"According to the Hindu scriptures, everyone and everything living and non-living, are journeying towards ultimate emancipation – ‘moksha’ - or self-realization. None of us can escape from that… some day there will come a time when the pendulum of the mind will come to a standstill and the mind, along with all its thoughts and emotions, will disappear – it has to happen". Swami Amritaswarupananda*
What does 'work' mean to you?
What does 'productivity' mean to you?
What does contributing to society mean to you?
Recently at the 'Better Way' conference for the World Council of Health, I spoke on 'turning the tanker of our consciousness inwards', and why this individual and collective act could be the 'missing piece' to solving humanity's problems.
For years... my whole life... I've been conditioned to think, and believe, that 'putting in a good day's work'... day after day after day... year after year... is the epitomy of living a worthy and productive life.
My ability to feel like a worthy human being has been built on this premise.
I think this unconscious conditioning began in school:
If you were like me, I spent hours and hours every day, 5 days a week, mostly in the classroom, and occasionally outside for sports, studying and learning.
It started at a early age, from pre-school and kindergarten, then junior and high school, and then university. Years and years of sitting in classrooms most of the day, focused on learning different subjects which were then regurgitated in exams.
And then I moved straight into work after leaving university (and even before that in part-time school holiday jobs and part-time university work), merging into a routine of 'work, sleep, play', as the 9-5 Monday-Friday (and sometimes 7 days a week) work routine took its hold.
And this is how it's been... for 55+ years. Believing that the most important thing to do with one's time is to be 'busy with work', until one 'retires'.
Many people believe this is what life is about - the work, sleep, play routine.
Can you relate?
But what if life was actually designed to be something different, or only partly this?
What if there was something more important than 'just work'?
What if we are actually meant to be giving something else greater attention, something which if we were to make it our number one priority, would not only transform ourselves, but humanity as a whole?
What is this something?
I was first introduced to the concept of 'inner work' when I embarked on my personal development journey in my late 20's.
It wasn't by choice, and I didn't see it that way at the time. I was just trying to deal with the debilitating depression I was experiencing at that time, and it seemed that counselling and self-reflection were needed.
To cut a long story short, after 10 years of deep-diving into a multitude of natural healing therapies and personal development courses, I found my way to my first real 'spiritual teacher' - Amma, the hugging saint.
Amma is known as a 'sat guru' - the guru of gurus* - a person with immense spiritual knowledge and realization. I didn't realize at the time what a profoundly transformative experience this was. I had my first experience of 'union within', but it didn't last long as I got back into my busy life.
Because after all, being busy is good, right?
How many times have people asked you 'are you keeping busy'? as if it's the emblem of success?
Just this morning a colleague said to me 'I'm as busy as a bee with a bum full of honey'.
But I digress...
After meeting Amma that first time, and being given a personal mantra to occupy my overly busy mind and help me move towards untion with the 'divine', I carried on with life.
Even though I had mostly healed myself from clinical depression and chronic fatigue (CFS), I still wasn't happy, and during another period of desperation, life led me to my next spiritual teacher - Paramahamsa Prajnanananda, current head of the Kriya Yoga Institute.
Kriya Yoga is more of a meditation-pranayama (breath control) technique than what one typically imagines as yoga, and first came to the attention of the world through Paramahansa Yogananda's book 'Autobiography of a Yogi'. It is a deeply authentic spiritual practice passed down in an unbroken lineage from time immemorial from one enlightened Kriya Yoga master to the next.
I remember in the book Yogananda repeating over and over again a message his teacher repeatedly told him: make your spiritual practice your number one priority. Make it the first and most important thing you do each day, and everything else follows after that. And practice at least 2 or 3 times a day.
I remember reading that, but not putting it into practice, because after all, my job and work were far more important, right?
By the time I left employment and became self-employed in 2006, the 9-5 office habit was so engrained that I found myself in my office from 9am until 4pm, these hours often extending out before and after this, into weekends too. Because after all, being busy and working was what I was meant to be doing, right?
This is what life is about, right?
I would fit my spiritual practices in when I could, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.
Some weeks I would succeed, with almost daily meditation practice, and then go for a few weeks with no practice at all. Somehow I would come back to my practices, but they were always something I fitted in around everything else - because 'work came first'.
I had also been learning and practicing Qigong since 2000, and was very disciplined and regular with some of the practices, but not all. In fact, some were downright impossible to do, with a massive resistance level that seemed off the charts.
But I continued to attend regular retreats and trainings, always leaving freshly reinvigorated with renewed resolve to practice daily... and over the next few months it would always peter out... until my resolve was renewed at the next live training.
Somewhere along the line I had an extraordinarily difficult decision to make - to continue with either Kriya Yoga or Qigong, because mixing methods is contra-indicated at a certain point in development and learning. It was the most excruciating decision and took a year to make. But finally the Ren Xue system of life cultivation won out.
And as I moved into my 50's, I started to contemplate 'how would it be if my spiritual practice was made a priority in my daily life - even THE most important priority'?
Yes, I know, this was not a new concept, but actually making it a reality was a new concept.
Rather than thinking that getting into the office first thing in the morning was THE most important thing to do in the day, what if prioritizing my meditation and qigong started to become at least an equal priority, or even THE priority task of the day?
Now, maybe for some of you seasoned meditators, this seems obvious, maybe even easy, but for me this was a drastic change in life outlook.
Could I justify it?
So I started to contemplate the possibility, but at this point only contemplate.
I still continued to fit my practice around my other committments... work, social, personal... feeling good when I did it regularly, beating myself up when I didn't.
But slowly slowly the message was getting through... getting stronger... getting repeated by different teachers with more wisdom than me... that the most important thing in life is to grow one's self-realization and wisdom, because this IS how humanity will solve its problems.
But could I do it? Could I do what Yogananda had been told repeatedly by his teacher Swami Sri Yukteswar? Could I do what Yuan Tze and other enlightened teachers keep telling us over and over again?
Could I commit to making my spiritual practices THE most important task of the day? Could this be my 'work'?
Slowly, slowly the possibility of doing this was becoming more of a reality.
IS becoming more of a reality. A decision. A choice.
And then recently, after having a conversation with a friend about the definition of 'work', I decided to re-define 'work'.
As my friend Donna said, work is everything you do in your life, every moment of the day, not just a 'job', whether you're employed by someone else or self-employed.
And so I gave myself permission to see my spiritual practice as my 'work' - the most important work of my life. And as such to prioritize it as THE most important activity of the day.
It's still early days, and I'm still disciplining myself to make it the most important tast of the day, but it's starting to happen.
And we shall see what happens as a result - what difference this makes in my life.
It's taken me over 20 years to come to this decision, but the older I get, the more relevant it seems.
As we know, the only thing we take with us when we die is our transformation and self-realization. Everything else is left behind.
What will you make your priority in life?
Is it time to turn the tanker of your consciousness inwards?
Is it time for us to listen to wise teachers who see the bigger picture of life and what humanity really needs?
It seems to me it's the sensible way - maybe the only way.
Turning a tanker around is no easy task.
Wishing you well with your spiritual journey!
We're all walking each other home.
*"According to the Hindu scriptures, everyone and everything living and non-living, are journeying towards ultimate emancipation – ‘moksha’ - or self-realization. None of us can escape from that… some day there will come a time when the pendulum of the mind will come to a standstill and the mind, along with all its thoughts and emotions, will disappear – it has to happen".
Swami Amritaswarupananda, Senior Disciple of Amma, 'Beyond the Pendulum' Satsang, May 2022
Learn to recognize and transform the patterns of consciousness which keep you trapped in suffering.
Parting comment on the current world situation"
* Guru - literally 'dispeller of darkness' - spiritual teacher