The Upanishads and Work-Life Balance by Elisabeth Schilling

IMG_0617My idleness has been cured as I take a new job teaching college English to high school students at a charter school for eight hours a day. At exactly my 80th and last job application since January 2017, I received the offer just a few hours after my interview and had just a few days to pack up my life and leave. Traveling through desolate flatlands, relieved tornado season was quelled at late summer, I would finally embark on a full-time job, my last one having been almost a decade ago.

The Yoga Sutras taught me that if I pursued something with a sustained effort, for a long time, with enthusiasm, results would occur. They did. While before, teaching one online course and waking at 10 a.m. to log on to academic job websites to see what new positions might have appeared, now sleep seems like an elusive dream, but my emotional landscape has transformed from languid storm to something with cheer.

As I work with determination and grit, I find some spiritual nourishment in Sanskrit chants on my commute and in the staff room during my planning periods. Today, I have brought home the Upanishads that remind me how much we must work to find balance:

To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness, they who devote themselves only to meditation. Life in the world alone leads to one result, meditation alone leads to another. So have we heard from the wise. They who devote themselves both to life in the world and to meditation, by life in the world overcome death, and by meditation achieve immortality. – Isha Upanishad.

When I had the time, I had a steady diet of meditation, yoga, devotional reading, and journaling. But this was in isolation and peppered throughout a vast emptiness of any immediate task connected with the world aside from my online course I taught. The Isha Upanishad is not verbose about the details this life leads to (I reject the use of ‘darkness’ as a metaphor for anything negative), but my lived version of it was filled with depression and the feeling that life was very painful. Now I can see the other extreme, the work week satisfying and sort of addicting, but unraveling the threads of life in racing blur.

In Pema Chödrön’s book When Things Fall Apart, she says about our rush for productivity and the distraction it can present (possibly why I’m so quickly falling in love with this pace?) when she says, “All over the world, people are so caught in running that they forget to take advantage of the beauty around them. [. . .] Sometimes it seems we have a preference for darkness and speed.” It is true that spending so much time with myself sometimes reached the point of being painful. My first real weekend off since the start of my job, I feel frantic I am not spending it well, not being productive enough for myself. How does one cram all the spiritual and scholarly tasks a human desires in a 48-hour period? Even then, this is a luxury. I have no spouse or children to attend to. I have every rich second to myself, and they are a source of stress because I am almost sure I’m failing each of those precious jewels.

Really, I’m not that worried. My past roommate has proven to me that one can strategize everything. I could let go of all this control. Chödron says that the maitri (loving-kindness) approach is not about solving problems but giving up control. I do this easily and naturally at work, in the classroom, and it works out beautifully. The last inch of control is the hardest to release. My new roommate has a cat that I am almost sure is my spirit consort. Perhaps I can look to her for this guidance. She curls up near the window to gaze out at the blue-green sky with her chartreuse eyes quite contentedly.  

LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

20 thoughts on “The Upanishads and Work-Life Balance by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. Congratulations on getting a job. Hope you continue to enjoy it!

    On the metaphysical level I can say from my own experience that I conclude the Upanishads you cite or wrong. I have pursued a lot of goals with all of the above and have not achieved them–both personal and political. From that I have concluded that I live in a socially constructed and interdependent world that is not set up to ensure the “I” can achieve my goals. That was a big disappointment, but as I change my worldview, I find that there are many joys available even if all my hard work and enthusiasm have not brought me the jobs and relationships and political changes I have worked so hard to achieve.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m not as up to date as I’d like to be (today is the 25 Aug) because of eye problems, so I wonder what has happened since you wrote this, LaChelle! Has the cat provided feline relaxation and wisdom? Is your job a nourishing place for you?
    Remember to breathe! And balance (this I find is a life-long learning! So don’t get discouraged)


    1. Hello dear. Thank you so much for your care and comment! Yes, I am grateful and thankful I have any kind of full-time job teaching as it is difficult out there. It is nourishing in many ways, and I am in a location close to Naropa University, so am able to take a Sanskrit class on Wednesday nights.


    1. Hello dear! Thanks for finding me on here. :) I am really well. I love so many things about my new life. I miss you all very much as well. But I have a feeling that you and your family might be in this area in the near future, and when that happens, we will for sure dine and chat! I hope you are well.


  3. LaChelle, I apologize sincerely for this being the only mode of communication I’ve made when I work in the same building as you, but the reasons for that are already expertly laid out in this piece you’ve written.
    But I feel compelled to respond because I feel just the same: taking a full time job after much time away from one and with almost no warning or preparation of any kind has been exhilarating and exhausting and I don’t want to miss out on anything but also know this job means I’m missing out on so much.
    I’d love to chat in person if ever our schedules allow it!


    1. Hello dear! Thank you so much for reading my piece and sharing your thoughts. Luckily everything has settled down to almost-normalcy, and I’ve been able to miraculously strike a calm balance of rest and work, probably to the detriment of my book-in-progress, but perhaps that just means I need to work a little harder if it is something I really want. Ah, books-in-progress are filled with so much loneliness and self-doubt. I feel warmed by your kind words, and yes, perhaps a lunch shall find us both sharing a few moments of our experiences. Me with my protein bar and yogurt and you with probably something much more sustainable and creative! Be well.


    1. Thank you. I am quite convinced we can learn far more from these creatures than we even know. I am so glad they have been healing to you. I am sure you are healing to them as well.


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