Reflections on being distracted by work

~ Sanjay Tumati

I keep in touch with a few of my friends who I feel possess qualities that I would like to inculcate in my life. One of these friends is strong in his Christian faith. In a conversation to understand what a monk does to understand the spirit of doing. He said:

Monasteries are obligated to be as self-sufficient as possible for the basic necessitates. The spirit of which extends to the individual monks. They farm but they are not farmers. They makes clothes but they are not tailors. They herd but they are not herders. They may even write computer programs and debug and test them, but they are not programmers. They are spiritual scholars that happen to work with their own hands to support their vocation as monks, but they must not be distracted by the work itself.

This comment struck me very close to home because of the similarities with what we are doing in C3StreamLand. At C3Streamland, we too are self-sufficient, not only for our basic necessities but also to support a whole host of activities such as employment (we provide it), education (we provide it free of cost), Vipassana at Auroville (group sits/short courses, 10-day courses), Seminars for growth (RTL workshops), support other principled and ethical actors (Thamarai, RTLWorks, SAIIER). Indeed in this respect, perhaps, we go further than a monastery does.

Now comes to the point of being distracted by work and activity. We work for a commercial concern in Bangalore as a means to support ourselves, as well as fund our activities and the larger community in Auroville. In addition, each one of us in involved in some teaching activity or the other, be it an activity or formal classes. Further, each one us also has an accountability with regards to maintaining the Organisation as a whole ŗ Finances (school, C3streamland), Maintenance (Internet, facilities, power) etc. Furthermore, most of us are also supporting others in their growth (organising Vipassana activities, organising RTL workshops and supporting them as PCs). 

Apart from generating a livelihood and supporting others, work and being busy with wholesome tasks is a wonderful tool to prevent me from falling into lower mental states that for me a chiefly characterized by sloth, addiction to useless information and trivia (which the internet has an unending supply of), time wasting conversations, mental brooding and so on and so forth.

The benefits of having an engaged mind during all waking hours have been spoken of by Great Men and Women down the ages. As my friend never tires of reminding me, Jesus was a fine Carpenter with a very strong work ethic. Buddha himself did not believe such a thing as R&R (rest and relaxation) since the impurities never rested, so why should purity?  Closer to time, GoenkaJi would keep busy peeling potatoes if there was nothing else to do and his wife, Mataji herself was never found idle when awake, her favourite go to activity being knitting sweaters. Mataji used to mention the importance of having a mind engaged in a wholesome (or at least not-unwholesome) pursuit at all times.

So much for the benefits of an engaged mind. Now I come to my friendsí admonition. There is a very real possibility and danger that I am getting distracted from my larger purpose in life in the rush to keep delivering on my livelihood and my support activities. There is the danger that I become so distracted by my Job performance and my various support roles, in meeting the delivery schedules and my social commitments that I forget what I really want from life in terms of my inner life. How do I forget what I really care about at a deep level? When I notice that my thoughts are mostly about what needs to be done next and what needs to be done today, when I notice that my Vipassana practice has become mechanical, when I notice that I am too tired at night time to care about any of the higher things in life that I claim to care about in daytime, when I notice that I am too tired to desire the higher mental planes that a human can access and that I wish to access.

Now that I notice it what will I do? I donít know. For one, I have become aware of it, so that is a good thing. The next is to reflect. Clearly I am not overworked. Itís just that I am overwhelmed. I am building tension during the course of my day that leaves me detached from the higher mental planes as the daylight concludes. I no longer feel attracted to the lower mental planes during the nights as I used to, so thatís reason to rejoice. But the goal now is to cultivate the sort of mind that feels attracted to the higher mental states even as the day progresses right until the time comes for slumber.