The Biggest Challenge: Ordinary Life
The following article was written around 2002 for The German Osho Times. Later, in 2013, it was also published by Viha Connection Magazine in California.
It has been a passion of mine to teach how to be aware in ordinary life. And I tell you, it is the biggest challenge I have faced so far in all my years of group-leading. There is so much richness in the detail of what we do every day. You could stop almost every moment and say, “Look at this!” or “Did you see that?” The moments of “this” and “that” go by incredibly fast, and there are so many of them. I think that’s why we have all stopped being aware—because the amount of events is overwhelming!
Take eating, for example. When we pay just normal attention to eating, we think of a meal as one event. It starts when the food comes on the plate and it finishes when the plate is empty. In the moment of finishing we feel satisfied.
But if you look closer, inside that larger event there are many smaller ones, each with its own beginning and ending. There is a beginning when the fork carries food to the open mouth and there is an ending when you swallow—one bite is over. Do you feel the satisfaction of it? There is a beginning when your arm lifts the fork, there is an ending when you return the empty fork to the plate and the arm relaxes—a movement is complete. Do you feel satisfied by the muscular activity in the arm? Probably yes, if you are in touch with it.
When the food enters the mouth, there is a beginning. The teeth are separated. The teeth come closer and closer to each other until—bang—they hit each other with quite some pressure. And that is the ending of one “chomp.” Can you stop there and just feel it—are you satisfied?
Really, it’s too much, isn’t it?…to be present each time the teeth come together. But actually just to stop after the first “chomp” will be enough. You will discover yourself running on to the next “chomp” almost against your will, as if some mechanism is eating and not you. It is because the mind is so much aiming toward the end of the meal—not even the end of the bite—that it gets in a hurry to reach its satisfaction… later. So all along the way we go on missing such beautiful experiences.
In the process of leading groups about this sort of awareness, I searched for what Osho had said about it. And I was surprised to discover that the amount of material and the number of quotes was massive. Just listening to it all made a huge impression on me, and I wondered how I could have missed to understand that daily life is the thing.
Mostly Osho talked about our mechanicalness. He said we need to de-automatize our behavior. And following that he would tell jokes about how asleep we are.
So I guess this is where to start: to see mechanicalness in our actions. What does it look like? There is always a focus on the end result. For example, you want to put a sweater in the closet. You immediately see a mental picture of the sweater folded in the closet, and that becomes your focus.
Another thing about mechanical behavior, you always move in a straight line toward the goal. There is an interest in efficiency—how to get there in the least amount of time using the least amount of energy. Consequently, you usually move the sweater, and even fold the sweater, in exactly the same way you did it last time, in order not to have to think about it again.
Mechanicalness to me means repetition. And we do many repetitive acts each day. It never crosses our mind that the same act can be done differently each time.
Once we have this question, “How to do this act in a fresh way?”, the interest in creativity has been aroused. And from then on it’s a matter of experimentation, trying things out. Some of the things you try make you happy, some don’t. In my groups I learn a lot from the people who are experimenting, and in case it makes your way easier, I will try to put into words some of the things we discovered.
Most of us are full of “shoulds.” Who knows where they all come from—a legacy from the past that has become part of our own mind by now. So we are the ones telling ourselves, “You should wash the dishes,” “You should take out the garbage,” “You should fold the sweater in the closet.” We create a life full of duties.
As a matter of experience, you will discover that when you say yes to performing a duty, it’s not very much fun. This is a behavior that Osho calls the “camel.” Camels get their juice from approval, from being accepted and appreciated by the one who said “you should,” and it is a false food. It doesn’t nourish you in the same way as flowing with your own truth, doing what you like to do in a given moment.
People who rebel against being camels normally become lions—that is, they say “no” to doing what they should. They react negatively to any situation where they have to do something. And this doesn’t bring joy either. So to find the true creativity you jump out of both of these spaces—camel and lion. That means, dropping a connection with everybody’s expectations (even those of your own mind) and just looking within yourself, as if you are alone and have permission to feel what you feel and do what you enjoy. Nobody else is advising you, nor can they advise you.
This space of enjoying your own energy flow, Osho calls the “child.” This word doesn’t refer to a 5-year-old kid, but rather to someone who has regained his innocence. The “child” looks at the possibilities of this moment and makes the response that is easy and natural. He is resting on an interior energy source that suddenly has impulses, and to follow these impulses takes no effort. It’s just sheer fun. It’s just love.
The “child” never travels in a straight line toward the goal. He plays along the way. He looks inside for the right moment to do things—to walk, to lift a sweater from one place, to deposit it in another. Even knowing that the closet is the goal, he may not head there directly. There is no hurry. He relaxes, and movements happen to the body. And if no movement happens, if he finds himself sitting down for a while, that too is okay.
High satisfaction level
One of the main things I am teaching in my groups is how to find this “child” space in hundreds of different circumstances. And there are some general instructions that always work.
Choose your body position with care. It is the ground out of which you will do something in this moment. So make sure you feel very good about where the body is placed and the position it takes in that location. The body should feel relaxed, easy, and “right.”
In that body position, rest more deeply until you come across the natural rhythm of the moment. This rhythm comes from the breathing, the heartbeat, the blinking of the eyes, and any movements the body is making in its relaxation. Everything living has a rhythm. Only when you are in the mind does this rhythm disappear.
Once you are in contact with your body position and your rhythm, feel your heart. The heart is meeting all the outer circumstances in a very particular way—it knows instinctively what is needed to bring more harmony, more beauty.
From the heart, with its inherent connection to the body, comes an impulse for a certain action which will satisfy you. It may be a strong or forceful action, something to say or do. Or it may be a non-action, just sitting there, nothing to say or do. In the right moment, this doing-nothing will be completely satisfying as a choice.
When I work with people, I am often asking them to measure their satisfaction in this moment on a scale from one to 10, where “1” is low and “10” is high. A low satisfaction level simply means you are choosing an action that you don’t really want to do, and a high satisfaction like “10” means you are choosing an action with totality—100 percent of you wants to do that thing.
To me, this is the whole key to conscious living—that you know for sure that you want to do what you are doing. It is your fun, it is your joy.
Fun things first
Now let’s talk about work for a moment, because that is an area where many people think they cannot find joy. In fact, the word ‘work’ has come to imply that you have to do something that is not for your own pleasure. We all divide our lives between “free time” when we can do what we like, and “work time” when we get serious about reaching some goals and cannot truly spend the moments according to our preference.
What we call “work” is in one way different from leisure: it involves committing ourselves to a kind of project. Projects can be very small—like taking a sweater to a closet—or they can be complex—like renovating a house. But in any case, you decide to use your energy responding to a particular, limited situation where perhaps something will be changed or different in the end. So there is a goal which may or may not be reached.
Take, for example, the project of cleaning a bathroom. There is a goal which the worker will have in mind. For one person, the goal will only be related to the floor, the sink, and the toilet. For another, the goal will include the mirror and the shower head. So it is a different vision for different people, but the point is that whoever has his or her goal will commit themselves to it. Without this commitment, the study of how to have conscious actions at work cannot begin.
So let’s say you have decided to clean a bathroom. Almost everybody who is not careful about body position, rhythm, and heart will start with the hardest thing first. They think, “It’s better to do the chore while I still have some energy because later I won’t feel like it.” But actually it works in reverse. You can try it. Instead of tackling something difficult, see if you can look at this bathroom with an eye out for which would be the most joyful corner to start with. There are many options: the perfume or aftershave bottles on the counter, the sink, the shiny fixtures, the mirror, the floor, the tiles on the wall, the shower curtain, the bath mat, the wastepaper basket. One of the tasks will fit your energy in this moment. What kind of body position would you like to have? How fast would you like to work, and in what rhythm? What force would you like to use? If you feel energetic, get the vaccum cleaner. If you feel more quiet, start with cleaning a shelf and arranging the shampoo bottles. Do what’s fun. And the joy gives you juice to try another small task after that—the next fun one. And in this way, a miracle happens. Half-way through the work, you suddenly feel to do the “chore”—the part you thought you wouldn’t like. In this moment it has become a fun.
In all my practicing with these things, I’ve always found it to be true that if you don’t want to do something it’s only the timing that’s wrong. In another moment, the very same thing will be a welcomed opportunity to move your energy and have a great time. I used to have a farm, and sometimes pruning the grapevines in autumn could be a chore. But also there were moments when I experienced real pleasure in carefully trimming away all the dead branches and carrying them down to the bonfire. If you just watch your energy you’ll know what to do when.
People working mechanically never take breaks. They are making a beeline for the ending, for the satisfaction of a completed goal. But people working in an aware way watch the natural rhythms inside. The energy to “do” can’t last forever. It comes in spurts. First you feel a vitality for action that wants to be put into something, and after it is spent, you feel like doing nothing for a while. Take that opportunity. Trust the moments when the energy goes down. Start to see them as good and helpful to the work process. If you take a little walk in the forest in between two work periods of deep cleaning your house, your satisfaction will go up.
So far, I’ve been talking about work you do alone. But very often there is an extra resource around that we don’t use enough and that is other people. Sometimes in my groups I am demonstrating how to move a thing from here to there. This is the same as putting a sweater in a closet, but normally we are moving pillows or Kleenex boxes instead of sweaters. I come very close to the goal, where the pillow is to be deposited but… it doesn’t go there. The last impulse is missing. I’m waiting. And suddenly I watch myself spontaneously giving the pillow to another person, and that person takes it to the goal. Or maybe they don’t—maybe they give it to someone else, because these things don’t go in straight lines. But amazingly, it always happens that someone feels like the pillow belongs at its final destination.
So be open to the possibility that other people will help the project to happen. Use all available resources, including people, to bring your satisfaction level higher.
By the same token, there are problems when working with others. Those others may have negative moments and try indirectly to scatter the energy so that the project does not reach completion. They may use the situation to be lions—against the “should”—with no understanding of how to choose creativity instead.
I love to demonstrate in my groups that if even one person knows how to be creative, they can change the negative atmosphere of a whole group of people. If just one person puts his or her body in a comfortable place and position, watches the rhythm, feels the heart, and makes a move from that space, the vibe of such spontaneity will touch somebody else. One or two other persons will start to brighten, or relax, or look more alive. Then the first person connects his or her energy with the ones who are responding to this quality. They start to do things together, and before long, everyone is relaxing into that quality without even noticing that there has been a change.
This is again a proposal that you use all the resources that are available to you. Don’t worry at all about persons who are not yet resources for the positive. They don’t interfere in anything, really. Without worrying about them, you just look for an enjoyable corner of the workspace where you can nourish yourself. And this self-nourishment can become a building block, in the sense that other like-minded souls will find you.
The value of inactive presence
One last thing about teamwork. We all have the idea that during a work period, all members of the team should take an active part in the project. I remember once while cleaning the Multiversity Plaza in Poona, one of my teammates went to sit in a chair in the counseling area, near where we were working. He precisely chose to sit there, he was enjoying it, the whole body radiated satisfaction, and it was an energetic support to those of us who had the energy to dust lamp posts and empty waste bins. Rather than pulling us down or making us feel like not working, his sitting was a nourishment for our doing.
So sometimes one’s choice to be inactive, if it is arising out of consciousness, is highly valuable in getting something done.
Well, these were some insights that led me to look and listen more closely to routine, mundane, ordinary events. I know I’m still choosing only a few things to be aware of out of hundreds of millions. But even being aware of these few gives me the glimpse that the daily life is a gold mine.