Swami Kriyananda told the story of the time he had been on a lecture tour and stayed at the home of a wealthy businessman, a very dedicated disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. This man told him, “My day begins when I come home from work and go into my meditation room.” Kriyananda thought, “That’s a shame,” because the man was wasting his entire work day. He needed to find ways to integrate his spiritual life into his work.
Paramhansa Yogananda said that we should think of work as active meditation and meditation as inward service. In other words, our daily activities and meditation are not separate from each other; they are two aspects of our spiritual path. Here are some tips on how to do that:
1. Remember God while you work.
Keeping our mind focused on God while at work is a central part of the life of a devotee because, for many of us, most of our waking hours are spent at work. The biggest problem we face is forgetfulness. In order to succeed at work, we need to focus on the task at hand, but we can become so engrossed in the task that we forget about God. How can we remember to keep our mind on God?
There are two basic approaches. One is to have little reminders so that during pauses in your work, you can bring your mind back to God. Some people set their digital watches to go off every hour, and they stop momentarily to think of God. There’s also a program called Stillness Buddy that’s available on Ananda.org. Periodically a brief message appears on your computer, either from Paramhansa Yogananda or Swami Kriyananda. Other memory devices might be a picture of the Guru on your desk, or thinking of God whenever you take a sip of water. During pauses in your work, you can always be inwardly chanting or talking to God.
Using auditory or visual cues to remind us to think about God and make the connection are very important. But a deeper aspect of keeping the mind on God is to feel that you are in God’s presence while you are working. If you work in a retail store, you can relate to the customers as God. This world is made of God’s consciousness and God is embedded in the subatomic particles. Bringing that awareness to your work will dramatically change the way you relate to others. If you find it difficult to relate to certain people as God, try at the very least, to see them as souls who are evolving and moving toward ultimate bliss, just as you are.
2. Consciously serve as a channel for the Divine.
An important aspect of seeing your work as service is to see everything you do as an opportunity to share love, blessings and joy. Swami Kriyananda told of the time he and another monk were nailing studs into the beams for a temple under construction. His brother monk took great care to place the nails evenly and to hit each one correctly. Since the beams would be covered with sheet-rock, someone asked him, “Why are you giving so much attention to nailing these studs? No one’s going to see them.” The man, who was a very deep devotee, said, “God will see them.”
Not only was the man remembering God when he worked, he was also consciously putting God’s blessings into every aspect of the job he had been given. Whatever you are doing, try to feel that you are a channel for divine consciousness. If you’re answering e-mails, don’t do it mechanically. A good practice is to take a moment and consciously feel that you are sending blessings along with the message. In everything you do, pray, “God, guide me that I might be Your channel.”
This world very much needs God’s blessings, and the practice of consciously serving as a channel for the Divine is another way work becomes service.
3. Be calmly active and actively calm.
There’s a story about Yogananda when he was late for a lecture and was running to the lecture hall. One of his disciples said, “Don’t be nervous, Master.” Yogananda stopped and said, “I’m not nervous, But not to run when you’re late is to be lazy!” He was saying that you can put a lot of energy into what you are doing, but that doesn’t mean you have to be nervous and agitated. To be calmly active is an especially important goal for daily life.
It’s important also to take a pause every now and then and check your body. “Are your shoulders tense? Is your stomach tense? Are you worried? If so, do some deep breathing, or, if you do yoga postures, do a few stretches. If you know the energization exercises, go outside and do a few rounds of double breathing.
A friend of ours was a nurse in the emergency room of a hospital. She would meditate each morning before she went to work. At lunchtime, she would meditate in her car in the parking lot because it was the only place where she could be alone. Other emergency room staff members would ask her, “How is it that you’re so calm all the time?” She would say, “It’s because I meditate.”
The key here is to build in little breaks for you to relax and become centered again. When you come home from work, it’s very important to have a short transition time. Take five minutes and breathe deeply. If possible take a short walk. Many people like to meditate before dinner, before the busyness of the evening activities.
There’s a beautiful statement by Yogananda: “I feel God like a breath of bliss blowing through all the time.” Try to work and interact with other people with this sense of bliss flowing through you. If you have difficult co-workers, try, when you interact with them,
to be centered and calm.
4. Work with concentration and absorption.
Another aspect of seeing your work as service is to do everything with concentration and absorption. Some years ago we were having a large Indian banquet at the Expanding Light and my [Devi’s] job was to juice a large box of lemons, using a little hand juicer. Sitting alone at a table, I was completely focused on the task and enjoying it.
One of the Expanding Light guests walked by and, asked, “Can I help?” I said, “Sure.” He went and got a juicer, bowl, and box of lemons and began juicing the lemons. At one point he began watching me, trying to understand why I was enjoying the task and he wasn’t. He said, “I think your juicer is better than mine.” I said, “Let’s trade.” We traded juicers and continued with our work. After a little while, he said, “I think your lemons are better than mine.” I said, “Fine, let’s trade lemons.” So we traded boxes of lemons. After a few minutes, he said, “I think I have to go and do something else,” and he left.
The task was drudgery for him but not for me because my mind was absorbed in the task. When you work with concentration and absorption, activity becomes a kind of meditation. Then, when it’s time to meditate, your mind is already focused and interiorized.
5. Prioritize your daily activities.
To establish the right balance between your work and your spiritual life, it is very important to prioritize your daily activities. The first priority should be to meditate when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. Taking a calmer, more expanded consciousness into sleep will make your sleep more restful and uplifting. You should also build in blocks of time during the week and month for longer meditations. These daily meditations and periodic longer meditations should be your first priority. Having a schedule will make it easier to do.
Try not to read emails before you meditate. Checking emails before you meditate can ruin your meditation, especially if the email brings up a problem or includes some negativity. Meditation is the mind deeply focused on God or one of His aspects. You can’t think about emails and think about God at the same time.
Yogananda said that we should also leave time for reading, study, perhaps for writing in a journal, and for laughter and fun. It’s important to leave time for the right kind of relaxation: a walk in nature; an uplifting movie or book; uplifting and relaxing times with friends. For some people, finding hobbies that enable them to be alone and to relax deeply is also very important.
At the end of your work day, try not to take your work home with you. Consciously say a prayer: “Lord, I am done now with this day of service. I am withdrawing my mind and my involvement from it.”
Everybody is on the spiritual path.
One time, a disciple of Yogananda asked, “Master, will I ever leave the spiritual path?” Yogananda replied, “How can you leave the spiritual path? Everybody in the world is on the spiritual path.” The spiritual path is best described as an evolving or increasing awareness until we arrive at the point at which we actually perceive ourselves as part of the Divine.
From a July 13, 2011 webinar