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The Practice of Conscious Practical Work

We hope you enjoy this sample  from our virtual Introductory Wisdom School eCourse with Cynthia Bourgeault, providing a brief overview of conscious practical work. Information and a notification sign-up for the eCourse can be found HERE. In this brief video we offer  some key points and instructions for the conscious practical work period, including examples of “inner and outer tasks.”


While it may seem that our tiny efforts at conscious labor go unnoticed and unrewarded, every conscious action no matter how miniscule connects energetically with every other action, and the quality and quantity of awakened consciousness increases incrementally on our planet. ~ Cynthia Bourgeault


Conscious Practical Work: Inner & Outer Tasks

A typical component of of the daily rhythm of Wisdom School is a period of conscious practical work, sometimes referred to as ‘mindful work’ or ‘conscious labor’. The specific assignment will include both an inner task and an outer task. The outer/work task is usually assigned to a small group to work on together and, depending on the specific set-up and setting, could include activities such as preparing meals, performing housekeeping chores, tending to gardens or grounds, building, harvesting, painting, etc. One benefit of approaching the task as a group is to notice the degree that one energetic unit can begin to form through the mutual intention to consciously work together. However, anyone can engage in conscious practical work, alone or in a group setting.

An essential component of the outer task work assignment is to avoid a focus on “getting the job done,” even though the work may be useful and practical. Why is this important? So often when we take on a task and aim for some pre-determined end result, we can become over-identified with our role or our sense of accomplishment and we end up running on conditioned or reactive patterns and habits. Of greater value is to use the work period as a time to engage with the task as a transformative practice for greater consciousness. The conscious work period is not about completing a task, but about inner seeing, and staying open with curiosity and willingness to see what we can learn.


The Inner Task: A Focal Point for Our Energy

The application of an inner task offers a vital opportunity to anchor our attention and provide a focal point for our energy while performing the outer task. The inner task is essentially an invitation to interrupt “business as usual,” to notice unconscious habits and patterns of behavior, and to remember ourselves in all three centers of intelligence. (More about the three centers in Day 1 morning teaching). Through practicing the inner task, we develop the skill of conscious self-observation and strengthen our capacity to stay present throughout the work period, and in life.

Ending the Work Period

The work period is usually set within a specific time frame, and when that time period is complete, you are to stop, no matter what you are doing or how far you’ve gotten in your work assignment. Instead, consciously notice how it feels to stop, even if you have not “completed” your task. When working in a group it is important that ALL start and end together.  To close the work period, you may be invited to stand in a circle, facing each other for a moment as you recollect yourself, and then to return any tools you used for your work.


The Purpose of the Inner Task: Cynthia’s Instructions from Wisdom School at Valle Crucis NC:

The purpose of the Inner Task is something you can use, almost like a tool or a benchmark or a yardstick, to bring you back into presence. It’s natural when you start working, particularly after you’ve been overstimulated in the intellectual center, to immediately go on thinking and thinking and not be here.

It’s really important as we work …to notice your mind running off and getting into thinking or getting into planning, or any sort of thinking, to come back. Just bring your attention to your feet. And really let your attention rest in your feet until you can actually feel your feet tingling… make an actual connection with your feet with sensation. Try it. Can you sense the difference between doing that and simply saying, “Oh, yes, my feet”?

It’s okay during the work periods to stop and pause, nothing really has to get done. As many times as you notice that you’re wondering off into thinking; or like and dislike; or opinions; or, “What’s for lunch?”; or, “What am I going to do next?”; bring your attention to your feet and reestablish that sensation by saying, “I am here.”  It’s all about the return. It’s not about trying to maintain a steady state of consciousness. You can’t do it so don’t even try. Just come back when you notice you’ve wandered off.

We’ll work for precisely an hour and then it’s over. Don’t pull that last weed; it will be there tomorrow. Don’t finish cleaning that last window pane. Don’t finish painting that last few inches of the porch post.

We’re also working against workaholism…so simply spaciously work.

You will have team leaders and if your team leaders feel a need, they will call a stop. If they do, simply stop what you’re doing, take a little bit of time to come back into your feet and presence, and then move on.

If you are working in a group, try to organize quietly so you can keep attention. Now off you go.


Some Inner Task Suggestions to Help Get You Started 

  • pruningBring your attention to the sensation in your feet, and whenever you notice your attention wandering, bring it back to sensing your feet.
  • Notice your feet making contact with the ground and allow that to bring you back to the direct experience of the present moment.
  • If you are using a tool, be attentive to the weight of it in your hand.
  • See what happens when you use your non-dominant hand to hold your tool or perform an activity (a playful option!).
  • Deliberately vary the tempo of your work.
  • While you’re working, place your attention at the point where two surfaces meet, such as your broom and the ground if sweeping, for example.
  • Notice the ground rising up to meet your feet (or your knees, if kneeling) as you work; acknowledging you are held; you do not work alone.
  • As you are walking or moving about, bring your attention to the up-stroke of your foot—a way of viscerally receiving assistance—through sensing the “up stroke.”
  • Work from stillness; use only the body parts that are really needed for the task at hand.
  • Listen to the sound that your work (or tool) makes.
  • Be alert to and catch any impulsive actions you make, then stop, and decide whether you want to consciously stay with that impulse.
  • Notice your inner judgments and reactivity to “like” and “dislike,” such as your preference for a particular task or set of working conditions. And when you notice a like or dislike, gather your attention back to being present by sensing your feet.
  • Introduce playful elements, such as having everyone hand their tool to the person next to them.
  • Sense the energy of the group. Create a scenario to deliberately lighten the tone of the work period, and to bring the group members into a greater sense of their collectivity.


See more resource information on inner/outer tasks HERE.

harvesting corn






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