“The great malady of the 20th century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is 'loss of soul'. When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one, but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it”. - Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
While we are physical beings, we are also spiritual beings. Our bodies require proper physical nourishment if we are to survive. Our souls also require proper spiritual nourishment if we are to thrive. Proper spiritual development, nourishment and expression are regular requirements throughout our lives.
People all around the world are speaking about the importance of spirituality in their lives. Of 1200 people surveyed in 18 countries, 58% admitted having a deep yearning for spiritual growth, 70% reported that they prayed or meditated occasionally, and 80% expressed a belief in God. A surprising 55% said they had experienced a major personal transformation in recent years, highlighting a growing global spiritual awareness. And in the United States, the Gallup Organization has found that 95% of Americans say they believe in God or a universal spirit, and 78% feel the need for spiritual growth, up 20% from 1994.
With this increasing emphasis on spirituality, more and more people are asking, “How can I practice my spirituality in my everyday life, including my work?” Some are struggling in traditional business settings or government agencies, and others are searching for how to express their beliefs in their own businesses. Even though most people spend 50% or more of our waking lives in our work, many of us feel forced to “leave our hearts at the door”. It's clear that many people want to live their spirituality more consistently at work, but how do we actually do it?
We have found that focusing on our core principles, and putting these into day-to-day practice, transforms lofty spiritual aspirations into concrete action. Following are examples of spiritual principles we try to embrace and live in our daily lives. You may have others, but it's our hope that sharing these examples from our own lives, and those of our clients and friends, will provide you with ideas and inspiration to bring your own principles to practical fruition.
1) Interdependence / Respect
This principle begins with appreciating the relational, holistic nature that underlies the universe's seeming chaos. Because all beings are interdependent, we strive to treat each other and the earth itself with respect. This means recognizing that differences have the potential to be complementary and beneficial, and staying with inevitable conflict until we come to a place of mutual growth and collaboration. Appreciating people who are both similar to us-and different from us-requires us to suspend our own “lenses” on the world. But we are rewarded when we become part of something larger than ourselves; our ability to have an impact on the world is extended when we stretch beyond our own boundaries, recognizing our interdependence with others and respecting what others bring to the situation.
Example: In working with a group of engineers on teambuilding, I (Tina) was using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) tool to help them identify their individual and team personality preferences. Various factions within the team thought their way was clearly superior. Once people could see that the team would be stronger with all types of people on it, their appreciation for each other grew. For example, they could be more effective if they had both “big picture thinkers” and people who could make sure the plans would actually work, once the details were figured out. Or, it was important to have both logical, analytical folks who could make decisions in a cut-and-dried fashion, as well as the more people-oriented folks who paid attention to whether everyone was really committed to acting on the decision once everyone left the room.
The dictionary definition of integrity is “wholeness, entirety, soundness, uprightness, honesty”. These are important principles in how I (Kim) lead my life and what kind of role models I want for my children. To live each of these to their fullest means I need to act in congruence with my higher wisdom, even when my feeling differs from others and is unpopular. I need to be willing to stand for my beliefs, and not compromise my principles. I also need to walk my talk, and not get caught in giving “good advice” for others to follow. I want to be proud of how I treat others as well as myself, how I spend my money, what choices I make for my free-time and what impact I make to my community and society. For me, this is living my life in integrity.
Example: As a parent, it's often easy to give good advice for my children to follow. However, what's most important to them in their development is not advice, but having role models that live what they preach. In my family we had talked a lot about caring for others, but it wasn't until we all volunteered in a homeless meal that my children had a chance to experience what true sharing was all about. The best way to teach respect, responsibility, caring, fairness, etc is to model it. The more I'm able to do this, the more I'm able to live my life in integrity.
3) Appreciation and Positive Attitude
My friends call me an eternal optimist. I (Kim) have always seen the good in situations, and approach life with a smile. Over the years I have come to learn that it is not the situation itself that causes us suffering, but rather our reaction to it. We all will face challenging times in our lives, but rather than get stuck in them or feel sorry for ourselves, we can transform them into powerful lessons that help us on our path. Remember that we “are not the circumstances”. We all have the ability to turn “lemons into lemonade”, or turn bad situations into positive ones. Every person and situation will teach us something if we are open to it, and for that we can give thanks. In a society that values more and more things, the irony is that it is not the amount of things that brings happiness, but rather the quality of what we have and how and with whom we spend our time. I can feel very rich having many friends, a happy family and a spiritual community, even if I don't have a lot of money. I feel we need to reframe how we evaluate our lives, and see the many blessings in each day. Our awareness and focus help shape our reality, so if we focus on the many blessings, they will increase, but if we focus on what we don't have, that will also increase. Practicing gratitude regularly is a great step towards peace of mind.
Example: In December 1994, our house burned down. We were asleep, and our 2 year old son and both of us got out just in time. While grief stricken, I couldn't help but be grateful that we all made it out alive. What began as a traumatic situation in our lives quickly developed into an opportunity to build our dream home. We now have a home we have designed and love, and feel we turned lemons into lemonade.
A lot of people spend their lives wishing situations and people were different - wishing their boss, their partner, their children, their parents, their money situation, their housing, etc. were different. Yet think about the amount of energy wasted and the number of unhappy people! An important spiritual principle is acceptance of what is. This doesn't mean I'm stuck in a rut; rather I can celebrate people and situations as they are, rather than what I feel they should be. Accepting or surrendering doesn't mean I have to agree with each person or situation, or that I give up. It does mean that I'm able to be at peace with my reality. I know that life is fluid and that things will change, and I am flexible and accept the changes that unfold rather than resist them. I trust that the changes will unfold for my highest good.
Example: I (Kim) was in a job that required me to work often until 7pm. After a week, I got frustrated and thought “I get hungry and tired if I work until 7, and I'm not paid enough to work such long hours”. Indeed, I was hungry, tired and unhappy in my job. Then someone said to me “You are so lucky to be in this amazing job and meet people from all over the world. I wish I had a job like you.” I began to realize that other people had to pay to come to the programs that I was paid to attend. I began to eat bigger lunches, which gave me the energy to last until 7. From then on I began to love my job. Nothing changed, only my attitude, which made all the difference.
5) Wisdom / Intuition
This means using both the facts at hand, as well as our inner guidance and the “bigger picture,” to make wise decisions and take wise action. In today's mass media society, it's easy to feel bombarded with social expectations of what we “should” do-whether it's buying a bigger car (that we can't afford) or starving ourselves to look thinner (even though we're 20 years older than that fashion model). Following the “still small voice” means having the insight to hear what that guidance is, and then acting on it even if others or society don't fully understand or agree.
Example: A few years, ago, I (Tina) had to make a difficult career decision. Do I accept a lucrative position at a major, internationally respected company, or follow my heart and focus on my consulting practice? From the outside, the corporate job seemed better-big bucks, prestige, power, and juicy opportunities to further climb the corporate ladder. However, my intuition told me to let go of the “guaranteed” income and (supposed) security, in order to follow my passion and gain more freedom to follow my creative pursuits. I truly liked my clients at the corporation and wanted to help them succeed. After months of agonizing over the decision, I chose to focus on my consulting practice-and I've never regretted it. Now, I feel more congruent with my spiritual beliefs, and my income is actually higher than it would have been at the corporate job.
This principle has an element of adventure to it, an orientation to life that says, “I wonder what's going to happen next?” Courage includes exploring new and unknown territories, and living life fully, being present for our experience. It also involves acting on our beliefs even when it's risky or scary. Being courageous is less about not having fear, than it is about feeling our fears and having the fortitude to walk through them anyway, solid in the strength of our beliefs.
Example: I (Tina) recently had a client: Don, C.E.O. of a conservative organization, had to make a difficult choice regarding gay and lesbian rights that might create controversial publicity for his organization. Don himself is not gay, but he believes strongly in the dignity of all human beings, including gay men and lesbian women. He took the stand he believed in, the controversial publicity ensued, and there was a flurry of concern and potential criticism. Don could have caved in, said he was wrong, apologized to the board. But instead, he saw it as an opportunity to use the media attention to advance an inclusive message. When it was all over, the organization not only kept Don in his position as C.E.O., but they offered him additional opportunities because he is so well respected and admired as a man of integrity.
I (Kim) believe that we are all interconnected - with each other, and with the earth. I thus believe that serving others is an extension of serving myself. I can serve others by fixing my children good meals, reading to them at night, being respectful of my co-workers, volunteering in my community, and in many other ways. I believe life is a balance between meeting my own needs and serving others - that one without the other is not complete. By achieving this balance, I feel that I am taking responsibility, at whatever level, for creating the society I want to see. I agree with the quote “if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem”. A life of apathy and self-centeredness is for me a hollow existence. I know from experience that giving and receiving are intertwined, and that when I give, I also receive. Wholeness is created by a balance between giving and receiving. Our heroes and heroines of today are those that make a difference in others' lives and to society. Our future depends on them.
Examples: Our real estate agent took us to coffee and explained her philosophy to us. “I consider selling homes like a marriage broker - I am bringing people together with the home of their dreams. When I find the right match, I am so happy.” I smiled at her dedication to her work and how she saw her work as a real service to others. She gave a lot to her clients, found happiness in her work, and was always in demand. Service can be expressed in many ways. We adopted a 12 year old girl, who had a difficult and unstable background. We serve her by providing a nurturing, stable home with lots of love and support, and she has become a wonderful daughter and sister for our son. In this case, giving and receiving are intertwined.
8) Sustainable Life Practices
Finally, we believe that spiritual practitioners must care for themselves as well as for those around them and the earth itself. This means engaging in practices that are sustainable, using only the resources necessary, and rejuvenating ourselves and the world around us. We need to be able to receive, as well as to give, because one without the other is unbalanced.
Example: A few years ago, I (Tina) was consulting with a progressive company that was known for its nourishing products, community service and commitment to environmental sustainability. People at this company were extremely committed. They worked long hours, and for the most part didn't mind because they cared about their mission. However, as the company began to grow at an explosive rate, people just couldn't keep up. While they struggled to fulfill their mission to their customers, they were burning themselves out, which eventually led to mistakes. The situation wasn't sustainable or-ultimately-healthy for themselves or their customers. Eventually, they were forced to realize they needed to take as good care of themselves and their company as they did of their customers, in order to fulfill their nourishing mission. Today, they have recovered from their “burned out” period and are highly respected.
Dr. Tina Rasmussen is an author, business consultant, speaker and spiritual coach who has helped individuals, groups and organizations actualize their humanistic values for more than 15 years. She focuses on what helps organizations “walk the talk” of their values. Her method has been featured in the books Organizational Integrity, Leadership in a New Era (with Peter Senge and Warren Bennis) and Reflections on Leadership (with Meg Wheatley), as well as Personal Transformation, Vision / Action, Business Ethics, Training & Development, and West magazines.
Kimberly Weichel is president of Weichel & Associates, a consulting firm that focuses on global communications and international projects. She has worked with the United Nations on projects around the world. She teaches courses on the art and practice of peace building, and is a social pioneer. She is co-founder of Our Media Voice: Campaign for Accountability, a national coalition for media reform. She is producing training materials for companies and organizations on ways to foster Spirit at Work, and is on the Council of the Bay Area Spirit At Work chapter.