Baba Muktananda teaches:
When you do your work, do it with the Self in mind.1
In this concise statement, Baba ties the most practical everyday activity—work—with the most sublime, exalted reality—the Self. In doing so, he guides us to access our essential nature as we engage in our daily tasks. Yes, right now, today, in what you are already doing, you can experience your highest spiritual aspirations. How is this possible?
To give you ways to contemplate and apply Baba’s teaching, I will draw out three primary words to explore: “work,” “mind,” and “Self.”
Looking at the Three Terms
A Sanskrit word for work is कर्मन् (karman), which also has the meanings “activity, duty, job, occupation, obligation, responsibility, task.” Additionally, it can be translated as “what ought to be done.” As we reflect on these words associated with karman, perhaps what first comes to mind is our vocation or our various roles in life—for example, manager, teacher, parent, or student. In a broader sense, work can also be any task we do to fulfill our various responsibilities. We must attend to the necessities of life—not only to earn money, but also to clean our homes, shop for food, care for our family, contribute to our community, and so on. Given that work fills so many hours of our days, how can we pursue the goal of sādhanā while engaged in this very work? Baba answers this question, teaching us to do our work “with the Self in mind.”
The mind can be understood and defined in myriad ways. In Sanskrit, a word for mind is मनस् (manas), which can also mean “cognition, imagination, conscience, intelligence, understanding, thought, reflection, intention, inclination, mood, heart.” From this we can gather that our mind is the instrument of intelligence and understanding. One way of keeping the Self “in mind” in relation to work is by using the intelligence and power of the mind to harness our energies, align our thoughts with the wisdom of the Self, and choose beneficial thoughts and actions based on that wisdom.
Through our spiritual practices, we strengthen our ability to choose what we think about, what we “keep in mind.” We study the nature of the mind; we befriend and focus our mind so it comes to rest more and more in the Self. As a result, we learn that where we place our mind, moment to moment, directly affects the quality of our actions and the results of our work. Given all this, we can appreciate the significance of keeping the Self in mind as we do our work. Just as we might lovingly hold a friend or family member in mind as we cook a meal for them or pick out a gift for them, we can approach our daily tasks with the thought of honoring the Self. With each action we can hold the Self in mind as the goal of all we do, and remember, “I dedicate this action to the Self.”
A Sanskrit word for the Self is आत्मन् (ātman), meaning literally “that which breathes and which is all-pervasive.” It is the supreme soul, the unifying principle of life, our essential nature. The Self is the universal energy, which is constantly pulsating within and around us in all things. Baba teaches that the Self is the goal of sādhanā. When we keep the Self in mind while we perform actions, we practice being fully present in each moment, we listen for the quiet voice of clarity and wisdom, and we choose the most beneficial response. This may take the form of comforting another, providing a creative solution, or taking action to produce something that is needed. Our work—“what ought to be done”—becomes a vehicle through which we can realize our life purpose and fulfill our unique dharma.
Applying Baba’s Words
How then in a practical sense can you keep the Self in mind while doing your work? Let me describe how I put Baba’s teaching into practice in the work I do. A significant aspect of my work is developing written materials and workshops. I do this work in my home office. There are several simple actions inspired by the Siddha Yoga teachings that I’ve integrated into how I approach my work that support me to keep the Self in mind.
- At the start of my day or when beginning a new project, I often take a moment to chant mantras in front of my pūjā, and offer my intention that my work be infused with the wisdom of the Self.
- I generally take a few minutes to prepare my workplace, review my agenda, and prioritize my tasks. All this supports a sense of clarity and purpose—qualities of the Self.
- Throughout the day, I pause to support the energy flow in my body—I lean back, notice the sensation of my body in the chair, and feel the contact of my feet with the floor. With this shift in my physical posture, my breath releases and I reconnect with the spacious perspective of the Self.
- At times, I’ll step away from my desk and spend a few moments in nature, whether by taking a walk around the neighborhood or just by stepping outside my front door to feel the sun and breathe fresh air.
- When I’m writing, I sometimes just sit quietly to be receptive to the insights and knowledge that arise from within.
- Finally, I often picture who I am writing for or working with, remembering the Self within that person and considering how my work can support them to access and bring forth the attributes of the Self.
These methods for keeping the Self in mind have a deeply beneficial impact on my work. At the same time, they are not always easy to practice—I can get caught up in the elation of being productive, discouragement in the face of obstacles, or attachment to desired results. So, it is a continuous effort to be aware, persistent, and compassionate with myself as I discover how to keep the Self in mind while I work. And the fruit of this effort is so sweet. When reflecting at the end of the day or debriefing a completed project, I take note of ways I’ve experienced the Self—a sense of tranquility, the delight of enthusiasm, a surge of inspiration, the blessing of compassion, or the conviction to act with courage. With the Self in mind, work transforms into a sublime spiritual practice.
Baba’s teaching is:
When you do your work, do it with the Self in mind.
Take a moment to imagine Baba speaking these words directly to you.
What might it look like for you to apply Baba’s teaching?
Identify a specific task you do and consider how you could perform that task with the Self in mind.
Picture the benefits of this practice for you, for those around you, and for your world.