We are all doing some work, isn’t it?. From the time we wake up to the time we sleep, we are doing some kind of work. It can be as simple as brushing our teeth or cooking our food to as complex as designing a rocket or performing a heart transplant.
To do any kind of work, we need a certain knowledge and a certain skill. By applying our knowledge and skills in our work, we generate some outcomes. These outcome can be measured for quantity and tested for quality based on the parameters we have agreed upon. Without this measurement, we will not know when the work is completed or when more work is required. This is the case whether the work is as simple as combing our hair or as challenging as flying a fighter jet.
THE OUTER WORK
We are trained in schools and colleges to acquire this knowledge and then as we do something repeatedly, we learn the skills that are needed to do our work. Over a period of time, we gain experience to be able to work more efficiently and effectively. By doing work, we earn money and with money we buy the things we desire.
In a nutshell this is the typical story of all human beings. Whenever we meet someone new, we ask him – what do you do? Essentially we are asking what work do you do to earn your living or what work do you do to make money? Anybody who does not have to do any work is either filthy rich or a vagabond. Most people have to work. Even the economy is measured by its ability to create work opportunities for people.
As we understand what work needs to be done and what work opportunities are there, we lose no time in automating it or making a process of it. So we have millions of schools teaching the same subjects, colleges teaching engineering, medicine, commerce and so on. Learning on the job involves doing the same thing repeatedly, just like learning in school involved writing and verbalizing concepts repeatedly. They even took an exam to check how much we retained through the process of repetition. At work, we are rewarded for doing the same task consistently. So the emphasis is on repetition and following a pattern.
If one observes closely, most people follow some regular pattern and adopt a rigid set of trusted habits to help them succeed in their work. Once this pattern is adopted, then people conveniently stop thinking – why fix something which is not broken? People stop thinking to such an extent that they do not realize what they are doing. And then they complain that life is sad, unjust, dull and boring.
Because of the work patterns we have created, we have lost the ability to inquire and to think on our own. We have become masters at learning a repetitive pattern but we have lost the ability to question the pattern we are following and the ability to work from first principles.
In the pursuit of external work, we have forgotten to do inner work. We all have brains. The brain is considered to be the most complex instrument in the whole universe. Yet all we do with our brains is to train it to follow certain patterns of thinking, which ultimately drives our external work patterns.
The challenge with this is that we do not know what is happening in our brains much less anyone else’s brain. There are thoughts and feelings, emotions and intuitions but we do not have any control on them. They all happen in a random manner, depending on how the information was recorded in the brain during our school days or college days or past experience in working on the job.
Most people take this as a given – something that cannot be changed. They resign themselves to the situation by saying – I am like that. Despite the fact that the external world is constantly putting their pattern under stress, people simply think they must try harder to succeed.
It is not our fault because we have no clue about this power of our own mind to change our own pattern. Nobody throughout school and college told us about our own ability for independent thinking and inquiry. We were only told to repeat and become better at a certain pattern because the pattern would help us earn money to survive.
THE INNER WORK
The ability to inquire and seek to understand the nature of our mind and how it works is what is called as inner work. It has to be done by oneself. One comes to see this fact only after something external breaks the regular comfortable pattern and when one realizes that even when the pattern has broken, one is not, so there must be something other than the pattern which has the power to regenerate.
Inner work has the potential to transform our way of looking at the world, the way we do our external work and our understanding of ourselves.
Consider a film actor. We see him or her acting out an external role, saying some dialogues and performing some actions. But that is only the external manifestation of the inner work that the actor does on the character he or she is acting. The depth and the quality of the inner work of the actor will determine the quality of the outer performance.
THE NATURE OF INNER WORK
Inner work begins by starting to pay attention. The ability to pay attention to what we are doing needs to be learnt. All further inner work is based on developing this ability. Just like we wobbled when we took our first steps as a child learning to walk and we blabbered when we tried to learn to speak as a child, we will face teething troubles while learning to pay attention. It is really a tragedy of humanity that we are not taught early enough the importance of the faculty of attention. And a real pity that most people live their whole lives without even knowing about this.
When we start to pay attention to what we are doing, we immediately lose it because something in our external circumstances draws us out and we get immersed in the event. Maybe after the event, we realize that we forgot about paying attention. So when we start inner work, it is like this. Gradually we need to work more.
If you are thinking – what are the benefits of doing this inner work – then realize that the whole notion of benefits is a pattern we have grown up with. We are trained to look for benefits in everything we do, otherwise we don’t do anything. When we are free of this pattern, we will be able to be free in the real sense to do what we want and to live the way we want, to be happy in what we do and who we are.
Everything real starts with attention. All else is unreal.