We live in a world obsessed with work. Pundits debate the unemployment rate. Politicians curry the voter's favor by promising job opportunities. Employees regard long hours and weekend nights at the office as a mark of distinction or rite of passage, and even some bosses brag about "pulling all-nighters." The average office worker takes her job with her on trips, answering work-related phone calls and emails. It is a rather unfortunate fact that many is the job-holder who works not to serve others but rather to fulfill one or more of the following expedients: to pay bills, fit in with society, and more often than not earn name and fame to pamper the ego and get as rich as possible in the shortest amount of time. What about work as worship, as service to society and vehicle to not pamper the ego but trample it underfoot?
The British author Aldous Huxley once wrote that in the "world of today, the most useful people are those whose concern is with daily bread - those who produce and conserve food for the bodies of men, and those who permit themselves, and who teach others to permit themselves, to be fed by the bread of grace that gives life to the spirit."
In short, if you can help others to live the eternal message of the scriptures and the saints, and "see all beings in the Self, and the Self in all beings," if you can bring this "constantly forgotten message out of the past," this is truly performing a great service to society.
Does what you do for a living serve society in this high sense? Even if you are not a writer or a farmer, does your daily job improve the lives of those around you, or just fatten your wallet? Do you live to work or work to live? Is work an end in itself or a means to something more?
The great sage Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) once said: "As long as an individual is attached to worldly objects, so long he has toil, cares, anxiety, unrest and unhappiness. When attachment is gone, all works end, and then comes peace. But work without attachment is good; it does not bring unrest. Whoever performs good works without holding any desire for their fruits will do good for himself."
So don't be attached to anything you do, whether planting seeds or penning sonnets. Remember that work is itself a means to realize the Self (God) within by breaking the chains of the self (ego). The world weary should ask that their daily labors may grow less and less day by day, because such a busy life necessitates an outwardly directed focus, which diverts the attention from the inner Reality. Because work is itself worship. Work is a means; God vision the end. Ramakrishna also taught that worldly activity is the first chapter of life, then comes world weariness, and finally detachment and compassion. But as long as you have to work, dedicate your every action to the highest good.
This short prayer will help guide us: "Lord! Do reduce our daily [obligations] to a minimum, and the little work that we daily perform, may we do it with non-attachment." Work should not be the end and aim of your life, but only a means to accessing Divinity, provided your actions are performed without investment in their results.
But work without attachment can be extremely difficult. Look around you. Who doesn't work for money! And so Ramakrishna and the sages before him and since recommended the path of love. Fill your world with love. But know that even then, there is no escaping work. The lungs will continue to breathe, and the heart to beat. You will be obliged to continue going about your daily business, brushing teeth, moving bowels, making the bed, and all else in between. But the One you really are does none of this. Remain fixed in the consciousness of your true nature and simply BE, dedicate all the actions to the Self. Then you know your work is worship.
So serve others, but put the Self first, because when you do, you are in for the surprise of a lifetime: there are no others.