Work would be a lot more pleasant if it were seen as an opportunity for self-expression and growth, as a kind of meditation in action. One branch of yoga, called karma yoga, is described as “action without any desire for the fruits of the action.” How different this is from the typical modern job so often fraught with boredom, clock watching, office politics, and tension between workers and management.
Here is a revealing question: if you did not have to work for economic reasons, would you continue in your present job? Would you continue to work at all? If the answer is “no” to the first question, there is something wrong with your job. If it is “no” to both, then more probably your attitude toward work is the problem.
Work is better seen in terms of what we can give to it rather than what we get from it, in terms of personal growth rather than personal reward. Some years ago at Ananda we were rebuilding houses that had been burnt in the devastating forest fire. Everyone was pitching in, and consequently we had people on the carpentry crews who could be described, charitably, as less than qualified.
One day as we broke for lunch, the crew was discouraged because we were actually further behind than when we started the day. The head carpenter on the project gave us all encouragement and a chuckle by saying, “Well, let’s remember, we’re not building houses. We’re building character.”
In addition to improving our attitudes, the techniques we’ve learned for meditation can be carried over into the workplace. In fact, the three stages of meditation — relaxation, concentration, and expansion — can also be applied to the workplace. The same techniques that we use to relax before meditating can be applied, in a modified form, while at work.
Good posture, deep breathing, and gentle stretching will help you stay physically relaxed. Pausing for a few moments to close your eyes and watch the breath will immediately get you centered and concentrated again. When circumstances permit, a short meditation at lunchtime can be enormously helpful. Staying centered will help you be expansive and creative in your work, making work a way to grow, rather than a boring necessity.
People make a mistake when they try to separate their experience at work from their spiritual aspirations. A much more integrated life can be ours if we try to infuse our day-to-day activities with the same consciousness we gain from meditation. The law of karma says that life reflects back to us the same attitudes and qualities that we express.
Love others, and life will give you abundant love in return. To have friends, be a friend. The best way to find fulfillment from your work is not to worry about what you are getting, but rather what you are giving. And, the fastest path to self-fulfillment is to entirely forget about yourself and to see that you are part of a beautiful and vast web of life.