How Can We Keep Up Our Spiritual Practice In The Midst Of Our Daily Activities?

The questioner asks Annamalai Swami a question that is relevant for anyone–perhaps like you, dear reader–who is committed to spiritual practice. It is: “How can we keep up our sadhana in the middle of all our daily activities? It is very difficult” (Annamalai Swami: Final Talks, ed. David Godman, p. 59).

Annamalai Swami’s answer is wise:

When you cut jackfruits open with your bare hands, there is an unpleasant, milky liquid inside that sticks to your fingers and makes it very hard to take out the fruit. And afterwards it takes hours to scrub it all off. However, if you put a little oil on your fingers before you start the work, this milky liquid will not bother you because it cannot stick to your oiled hands.

Without some protection, contact with worldly matters can prove to be sticky and unpleasant. But if you oil yourself with remembrance of the Self, you can move smoothly and efficiently through the world, without having any of your business affairs stick to you or cause you any trouble or inconvenience. When there is a remembrance of the Self, everything in life proceeds smoothly, and there is no attachment to the work that is being done.

Ibid, p. 60.

A wise answer yet also, perhaps, an unclear one: how do we “remember the Self” in the midst of all these business and worldly affairs?

The mistake commonly made when a great spiritual teacher like Annamalai Swami tells us to “remember the Self” is that we may all too easily get caught up in believing that the mode or state of seated meditation must carry through into daily activities. But that’s an incorrect expectation for in seated meditation gross objects may subside (and how!) while in daily activities there is quite naturally some attention paid to gross objects (such as fingers on keys). In the former, the physical and mental senses may cease to be activated while in the latter, they may be necessary (albeit as modifications of the unmoving, unchanging Self).

To be more precise, then, let me suggest two ways in which “remembering the Self” happens. First, we continue Self-inquiry or the affirmation, “I am Consciousness,” throughout the course of the day, albeit intermittently. While washing the dishes, ask, “Who is washing the dishes?” While going to the bathroom, ask, “Who is going to the bathroom?” And so on. Let’s call this the more active part of “remembering the Self.” In this sense, we are engaged in “constant meditation.”

As to the more passive part, we are “remembering the Self” whenever we remain detached or uninvolved. For instance, fingers are typing out these sentences right now, but there is no ego involvement in what is presently being written. Words are simply–right now–coming forth, and afterward there is no residue or trace. Hence, we experience everything just happening without taking credit, feeling burdened, or experiencing blame. Like the Daoist sage, we “leave no trace.”


I discuss detachment, as “the essence of the Way” or Self, at greater length in this Dharma talk: