Trevor Leggett

Literature & Zen Site


Putting Life Into Life


The business of getting the necessities is, for many people, a boring necessity.  It is livelihood, not life. For them, life begins only after the work has finished. This is especially true when the work has to be done alone, with no one to talk to.  Making endless entries in computers down to scrubbing the floor and steps, it is said to be soul-destroying work, in which there is no progress. One is simply a replaceable element in a machine.

From the point of view of yoga, this is a big mistake. It is in just those jobs where not much mental alertness is required that there is a better chance for inner progress. They are good conditions for practising a special form of meditation - the meditation on bare action.

Normally when doing these jobs, the mind is full of stray thoughts. If there has been a quarrel recently, the mind becomes cries of 'How could they say that! I ought to have told them... and I will next time...' and so on, endlessly.  Little dramas are played out in imagination, dramas of triumph or terrible disaster. If on the other hand not much has happened recently, the mind drops into vague daydreams, or resentment at having to do a job like this.

In either case, the action is done with half a mind, almost on the fringe of attention.


1. Conscious Action in Static Environment

The yoga method is, first of all, to make the action fully conscious. Taking the scrubbing as the example, people practising yoga as they scrub feel the weight of the brush in the hand, and its shape and the strength of the bristles. They make their hand soft, and mould it around the outline of the brush. They look at the white of the suds so like the foam on the seashore.  Now they make the strokes. Many scrubbers have a hard hand, and a hard posture. The yogin feels the centre line of the body, and moves the body a little into the stroke. Some of the force is put in from the whole body, not just from the arm.

It may take some practice to learn how to use the action of the whole body. It can be practised first of all on simple things, such as opening a swing door. Most people do this with the hand and arm; try practising with the hand as a hook and the arm as a transmitter of the force from the slight turn of the hips. When moving a piece of furniture, again, do not plant the feet and keep the body fixed while using simply the arms. Bend the knees a little bit and feel the push as from the centre of the body, - the navel point to be precise. When settling down to write, set oneself in a balanced position and symmetrically, not with one shoulder hunched forward. In these ways the action becomes more efficient and alive. Let us return to the scrubbing example to typify what happens next. After some practice, the action will seem to become more or less automatic (whether it is being done efficiently or not). This is the important time. In the ordinary way the mind, now set free or partially free from the necessity of attending, begins to develop its own daydreams or fantasies or reactions. There is no inner progress at all. The yogic method on the contrary is to practice discarding everything except the movement and its frame.

Ideas of how long it is going to take or what one is going to do when it is finished or whether it will be appreciated are the first to go; and then the whirlpool of emotional memories or anticipations and then perhaps the wet rot of remorse or the dry rot of triviality.

We say "Discard": but how is it to be done? People say it is impossible to control interruptions by casual thoughts but if we are watching an interesting television programme, and someone comes in to gossip, we have no difficulty in saying: "Oh, shut up while I look at this" and they do shut up.

In a little bit the same way the yogi practises saying "Shut Up" to his casual thoughts and desires and fears just for the time being in these favourable circumstances. They are favourable because scrubbing the floor or steps does not directly produce in us any strong desire or fear or even casual thoughts. Now is the time, now is the chance, to practise emptying the rubbish out of the mind.

 What now remains? There is the scrubbing and the floor and a very dim awareness of how long it is to go on. No more than that. And this is an opportunity for a real advance in inner training. It is the first stage but to say that does not mean that it is insignificant. When this stage is even touched there begins to be an invigoration of the whole life.