Question: What is Work-Life Integration?
Speaker: What is work? What do we mean when we say, ‘work’?
Listener 1: Work is any activity, a job, a responsibility or a duty.
Speaker: Someone said, “Anything that we do.” And you want me to speak on Work-Life Integration. So does it mean the integration of anything that we do, with life? When you say, ‘Work-Life Integration’, what is the sense in which you use this word ‘work’ here?
Listener 1: Professional life.
Speaker: What you mean by ‘professional life’? The moment you put the word ‘professional’ before life, it simply means that there are lives of more than one kind, of which a particular kind of life is ‘professional’. What do you mean by ‘profession’?
Listener 2: Regular day- to-day work done for earning money.
Speaker: So, it is, ‘work done for earning’. What else is meant by profession?
Listener 2: It can be something that you like to do, it can be the skills obtained.
Speaker: And how do these skills help you?
Listener 3: To excel in that work area.
Speaker: And what does this excellence give you?
Listener 3: Success, satisfaction.
Speaker: So whichever way you look at it, you are saying that when we are talking of work-life integration, we require professional work. And when we talk of professional work, we mean to say that it is work that is being done for something; for success, for satisfaction, for livelihood. For what else?
Listener 3: For status, respect, society, family.
Speaker: And for duty, responsibility. So that is what professional life is all about. Something done for livelihood, for getting what you call as your success, your dreams, your aspirations, for status, for respectability. That is what you call as ‘professional work’. Now let us look at it very closely. So if that is what professional work is then it is done for reaching an end.
So this professional work is nothing but a means to an end. The end lies somewhere else, end lies in your salary cheque, the brand that you can identify yourself with. The end lies in the status and respect that it gives you, the end lies in being able to meet your responsibilities. Now, by definition if this is what work is, just a means, then your end always lie in the future. So you work today for a goal that lies in the future. Future can range from few hours to few years to entire lifetime or whatever, but the end lies in the future. Where does life lie?
Listener 4: In the present.
Speaker: In the present. Let all of us try to take some breaths in the future. Where does life lie? Life is right now, life is as I am speaking and you are listening. You have created a huge rift, something which cannot actually be bridged. You are working for reaching an end which is in the future and life is, ‘here and now’. And that is precisely the reason why there is need of asking this question about work-life integration. Otherwise, do you talk of integrating eating and life? Do you talk of integrating walking and life? Do you talk of integrating sleeping and life? Do you talk of integrating loving and life? You do not talk of integrating them because they are life. Hence any talk of integration with life would be stupid, because that is life.
Any talk of integration assumes that there already is separation. Unless there is separation, there is no question of integration. Now what is it that we are doing? Firstly we are creating a disorderly situation in which we are divorcing, separating work from life. We are creating a situation in which life is today but our aspirations, the ends are in the distant future. And because of the pain that it gives us, because of the conflict that arises in our mind, we hold on to a nice phrase like ‘work-life integration’ and hop around thinking how to achieve it. My question to you is: why do you separate work and life at the first place? What compelled you to make work into an entity that must have an end in the future?’
You see, when you walk, does it have an end in the future? If you are listening attentively to me in this moment, does the end lie in the future or are you sufficient in this moment? How many of you even as you are listening to me, are in the future? In what ways will this discussion help you in future? How many of you are thinking about that? And if you are thinking about that, then how you can listen to me? And the one who is really listening will justify that when you are really listening, when you are really into what is happening, then you could not be thinking of the future, and this is work.
Anybody here who disagrees that listening attentively to what I am saying is not work? If this is not work then attending any of your corporate meetings too can’t be work because there also you do the same, you listen and then you speak. You interact, and here too we are having an interactive discussion. As you nod, you are interacting with me. I am doing the most of the talking but you are also an active participant. In your listening you are active. So, this is work. Do you have an end in the future as you listen to me? Not when you are distracted, not when your mind is wandering. When you are actually listening, are you roaming around in the future? In the moment when you are deeply into it, is future there at all? Is the thought of future there at all? It is not. It cannot be. You can either be here or you can be calculating how this will enrich your future. You can’t simultaneously be at two places; this is the law of mind.
When you sleep, you don’t sleep in order to enrich your future. Well there may be some deprived souls who may be very calculative in that also, but a normal sane human being does not sleep to enrich his future. You walk, you breathe, you see a tree, you talk, you love somebody. Do you do all this keeping an eye on the future? You don’t do that. So, there is no question of love-life integration. Well I understand, we are living in times where even that may become a necessity. But at least presently it is not so common, you are able to look at it. Do you see where I am coming from and what I am pointing out at?
Listener 4: Sir, I have a doubt. We measure time in seconds, minutes, months and years. So everything is either in past or future. As I speak to you, my last statements have become my past. So how can we measure the present? What is present then?
Speaker: It is a mistake to think that present can be measured on the scale of time. You will always be deceived if you will try to capture the present as some kind of a nanosecond or something. If you do that then what exactly will happen is that what you will say, ‘right now’, that nanosecond will become the past. Till the time you call it ‘the present’, it becomes the past. You are trying to look at the present through the medium of thought; you are trying to think about the present. And what did I just say? You can either be in the present or you would be thinking. Thinking about the present will take you away from the present, and that is your dilemma.
The moment who try to capture the present, it slips away. What is your way of capturing? Thought. Thought is the medium through which you capture the present and it will slip away. The present can only be passed through, can only be experienced, and that is in attention, not in thought. Any thought about the present, you may even deceive yourself thinking that you’re in the present, but that is deception.
Listener 5: Several people have said that we need to worry about our future. If I worry about the future, how can I enjoy my present? Should I imagine it?
Speaker: The moment you think about the present, there is no present. Thought itself is either in the past or in the future. So, till the time you have an obsession with the thought, present will always remain a thought. Thought is an imagination, not a reality. You are trying to come to the present as if you are somewhere else, by using thought, and that will not lead you anywhere. So don’t think about it, be it. And it’s not difficult. I have been speaking for the last five minutes and several of you would have experienced some moments when you were not thinking about the future, not even thinking that you are in the present.
The problem with us is that our education has conditioned us into believing that ‘we are what we think’. So thought has become very important to us. We do not understand thought; we do not understand what this thing called ‘thought’ is. But we latch into thinking so much so that we don’t exist. Our entire existence is just a thought in our mind. We are just an imagination that we hold on about ourselves and that is courtesy our education and upbringing.
So, ‘I think I am this, I think I am that, I think I am an Indian, I think I am a PGDM student, I think I am confident, I think I am insecure and behind all of this thinking what I may really be, I have no understanding of that.’ So, when it comes to reality, and this present moment is the reality, what do we try to do? We think about the reality. But reality can’t be captured through the medium of thought. Now, what happens when work becomes only a means to an end that lies in the future? I take up a job, it seems to pay a fat pay-cheque. I hold nothing against fat pay-cheques, nothing at all. But there is something very much against the mind, and the mind is very easily deceived by them. That mind needs to be enquired. Now which date of the day do we get our pay cheque? Say first, seventh or thirtieth day of the month. And how many days are there in the month?
Listener 2: Thirty days.
Speaker: I get my pay cheque on thirtieth, so that is the end I am targeting. We are getting my salary on one particular day and how many days are we living?
Listener 3: Thirty days.
Speaker: All thirty days. Now, what will be the quality of this living? You see, you have declared that the real thing is there in the future. ‘I am working for the sake of respectability, status and money, so the real growth lies somewhere there and then this moment is nothing. I have already declared that where I am and what I am doing is nothing, the dream world that I am targeting lies there in the future. I am working for the sake of status and respectability, money, career, growth, ambition, so the real thing lies somewhere there. And where am I living? Today and here, right now and here.’
‘If the real thing is there, then by implication this is…? If the real thing is then and there, then by implication this is…? This is nothing. I have already declared that where I am and what I am doing is nothing, is of no value, because the dream world that I am targeting lies there in the future, this is just a means to an end, so obviously this cannot be important. There is more primacy associated with what I am doing and where I am and when I am in the future.’ How would life be then? How would life be?
How many of you have spent time waiting for a train or a plane hours together? So they declare that the train is three hours late, then they declare that it is six hours late. How many of you have found those moments of waiting really joyful and you have danced around in excitement?
Listener 5: Actually sometimes this negativity can be positive. Once, me and my friend waited for he train for two hours. But I really enjoyed spending those two hours with my friend.
Speaker: Then the end does not lie in the train, then the end lie in the companionship. So we cannot distort the example. Now the target itself has changed from train to companionship.
We all know that these moments of waiting are irritating frustrating and full of boredom. Anybody who places his targets in future is bound to live an irritated, frustrated and boring life. Those are first ones to often wonder that why their lives so devoid of energy, so sacked of vigor. Why are they never able to give their entire being to anything? Why do they often we feel distracted and irritated? All this is because you may be living a life that is targeted to the future. Because when future is the target then the present is bound to become boring and dull, and then you talk of all life integration. Otherwise, you don’t need to talk of things like these. So you create this grave separation because you have been taught to be desirous, ambitious and to run after dreams. And there are holy people who tell you that unless you have materialized your dream, you have done nothing. But then you know that all dreams are to reach somewhere there. There is no dream for right now. All dreams are for that place, reaching somewhere there. Now there is a great problem.
When you want to reach there, then this is just a means to an end. Unfortunately you have to live here, that there is a moving target that is never reached, that always remain as distant as it was in the beginning. You keep on living in this moment and you keep on making it dull, lifeless and loveless because you are targeting that. There is another thing about this thing called ‘ends’. Pay attention to it.
I understand that some of it may not be going too well with many of you because you have worked hard for, at least a little bit, you invested yourself into preparing yourself for materializing your dreams, and just as you are coming close to entering what you call the corporate world and materializing your dream, there is someone who is telling that these dreams exactly are your bane, these dreams will destroy you. And I am not talking about any particular dream, any kind of dream. I am not talking about a materialistic dream, as opposed to a spiritual dream, as opposed to a family dream, as opposed to a collective or a social dream. I am talking about any dream, dream of any nature. Do we understand dreams? What is this stuff called dreams, ambitions, targets, goals purpose, whatever you call it, all words of same family? Do we understand where do they come from? Where do dreams come from? Tell me. Where do dreams come from?
Listeners(everyone): Desires, expectations, past, future, surroundings, mind.
Speaker: Alright. Surroundings, past, it can come from your surroundings but it is not coming to you right now. It did come from your surroundings sometime in the past. Mind you, you never dream about anything new. Most of us are fond of thinking that we are creating a new, glorious future for ourselves. That’s what we like to think, that I am going to create my own future, a brand new, glorious future. Unfortunately the future that comes out of our thoughts and planning and ambition can never be new, it will just be a dull repetition of the past, because all your dreams come from your past. You can never dream of something that you have not had an experience of.
All your dreams come from what is classically called as ‘your conditioning.’ Your dreams are never yours. We all are conditioned into dreaming. Man of a particular religion dreams in a particular way. Woman dreams in a particular way, man dreams in a particular way. One man in one situation dreams in a particular way, another man in another situation dreams in other particular way. It is just because of the way you have been brought up, just because of all the experiences that your past has loaded you with and we call these as ‘our dreams’, that these are ‘my dreams’. So two things:
One- dreams are never ‘new’. Second- dreams are never ‘mine’.
It is a fatal mistake to assume that dreams are ours. To identify ourselves with the dreams is a great mistake. It costs us our lives. It really costs us our lives. So first, all dreams come from outside. Second, all dreams come from the past.
We give ourselves so completely to these dreams and then we wonder why there is such great fragmentation and division in my life and this fragmentation causes great conflict and chaos. There are so many small fragments and they crash with each other. And then we are so utterly divided, we are so utterly divided that we cry for integration. Before we cry out for integration, why can’t we just enquire that where did this fragmentation come from? Where did this division, this separation come from? We create this separation. There is no need for life-integration. A healthy human being does not need that, its only when you are sick then you require this kind of medicine. Why to get sick in the first place? You still have a chance, redeem yourself. Why are you so eager to enter sickness? It is your one life. Why are you so eager to firstly get sick and then ask for a cure?
Listener 4: Sir, are you saying that setting goals is the reason behind this whole conflict or chaos?
Speaker: What I am saying is that go and find out where do your goals come from.
Listener 5: I want to give example from my own life.
Speaker: Giving your own example is such a dangerous thing, because you are so close to yourself that you can’t look at yourself. What is the goal of terrorist? To kill people. Where does his goal come from?
Listener 5: Circumstances.
Speaker: There are people who have conditioned him. It is very easy for all of us to see that he has been conditioned for thinking in a particular way, but it is very difficult for us to directly recognize that all of us have been conditioned into thinking in a particular way. It is just that we have created a society which has proclaimed that one kind of thinking is antisocial, so when you think in one particular way you are labeled a criminal but when you think in another way you are not labeled as a criminal. The fact is still the same.
Any kind of thinking comes from your situations, it is not yours, not at all yours. We are all influenced in that sense. We are all living life that is dictated by somebody else. The terrorist was living a life that was given to him by his jihaadi masters, and we are living life that has been given to us by our parents, society, relatives. What is the difference? There was no understanding in the terrorist’s life and there is no understanding in our life either. He too had goal and his goal was as clear to him as yours is to you. Try to find out whether there is any difference. Is there really any difference?
You know there is this camera which has no intelligence of its own. It can record a beautiful natural scene and it can also record a horrific murder taking place. You can see what I am saying. Will you punish the camera? Your mind may has been filled by one kind of stuff by media corporations, education, all the case studies that you have read, parents, society, peer groups, your mind is filled with one kind of stuff. Somebody else’s mind is filled with another kind of stuff. It is just that the content on the hard disk is different, but we are as unintelligent as any other fellow. One particular hard disk is loaded with Einstein’s features and another hard disk is loaded with some stupidity of some kind. Does that make one hard disk superior to the other one? Does that make one hard disk superior to the other one? None of them have anything of their own. None of them have anything of their own and they are going to spend their work life in this fashion. What are we up to? What are we doing to ourselves? It is your life that I am talking about.
See, what I am saying will be pretty much useless for most of us because most of us are so cruel to ourselves that we don’t mind slaughtering ourselves anywhere. That is the situation of ninety-five percent of the mankind. So you may say anything, I may say anything but it won’t matter to them, because they have developed a deep insensitivity towards themselves. Only if we have tremendous self-love, only if we really care and bother about ourselves, then only what I am saying will make sense.
Most of us have no feeling towards ourselves. We live our life as if it is somebody else’s life, and actually it is somebody else’s life, because it has hardly anything of ‘mine’ in this. So my words are bound to fall in deaf ears. But if we care for ourselves even a little, if we see that this is one single precious life that we have and this is the prime of that life, how can it be wasted, if we see that, then we would want to go into it, then we would want to enquire. But we have been trained into living a life of cruelty.
Listener 7: Sir, I am really in dilemma. I am not able to understand. Suppose I want to eat something and for that I need to have money. Until and unless I have money, nobody is going to give me food. And there are thousands and millions of people who are living like this. If I want to wear something to cover my body, I need to have money. And If I need to have money, I need to work. How would I do all this?
Speaker: How much do you eat?
Listener 7: It depends on what I am eating
Speaker: Whatsoever you are eating, how much maximum can you eat?
Listener 7: A quantity that can satisfy my hunger.
Speaker: Let us look at it directly. Whatsoever you are eating, how much can you eat? 2,000 kg? There is always a limit to it. How much can you wear either? So we know that there is a limit. You see, you are presently in campus. I suppose many of you are hostlers. I too had been a resident of hostel both during under graduation and post graduation. My hostel expenses when I was doing B.tech. in IIT were not more than rupees three-four thousand, and that is fifteen-sixteen years back. Same was the case with my batch mates, and that included the hostel fees as well the mess fee. And we were so happy, none of us complained of shortage of funds. Not at all. The same fellow who is happy in rupees three thousand a month would me cribbing and sobbing his heart out that I am earning only rupees fifteen thousand. That fifteen was an alright sum in those days. What has happened now? Tell me. He was very happy in five thousand rupees, and now even fifteen thousand do not satisfy him. Has he started eating three times the stuff ?
Listener 7: But there will be more responsibilities.
Speaker: Wait, wait. Don’t jump that far. First see into this that you don’t want to earn only for the sake of eating and wearing. Get over this notion. For eating and wearing you need only this much and that is very easily available, without selling yourself anywhere. All that you demand, those loads of money that you dream of, you don’t dream of them because you want to have one square meal, or because you want to wear nicely. You can eat nicely and you can wear nicely even without doing all those things that people do in the offices. You require money for something else, you require money for something else. Go into it honestly that why do you require so much of money. Go into it that why do really you require so much of money. I tell you why. Let us say you earn fifty thousand cash in hand amount. Most of you will be quite happy, more than happy if this is the post-tax amount that you will get into your balance. Right? Of that you will spend only twenty-thousand, and I am sure that even today twenty-thousand is enough to meet the monthly expenses of most of you. Is it true?
Speaker: Most of you will be using money within that limit, well within that limit. So you earn fifty-thousand, you spend twenty-thousand. Now what do you do with that thirty-thousand?
Speaker: And what is this saving for?
Speaker: And what do you want to do with it in the future? You imagine that you will be going to do something with it in the future. Now is this thirty-thousand saving coming to you for free? When are you paying the price for this thirty thousand? Today. And when do you imagine that you will reap the benefits?
Speaker: Future. Now there is a problem. But what will you do? You have been told to sacrifice the present for the sake of tomorrow. That’s what all middle-class people do. Sacrifice today for the sake of tomorrow. And nobody told us this simple thing that tomorrow grows from today. And this today has already been sacrificed?
A healthy tomorrow cannot come if you take a rotten seed. Can a healthy tree come out from it? What is the seed? The present. And what is the tree? The future. And what is our grand hope? That by compromising on the seed, we will get a healthy future. You must ask me that how are we compromising on the seed. In the same way when you are listening to me and you are also thinking of the future. The moment you start setting a goal, the moment you start living a target-driven life, you have already compromised the present, because any thought of future takes you away from the present. So what are we doing in our great wisdom? We are destroying the seed and dreaming that the tree would be wonderful. We are killing the seed and dreaming that the tree would be wonderful.
Is that the way life works? Can this give you any joy? On the other hand, if I just take care of the seed because I really, really bother about it, because I am in love with the seed, because I am in love with the present, I am immersed in the present, will not a nice, healthy plant naturally grow out of it? Even without my asking, even without my demanding. Are you getting it?
Do I really need to set a goal and work towards it? Do I really need to set a goal and work towards it? But this goes against all you have heard so far. All you have known is to set a goal and then chase it like a madman. I am asking you that even if you forget about the tree and just take care of the seed, will the tree not naturally spring out of it. The tree may not be as per your wish, it will be a pleasant surprise, but the tree would nevertheless spring out of the seed. You don’t need to plan for it. Are you getting it ?
Listener 5: Sir, there are two kinds of people who get failed in life. First, those who do a lot but don’t even think for a second of future. Second, who think a lot about future but don’t do anything in present.
Speaker: What do you mean by failure?
Listener 5: Failure means that I have planted a seed in a field but I have not considered that after few days the PWD department can build a road on it and then there would be no future of my seed.
Speaker: No. Wait. There is difference between dreaming and projecting. There is a great difference between dreaming and projecting. With a dream is associated a desire and with a projection is associated the intelligence of looking into the future. ‘I am not desiring, I am just projecting, just like a weather forecast.’ There is no desire associated with it. And that is the function of intelligence. There is no desire in that.
Excerpted from a ‘Shabd-Yog’ session. Edited for clarity.
Watch the session video: Work-Life Integration -1 || Acharya Prashant (2012)
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