Why Spiritual Practice is Needed at Work
Spirituality refers to that which has ultimate meaning, and I would contend that if one is interested in this area it is vital to turn work into a spiritual practice. We spend half of our waking life at work so whatever we are practicing there, and we are always practicing something, will strongly influence who we become. It is no good being a bad-guy all day long five days a week and hoping that a trip to church on Sunday will fix it. I get an hour of meditation or yoga in a day if I’m lucky but most days work 8-9 hours so I’d better make that count if I’m really interested in transformation.
I hope this sounds like common-sense because it is. However, there has been a tragic split in the world which views spirituality as something we do outside of work, which can lead the spiritually inclined to shy away from the workplace where their skills and values are needed, and the workplace to become ever more dehumanising, unethical and meaningless. I believe the solution to this is not to try and cram so much spiritual practice into out spare time that it overcomes the barren wastelands of work, but to turn work itself into an activity that nurtures the best parts of ourselves. Not only do I think that spiritual (read pro-social and psychologically healthy) activities are not incompatible with work, but that they actually contribute strongly to long-term success.
What Specific Practices Would Turn Your Job Into a Soul-Gym?
What is needed is not philosophy but the nuts and bolt specifics for turning work activities (that one is doing anyway) into transformational activities. I share mine as a businessman and trainer below starting with the most generalisable activities such as e-mailing and having meetings that are part of many jobs today. If you would like to turn your job into a spiritual practice I suggest following the three simple steps below:
- Identify the main tasks of your job. If you are a barman or nurse for example these may look different from mine.
- Match these tasks to practices given in my example (I have picked a variety from many of the world’s wisdom traditions) or that you know from elsewhere. These should be matched to your temperament and growth needs. Some people are more inclined towards, have jobs better suited to, or may need more of one thing or another to grow, Meditative or service practices for example. See Roger Walsh’s (no relation) excellent overview of the practices of the world’s great traditions if you need further inspiration.
- Setting-up a reliable reminder system and using other methods of behavioural change to make sure these good intentions are followed through on. LINK to recent blog
Businessman and Trainer – An Example
So here are some practices that I have tied to the main work activities I do. Most of them I have been using for some years and a few are newly inspired in writing this article. All take either no extra time or are quick, and all are “invisible” in that nobody else need ever know I’m doing them.
Starting the Work Day
I recommend starting work at a specific time and place, and having a ritual for this. In the world of Ego-phones and Crackberries consciously starting at a set-time and pace may need clarifying and this is healthy in and of itself. I start by bringing my awareness to the fact that I am now engaged in my occupation (in my case my calling which helps) and dedicating my work to something greater than myself. This is often an abstract concept like “growth” or “love” but could be God or gods if you are that way inclined.
I also engage in an embodiment practice called centring which is a form of state management that not only means I start well but connects me my body which is gateway to spirituality for me.
Sending e-mail, using Social Media / sending texts
Like many people today I spend quite a bit of time e-mailing and also texting, using Twitter, Facebooking and other social media both for work and as breaks in my work. The awareness raising and question do I know what is my intention in sending/uploading this? This creates mindfulness as does bringing awareness to my computer posture throughout the day. I may also ask is any given e-mail “true, kind and beautiful” – the three main value groups which encourages what Buddhists would call “right speech”. There are also many more opportunities for mindfulness such as checking documents (I bet I do a typo now) and any physical activity from writing to pouring water for delegates.
For me part of spirituality involves noticing and transforming emotions and when better to observe these than when receiving e-mail. “What do you mean we didn’t get the job! How dare he say that about me! Ahhh, this client is such a pain!!” Etc. The transforming part can be quite in-depth, although may simply mean taking a deep breath, staying present rather than running away from, or altering the “story” I have causing a reaction like in CBT or NVC [wikipedia]. It all starts with noticing.
Meetings with Clients
I have found it good business to really listen. Listening without judgement is in fact very very difficult, and while I have better and worse days it’s always a great practice and worthwhile interpersonal as well as spiritual skill to learn.
On a Deadline
Often in my job I am up against deadlines to deliver proposals, produce materials or design training. Here focusing my attention (did someone say Facebook?) and relaxing into the pressure are practical spiritual practices.
Sales / employing people
Selling is part of my job. I have noticed that this can be motivated by fear (“Oh , God, how am I going to pay the bills!!!” and that I can redirect motivation to love (“I love what I do and want to share it” or just “Oh, my God”). This is a common emotional transformation.
In the sales process I often start to feel greedy and egocentric, and a good question to raise my spiritual game is “Am I considering their needs?”. Widening and circle of care more (and therefore spirituality more) “Am I considering everyone’s needs?” The spiritual arts of generosity and non-attachment also get a chance to be exercised in the sales process and in employing people. (NB, it freaks people out if you negotiate salaries up from what they ask for). This is the “tantra” of business.
I regard creativity as spiritual and have plenty of chances to exercise this, especially when designing training. The universe is dancing not marching and expressing oneself deeply is also expressing God. Play is perhaps the ultimate expression of this and is a mode I do not see as incompatible with work, especially dynamic and creative work.
Teaching / Making Videos
All of my work is an act of service as well as self interest. By orientating around service my work becomes devotion (some may connect to the notion of “sacred duty”) and my ego may be set aside for something greater. Dedications as mentioned earlier can help with this as can examining very practical details – “would I charge this is I were putting my customer first?” “Who does this change to the schedule really benefit?” I often “check and reset” my service orientation before leading a training or making a video.
It is also worth mentioning self care at this point. There is nothing contradictory in getting enough sleep, eating well, etc and being of service. I look after no.1 to look after 2+ (others) more effectively and if God or Buddha, or whoever is within us, we’d better look after the transport device!
“Difficult” Delegates / customers / service providers
We all meet people at work who trigger us. One option is to judge, blame and possibly punish them, another more spiritual one is to examine what disowned parts of ourselves they represent (more technically therapy than spirituality but there’s crossover), practice patience and understanding. Some days “you bastard” becomes “thank you for teaching me, what a gift” other days I don’t manage it… not a saint yet. Ohh, self forgiveness. Add that to the list. Reading feedback from delegates may be another opportunity to transform anger or fear, centre again or practice loving kindness meditation.
At the end of a day’s training I often take a moment to practice gratitude, reminding myself what a blessing it is to share what I love and have fun, make money and help people in the process. I also recognise what is sacred in what I do. This may be serving others, being creative or being mindful. We each have our own framework as to what this means. Honesty with myself and colleagues in feedback post training is a spiritual practice for me as is learning itself. We all have ways to develop wisdom (as opposed to just knowledge) in our work.
Expenses and taxes
I am totally honest with my taxes as a practice of ethics. Ethics has been called “enlightenment in a box” and is an underrated form of practice. This means that my train ticket to see my sister who happened to give me some marketing advice over lunch doesn’t count and won’t be included this year.
Some Other Jobs and How to Make Them Spiritual
I have also worked in gardening and farming. For me manual jobs often suggest mindfulness as the core practice and in the case of outdoor work recognition of the sacred nature of creation. Working with kids I mainly orientated around service and also play, call-centre work is a bit evil let’s face it but was a great practice in emotional transformation for me.
These are the practices that have worked for me over the years – and by “worked” I mean several positive things. You will need to tweak them to your job and tastes but there is no reason anyone who wants to cannot be developing their spirituality 8 hours or more per day with no financial expense or penalty whatsoever. In fact the opposite.
I’d love to hear from others with different jobs on how they do or could turn what they do towards the divine. Please let me have your comments.
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