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Material Circumstances

Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.
Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939
No matter how hard we may dedicate ourselves to cultivating our spirit, there is no excuse for neglecting our material needs.
Sometimes the daily effort we make to survive seems to be an obstacle to our spiritual progress. Nevertheless, as soon as we begin to analyze the situation, we realize it is not so. Developing the capacity to attend to our own personal material needs as well as to the needs of those who depend on us, while not neglecting our inner work, maintains the balance indispensable for our spiritual unfolding. Moreover, when consciousness of the economic situation confronting humankind awakens in us, the need to strive with efficiency and dedication in order to survive is transformed into a means for participating and working for the good of all. This work for the common good is inseparable from the work that we carry out for our own spiritual unfolding.
The mystery of sacrifice represents the effort we have to make to earn our living. For the immense majority of human beings, a great part of their time and energy is consumed by their work to obtain food and shelter. In spite of this and the advances achieved in the field of productivity, a large part of humanity lives in scarcity and large sectors of people suffer hunger and chronic malnutrition.
When the deprivation imposed by material circumstances is very great, we have no other option than applying all our energy to the effort to survive. Nonetheless, as soon as we reach a little material comfort, the temptation to live without effort, to escape the persistent demand of daily work, appears. Sometimes we dream of changing jobs, moving somewhere else or carrying out tasks that we consider more important than those we are doing. Or we might think that if only we did not have to struggle to take care of material needs we could fulfill our dreams of spiritual liberation. Changing the work we do not like, for one we do like or leaving one place to go somewhere nicer, does not always give us the hoped for results. Although moving or changing jobs might give us new possibilities, it might also cover up an inability to face difficulties.
The attitude of sacrifice regarding material circumstances teaches us to confront those challenges that open up possibilities for us. It also helps us to accept the effort of staying with what we are doing, transforming our work into a means for spiritual unfolding. When the desire to move from where we are living or to leave a job or profession appears, the attitude of sacrifice gives us the needed perspective to evaluate our options and distinguish between genuine possibilities and dreams of escape.
A temptation that could appear when we attain material comfort is to spend as much as we earn, or we wish to earn more in order to spend more. Little by little, dispensable goods turn into indispensable ones. Nothing is ever enough. Our income is no longer enough to make us feel satisfied with what we have. We do not even consider the possibility of saving for future needs or for helping those who need assistance. This is how we lose our capacity to discern between the necessary and the superfluous.
The attitude of sacrifice regarding material circumstances teaches us to place limits on our desires and, consequently, on our way of living and consuming. Each material circumstance helps us to understand the situation, the difficulties and sorrows of millions of human beings. There are people who, though able to live comfortably, choose to live very frugally out of participation. They renounce the possibility of an easier life in order to participate with those who cannot choose to live better. Referring to this aspect of life, a spiritual master used to say, “I would never live differently from the way I live now, even when I could have many more goods than I use now.”
To busy ourselves only with what comes easiest or what we like most could be hiding our indifference towards what others must do so that we may survive and unfold. It is good, therefore, to do some tasks that we do not like, rather than avoiding them. This helps us to value and dignify work, as well as to understand those who, in order to survive, cannot choose anything but the work they can find, however mortifying it may be.
When we strive to do better both what we like and do not like to do, we start losing the habit of dividing life into the pleasurable and the disagreeable and discover the beauty of acts that are well done. To do very well what we have to do gives meaning even to those actions that seem to be insignificant.
The continuous effort to satisfy material needs is, for some more than for others, a painful aspect of life. We say “for some more than for others,” because this effort depends on our economic situation, our education and our personal characteristics. But when we embrace work with love, dedication and happiness, it is transformed into an invaluable means of participating, understanding and uniting with all human beings. Moreover, working to satisfy material needs and solve life’s problems balances out our spiritual work. Our inner unfolding is expressed in our growing capacity for resolving the practical difficulties of life.