Transcending the work-leisure cycle

The desire to relax after a hard day’s work or a difficult week is a universal phenomenon observed in people everywhere. The human body has a finite capacity of concentration and needs to relieve the stress which builds up after a significant amount of mental or physical effort. Unfortunately, the methods of relaxation we choose often tend to make the situation worse by sinking us into a malaise which further depletes our energy.  Better methods of relaxation are required and it is here that the psychological methods of Yoga need to be applied.

When we are exhausted, we tend to let down our guard and indulge in a variety of ways, some of which are listed below:

  • Eat comfort food: This provides pleasure to our senses which had been restrained during hard work.
  • Watch TV: The mind is tired and wishes to cease thinking after a period of excessive concentration.
  • Chat with friends or even strangers: We do this because it provides an escape valve which releases the tension.
  • Listen to loud music: This drowns out the pain which has accumulated in the aching brain or heart.
  • Use foul language: We abuse someone (politician, boss, spouse, uncle) in the desire to let out steam.
  • Drink alcohol: This is fueled by the desire to become unconscious and blank out.
  • Sex : Of course.

If we observe carefully, we will see that all these conventional methods of relaxation are driven by one or more of the following desires:

  • to become unconscious.
  • to let the mind vacillate without discipline.
  • to let the senses enjoy unrestrained comfort.

None of these indulgences really restore our energy; in fact, they increase our fatigue until we doze off exhausted, for it is only sleep which has a restorative effect on our energy. (as an aside, deep sleep restores energy because we touch the Divine Consciousness for a brief interval in sleep) Furthermore, all these indulgences create habit patterns in our subconscious which lead to the psychological aging of the brain as well as the body. Consequently, as we age, we become sluggish because our energy has been weighed down by the accumulated subconscious baggage.

Those who wish to succeed in the spiritual quest have to learn to surmount all these indulgences and cultivate endurance, for a body which is incapable of holding the powers which pour in during meditation is of no help for one who aspires for an integral transformation. It is for this reason that the Rig Veda refers to a weak body as the Atapta Tanu (unripe body):


ataptatanūrna tadāmo ashnute shŗtāsa idvahantastatsamāshata

He tastes not that delight of the twice-born who is unripe and whose body has not suffered in the heat of the fire, they alone are able to bear and enjoy it who have been prepared by the flame. (Rig Veda 9.83.1)

We must perforce choose better methods of relaxation. As the Mother points out, One should find relaxation in force and light, not in darkness and weakness (see here)“. The energy which relaxes the mind and body must come from the Superconscient and not the Subconscient. These are some of the better ways to relax after a period of stressful work.

  • Sit silently and endure the pain passively without groaning. Soak up the feeling of the body and the mind being tired without giving in to any atavisms. This is conventionally referred to as Titiksha.
  • Engage in light exercise, practice of Pranayama or chanting of some Mantra.
  • Eat nourishing food which is good for the body, instead of the regular comfort food which pleases the tongue. (How to eat like a Yogi)
  • Stay silent. Refrain from wasting more energy in conversation over the cellphone or otherwise. (Self-control over speech)
  • Refrain from the conventional forms of entertainment – keep the TV and computer off.
  • Engage in some form of artistic expression which elevates the soul. Play music, try painting, etc.
  • Read literature which illumines and inspires the highest ideals within us.
  • Practice contemplation to open oneself to the power of the Superconscient.

For a further discussion of how to relax, see the Austerity of Beauty(physical discipline) in the Mother’s (Mira Alfassa) talk on Four Austerities and Four Liberations.

These changes in our habits of relaxation may not happen overnight because there are obstacles in the desire-driven obstinate vital, which refuses to be caged and thirsts for conventional pleasures of life. Nevertheless, we must adamantly persist in this endeavour, always remembering the words of the Gita – that we have to “uplift the self by the self (Gita 6:5)”. The goal may be said to be reached when one acquires a mind and body brimming with Superconscient energy, in which one feels like an oceanic calm and with which work is done without exhaustion and, more importantly, without the need for any after-work relaxation. It is only then that one can say that one has transcended the work-leisure cycle.

The Gita promises us freedom for the spirit even in the midst of works and the full energies of Nature, if we accept subjection of our whole being to that which is higher than the separating and limiting ego. It proposes an integral dynamic activity founded on a still passivity; a largest possible action irrevocably based on an immobile calm is its secret, – free expression out of a supreme inward silence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: Self-Surrender in Works – The Way of the Gita

See Also: Physical Culture.



16 thoughts on “Transcending the work-leisure cycle

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  4. Sandeep Post author

    In these lines from his poem Savitri, Sri Aurobindo elucidates on the incapacity of the physical body to hold the pure vibrations of a higher consciousness.

    Only awhile at first these heavenlier states,
    These large wide-poised upliftings could endure.
    The high and luminous tension breaks too soon,
    The body’s stone stillness and the life’s hushed trance,
    The breathless might and calm of silent mind;
    Or slowly they fail as sets a golden day.
    The restless nether members tire of peace;
    A nostalgia of old little works and joys,
    A need to call back small familiar selves,
    To tread the accustomed and inferior way,
    The need to rest in a natural pose of fall,
    As a child who learns to walk can walk not long,
    Replace the titan will for ever to climb,
    On the heart’s altar dim the sacred fire.
    An old pull of subconscious cords renews;
    It draws the unwilling spirit from the heights,
    Or a dull gravitation drags us down
    To the blind driven inertia of our base.
    This too the supreme Diplomat can use,
    He makes our fall a means for greater rise.

    Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Yoga of the King: The Yoga of the Soul’s Release

  5. Sandeep Post author

    A few more verses from Savitri indicating why it is difficult for human nature to change. We are inured to sloth and decadence

    Hard is it to persuade earth-nature’s change;
    Mortality bears ill the eternal’s touch:
    It fears the pure divine intolerance
    Of that assault of ether and of fire;
    It murmurs at its sorrowless happiness,
    Almost with hate repels the light it brings;
    It trembles at its naked power of Truth
    And the might and sweetness of its absolute Voice.
    Inflicting on the heights the abysm’s law,
    It sullies with its mire heaven’s messengers:
    Its thorns of fallen nature are the defence
    It turns against the saviour hands of Grace;
    It meets the sons of God with death and pain.

    Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Symbol Dawn

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  14. joydeep

    I really want to practise after work what you have written above, but I find that if I don’t engage in the usual types of distractions, (news, politics, sport etc) then I tend to feel sleepy. Any further suggestions please?


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