Vanity thought #901. Productivity pressure

A couple of days ago I read an article about modern obsession with productivity. Turns out it’s not so modern at all, people have been squeezed for profits since the beginning of industrial revolution and it’s been getting worse and worse.

There were proposals to collect orphans in England and put them into sweatshops since the age of four and make them work twelve hours a day so that they grow up to produce entire generations trained to constant labor. “Lazy” adults were not spared either, they were supposed to be imprisoned to their workhouses and hunger, thirst, and terror were offered as best motivators against their idleness.

Now we outsourced sweatshops to third world countries but productivity still rules the day. Its value is unquestionable and no one needs to explain why increasing productivity needs to be justified at all. There are training workshops and expensive consultants who exists solely for increasing business productivity. Women magazines might offer solutions to dating and dieting but business publications are all about productivity expressed in various forms.

Productivity is the main reason everyone is expected to get MBA and the sole criteria of success of scientific management. Japanese really perfected it as they have people who don’t even need to leave their offices and have all their necessities provided right there, including places to sleep and ample supply of instant food and fresh underwear. Every minute of their lives is documented, accounted for, and managed for better productivity. Huge Chinese factories are probably better at it now, like the infamous Foxcon where they make Apple stuff along with everything else.

The battle for productivity pays off, in the past forty years workers’ productivity has increased by eighty percent while the wages, on the other hand, increased by slightly over ten. Not sure about the source of these numbers but it’s a well noted trend.

Push for productivity takes over the entire life. Breakfast of champions, for example, would be called that if champions weren’t believed to be the most productive people. Power nap wouldn’t be called power nap if it didn’t increase productivity. Likewise exercise and healthy eating – it’s no so much about quality of life but about increased productivity, even if in achieving only personal goals. Even Nike has a t-shirt saying “I am doing work” to justify jogging.

Think of how they describe sick leaves, too – as lost productivity, no eyebrow is raised up when we read about what sickness costs to the economy, it’s as if by becoming sick you actually steal money. Think of how they describe drug or alcohol addiction – as lost years, meaning people weren’t productive.

The concept of lost time is another angle to the same productivity issue. We have time saving measures and we have time management techniques even though time is the least pliable substance known to men – you can’t save it, you can’t manage it, it flows entirely on its own.

This continues when we come in contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, too. We talk about years and lifetimes that were lost in pursuit of material goals. Our goals then change but we still talk about time lost and time used for Kṛṣṇa’s service. There’s still no justification for idleness.

Clearly, this preoccupation with time is the symptom of the mode of passion but why do we allow it in Kṛṣṇa consciousness that is supposed to be free from lower guṇas?

Gopīs famously complained about design of eyelids that requires them to be shut every couple of seconds which was considered a waste of time because they’d rather spend it on looking at Kṛṣna. Sādhana-bhakti is all about time management, too, it’s a tool t fight idleness, and idle hands are the devil’s workshop, as we know, but is it really true?

If we are not in love with Kṛṣṇa then we don’t know the value of lost time and we embrace sādhana-bhakti only because we’ve been told to practice it by our guru. Time, we should not forget, has no place in spiritual relationships, it has no power over bhakti, it has no power over liberated souls, it’s an enemy of mortal beings only.

Spiritual practices have always been about beating time but not in terms of productivity but in terms of ability to ignore it. Yogīs main goal was to freeze flow of time, catch the moment of total equilibrium and then extend it for thousands and thousands of years. You can’t imagine less productive people ever. Similarly, brāhmaṇas and sādhus were placed at the top of the pyramid while English considered them the leaching classes and communists couldn’t tolerate their existence in principle.

Yet I distinctly remember time when I really worried about my own time management to the point of making to-do lists for each day, and that was beside following temple program, chanting and reading. If there was nothing of note to put on that list I considered a day wasted and felt guilty about it. It was the time when I read the entire Śrila Prabhupāda’s library and I still wasn’t satisfied. I don’t remember anything from that bout of reading because quality didn’t matter to me at the time, only the volume and productivity – number of pages and number of hours.

I still live with this pressure to perform, I can’t allow myself to be idle, I need to justify everything I do. Ostensibly it’s for Kṛṣṇa’s service but at the same time I’m aware that Kṛṣṇa can’t care less how I spend my time in this world. Guru does, but not to the point of micromanaging it anyway.

This attitude makes us believe that spiritual progress depends on our efforts, just as worker bees believe that they have control over results of their karma. Kṛṣṇa is not obliged, of course, being the supremely independent being, so why can’t we pause our lives for a moment and catch a moment of idleness, which we should then call a moment of clarity because it should free us from the influence of rajaḥ-guṇa.

We ARE supposed to come to the platform of goodness on the way to becoming devotees, so why beat up ourselves for not being busy?

We can, of course, cite Śrila Prabhupāda telling us to always be engaged in service and to always be engaged in the preaching mission but that was supposed to be at the expense of the modes of ignorance and passion, not goodness. We shouldn’t cheat ourselves by taking shelter of passion if real devotion doesn’t motivate our hearts.

With this in mind, I’m thinking about reconsidering writing these articles. I shouldn’t be doing it just for the sake of being busy. Kṛṣṇa is not interested in reading them, only if they come from the heart which hardly ever happens, but I pressure myself into thinking something up each and every day. Sometimes I swear I’d rather chant extra rounds than try to engage my mind in this kind of service.

I’m far from making a decision but the concern is there. Let it mature and see where it goes. The whole idea of progress is dependent on time, for example, and therefore it enslaves us here. It’s a paradox that needs its own sweet time to get resolved, no need to rush.