are you spending that time bored, dreaming of the weekend or retirement? Do you measure success by a title, how much money you earn or the satisfaction you feel at the end of the day? Albert Einstein said, “Try not to be a person of success but be a person of value.”
The Vedic tradition describes the Purusharthas or aims of life, one of which is Artha. While needs will vary from person to person, Artha is having the material comforts we need to live in the world with ease. It is doing activities necessary for a joyous and pleasurable life, work which is compatible with our nature and capabilities, work that serves society, and as Khalil Gibran advises, work we really love.
It might take time to find the work that fulfils these aims, or can sometimes come unexpectedly, as in my own case. My father was an engineer and traveled all over the world on different projects. As a child growing up, this looked like a great life and I decided that I would be a civil engineer, traveling the world building roads and bridges. I went to college but, after studying endless mathematical calculations, decided this wasn’t for me after all. While feeling unfulfilled and frustrated working at an office job, I decided to learn meditation.
Almost immediately everything started to fall into place. I left the job, trained to become a meditation teacher and have spent most of my life since, traveling the world, and hopefully helping others to build spiritual bridges and their roads home. I have not become financially rich but have gained a wealth far beyond my childhood dreams.
As long as we eat nutritious food and live a healthy lifestyle, physical growth, for most of us, happens automatically, we can’t speed it up or slow it down. No matter how much the child longs to be grown up, it has to wait for the years to pass and regardless of how many people you tell that you’re only thirty-nine, forty, fifty and beyond will keep arriving. On the other hand, the speed of our spiritual growth is very much up to us. Everyone is evolving spiritually but, when we introduce specific practices into our lives, the process is accelerated. Just as with your regular work, find a spiritual practice that brings you joy and contentment.
Following dry, meaningless instructions will not serve your progress. Find a balance, don’t neglect your spiritual practices for your work and don’t neglect your work for your spiritual practices. When our basic material needs are taken care of without a struggle, we are able to focus on our spiritual work with the minimum of distractions. When we do our regular work with awareness, making conscious choices, it becomes an extension of our spiritual practices, aiding our growth and expansion of consciousness.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali we are introduced to the Eight Limbs of Yoga, also known as Raja Yoga or the path of self-mastery to enlightenment. These are simple guidelines for living a happy, healthy, spiritually fulfilled life. The first limb, Yama, gives us observances for how we should behave towards others, including our co-workers - being truthful, not being harmful, greedy, wasteful or taking what’s not yours.
Beatrice Vincent explained the value of this, “The people with whom you work, reflect your own attitude. If you are suspicious, unfriendly and condescending, you will find these unlovely traits echoed all about you. But, if you are on your best behavior, you will bring out the best in the people with whom you are going to spend most of your waking hours.”
The other limbs remind us to be humble, generous, to look within through meditation and keep our lives simple. Also try to steer clear of complications. As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi suggested, “See the job, do the job, stay out of the mud.” Whether we are meditating, practicing our yoga asanas or sitting at our desk, we should always remember that everything we do is ultimately an offering to our higher purpose. Sri Ramakrishna said, “Do your duty with one hand and with the other hand hold onto God. After the duty is over, hold onto God with both hands.”
Rest and take time to enjoy life. We are told that God created the world in six days but even She rested on the seventh. Don’t become a workaholic and avoid multi-tasking. Maintain a healthy daily lifestyle and be aware of what supports or disrupts your Ayurvedic body type. Look for new opportunities and avoid getting stuck in the same cycles and routines. Be adventurous, try new things. Growth and expansion are impossible if you always do things the same way.
The Vedic tradition divides life into four parts. The first from birth until early twenties is for physical growth and education. The second part up until the early fifties is for establishing a career and raising a family. Next, until the early seventies, one begins to disengage from family life to spend more time on spiritual practices. The final period of life is spent absorbed in one’s spiritual pursuits, perhaps retiring to an ashram.
Although these practices aren’t followed as much these days and might be impractical for people living in the West, they give us a general guidance for moving from a more external life to one of inward focus. To quote Sri Ramakrishna again, “The more you advance towards God, the less He will give you worldly duties.”
Ultimately, when our material and spiritual work become aligned, we step onto our path of dharma, which leads us to moksha and true self-awareness. As the Bhagavad Gita advises us, “Established in Being, perform action”. Now all our actions flow effortlessly, filled with inner joy, love and unbounded creativity. Everything we do is in harmony with natural law, bringing contentment and fulfillment on all levels. Work becomes love made visible.