It is a constant complaint that we have to take on boring, distasteful, mechanical or otherwise unpleasant jobs in order to survive. Then we create a bifurcation in our minds between “work time” and “personal time” or “sadhana” (if we happen to be practicing any form of yoga). We thus spend a large portion of our lives having separated our lives into the duality of what we “have to do” to survive, versus what our real aspiration or calling is.

The Gita lets us know that any work, no matter its outer form, can become a field of sadhana and it is a matter of our inner alignment with our spiritual purpose that makes even the most mundane work into a spiritual practice. This is of course, an excellent practice, but particularly for someone beginning the process, it is difficult and in some cases a depressing situation.

There is another viewpoint that can sometimes aid the process. To the extent possible, the seeker should try to align his outer work with his inner aspiration. Works that further the sense of devotion, that increase the concentration, that create a wider viewpoint are those that uplift and enliven the seeker’s energy and thus, if they can be undertaken, whether wholly or partially as part of the individual’s work or service, they can actively contribute to the inner texture of consciousness and support the aspiration. Particularly in earlier stages, before the seeker attains the stage of being able to see every effort in every field as part of the sadhana on an active and real basis, this can provide encouragement and support. Even if part of the time is spent in ‘earning a living’, the rest of the day can be balanced with activities that awaken the spiritual ardour.

Sri Aurobindo states: “If a division of works has to be made, it is between those that are nearest to the heart of the sacred flame and those that are least touched or illumined by it because they are more at a distance, or between the fuel that burns strongly or brightly and the logs that if too thickly heaped on the altar may impede the ardour of the fire by their damp, heavy and diffused abundance.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga)

A disciple asks about this statement: “Psychologically, to what does this division correspond in our life?”

The Mother responds: “I suppose it is different for each one. So each one must find those activities which increase his aspiration, his consciousness, his deeper knowledge of things, and those which, on the contrary, mechanise him and bring him back more thoroughly into a purely material relation with things. … It is difficult to make a general rule.”

The disciple follows up: “That means that everything ought to be done exactly, as an offering?”

The Mother continues: “Truly speaking, it depends more on the way of doing a thing than on the thing itself. … You take up some work which is quite material, like cleaning the floor or dusting a room; well, it seems to me that this work can lead to a very deep consciousness if it is done with a certain feeling for perfection and progress; while other work considered of a higher kind as, for example, studies or literary and artistic work, if done with the idea of seeking fame or for the satisfaction of one’s vanity or for some material gain, will not help you to progress. So this is already a kind of classification which depends more on the inner attitude than on the outer fact. But this classification can be applied to everything.”

“Of course, there is a kind of work which is done only for purely pecuniary and personal reasons, like the one — whatever it may be — which is done to earn a living. That attitude is exactly the one Sri Aurobindo compares with the damp logs of wood which are heaped so thick the flame cannot leap up. it has something dark and heavily dull about it.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pp. 97-98

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.