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Magazine: Yoga Journal
Issue: November/December 1997
Author: D. Patrick Miller


Does your work life feel like a Dilbert cartoon? Here are some practical ways to put the soul back into it. By D. Patrick Miller
Illustrations by Mary GrandPré

When I recently started a small publishing company, I encountered some of the pressures felt by all kinds of businesses: information overload, the necessity of finding capital and maintaining cash flow, the unpredictable demands of an ever-complicated network of professional relationships, and a hefty dose of sheer busyness. What I'd previously regarded as the tough calling of the self-employed writer began to look like a vacation compared to becoming a publisher. And I gained a new understanding of why so many businesses fall short of lofty mission statements and public promises of good citizenship: It often seems that there's just too damn much to do every day without worrying about whether your business conduct is exemplifying your most heartfelt values.

While hurriedly examining some information from a book distributor, I came across a startling reminder that some businesses are nonetheless trying to keep their highest values and daily conduct in sync. In the literature they provide to clients, New Leaf Distributing Company includes a glossary of publishing terms for the benefit of novices. Among the prosaic definitions of consignment, case lots, and affidavit returns I found this unexpected entry: Grace: the action of the Divine in our lives.

As an employee-owned company specializing in the distribution of New Age media, New Leaf can afford to wear its soul on its sleeve. But the last few years has seen a rapid blossoming of spiritual interest across the full spectrum of business environments.

A recent Publishers Weekly feature noted that while workaday stress may be hell on the rank and file, it is something akin to heaven for America's publishing industry. Tens of thousands of books marrying spirituality and business have been sold in recent years. The idea of sanctifying the office has spawned an enthusiastic cadre of consultants who advise executives, managers, and employees on how they can bring their souls to work.

In a keynote address at a Heartland Institute conference on Igniting Purpose and Spirit in Work, Matthew Fox an excommunicated Catholic priest and author of The Reinvention of Work declared that business, not academia or organized religion, is most likely to be the cultural force that brings spirituality back into the world.

All work contains drudgery, but the joy of work must be greater than the pain, Fox insisted. There is a mystical insistence that work needs to be about joy.


On the face of it, the typical American workplace seems to be the least conducive environment imaginable for spiritual development. All too often people are merely making a living while enduring constant pressure, survival anxiety, and backbiting competition. The daily soul-grinding scenario is eased only by laughing ruefully at Dilbert cartoons or indulging in office gossip. And however lofty their company's mission statement may be, most employees accept that the profit motive eventually overrules all other concerns.

But for millions of people, business as usual is changing. According to Craig and Patricia Neal co-founders of the Heartland Institute, a Minneapolis corporation that organizes conferences promoting a new vision of business and the workplace the infusion of spirituality into business is part of a worldwide impulse expressed in America by the so-called cultural creatives. This segment of the adult population (numbering about 35 million people) is moving toward a new set of social values and the strong sense of an inner life, says Craig Neal, and many of these people can no longer tolerate a split between their jobs and their spiritual life.

We've all heard the stories of conscious businesses, where spiritual values are at least theoretically built into the corporate structure. Visionary examples of spirit in the workplace include such frequently cited figures as John Mackey, the founder and CEO of Whole Foods, the nation's largest natural-foods grocery chain (projecting revenues of $1 billion for 1997). As reported recently by FastCompany magazine, Mackey's success principles include such guidelines as Always tell the truth; Giving and receiving are one and the same; and Love is the only reality.

Other companies that crop up in the literature of the movement include not only the usual suspects like Ben & Jerry's and Tom's of Maine, but also corporate giants like Motorola, credited by management consultant Kate Ludeman with maintaining a high level of ethical integrity. Ludeman, coauthor with Gay Hendricks of The Corporate Mystic, reports that Motorola has consistently refused to work with corrupt foreign governments whose business taxes' are essentially bribes. . . . The executives believe that their mission is to create a high-integrity capitalist world. And in London, an advertising agency with the spiritual name of St. Luke's and annual revenues of $72 million has a mission statement reminding its employees that Profit is like health: you need it, but it is not what you live for.

For most people, though, spiritualizing the workplace is more likely to be a do-it-yourself project than any kind ofcompany policy. In a survey of 155 people who attempt to bring their contemplative disciplines to the workplace, a think tank called the High Tor Alliance found that spiritual activism is difficult to pursue in large corporations or bureaucratic institutions where there is little support from the organization's leadership or culture, or where a hectic work schedule and excessive bottom line pressures prevail. The High Tor study also found that the mere suggestion of disciplines like meditation or prayer can often lead to a concern about the imposition of religious or spiritual beliefs in conventional business environments.

And the reality is that even if you work for one of the icons of conscious business, you'll still have to deal with the elements that make work . . . well, work. Whether you're a checkout clerk at Safeway or at Whole Foods, an editor at Newsweek or at Yoga Journal, you'll still have to deal with stress, egos, personality conflicts, deadlines, and the flood of mundane details that accompany even the most lofty endeavors.

This being the case, how do you go about bringing your spiritual values into a potentially hostile work environment? Converting the office into a place of spiritual practice may not be quite as easy as weekend conferences at coastal retreats make it sound. (One of the reasons that conferences about work can be inspiring is that you're not at work at the time!) However, here are some practical steps that can take you in the right direction.

If you have a lousy job, stop lamenting your fate. Nothing chokes off inspiration and the possibility of change like resentment. No matter how awful your work predicament, you can find some blessings to count within it (like: at least you have a job). If you can truly find nothing spiritual about your work, then you've already found something: the spiritual challenge of building a connection between your soul and your everyday labor.

The attitude that work is over here' and spiritual life is over there' prevents us from engaging life to the fullest, write Justine and Michael Toms, cofounders of New Dimensions Radio, in their book True Work. We imagine that we are marking time at work and that life begins when we arrive home in the evening or on the weekends. The result is that work is not fully integrated into our days, and we wind up living at the margins of our lives.

Recommended practice: At the end of every grueling workday, take time out to be grateful for one thing that happened to you. In gratitude lies the key to will, and it takes a lot of will to change your life. You'll also find that your positive energy, initiative, and creativity will improve whenever you resist the temptation to settle scores at work. Remember, sweet revenge is junk food for the soul.

MAKE QUALITY JOB NUMBER ONE. Focusing on the quality of your work from moment to moment is a lot easier when you love your job, but it can provide equally great rewards even when you're not all that crazy about it. The greatest antidote to boredom is a commitment to excellence.

Quality was one of the major lessons of Zen practice for Les Kaye, author of Zen at Work and abbot of the Kannon Do meditation center in Mountain View, California. Kaye went to work for IBM in 1956 and entered Zen meditation practice 10 years later under the direct tutelage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, author of the classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. From the mid-'60s until he retired in 1990, Kaye stuck with both IBM and his meditation practice, thus making his own career a kind of living laboratory for the application of personal spirituality at work.

Through Zen practice, I learned to pay more attention to what I was doing, says Kaye. I became more concerned with doing something right than with meeting the deadline. If you're always worried about deadlines, then you'll be trying to cut corners. So whenever I realized that additional time might be required to fix a problem, putting the deadline in jeopardy, I would go talk to someone about it and take the necessary heat. If the answer was that I had to work weekends to solve the problem, then I could accept that as long as my priority was still to do things with excellence.

Recommended practice: Reward yourself for a job well done by searching for a way to do it even better the next day. As you come closer and closer to perfection in your work, you'll find an inherent ecstasy in the doing of it that far surpasses any external rewards.

GIVE UP PERSONAL AMBITION IN ORDER TO SERVE. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to quit being CEO to work in a soup kitchen although it might. Providing a true service sometimes looks like sacrifice when it actually feels like just the opposite the best thing you could have ever done for yourself. On the other hand, climbing the corporate ladder often has only the appearance of success.

Through Zen practice, my personal ambition started to diminish, recalls Kaye. It was no longer a priority to achieve and succeed in the old-fashioned, materialistic way. So I didn't do things motivated by getting ahead, which meant the political dimension was taken out of whatever I was doing. I didn't try to manipulate anybody or hide information because it might be to my advantage; instead I wanted to share. Even if somebody used my information for their own personal ends, I didn't care anymore. I felt that sharing was in everybody's interest.

Kaye's open attitude was once manipulated by a colleague who asked him for help solving a problem and then used Kaye's solution to win a company award for himself. Initially hurt and angry, Kaye soon decided that vengeance wouldn't get him anywhere. Instead he went to talk directly with his colleague, aired his complaint, and asked for more honest communication in the future, which ended the incident.

Despite my initial angry feelings, Kaye wrote, zazen practice enabled my mind to be flexible and open enough to accept a new way of seeing the situation. . . . Without practice, pride and stubbornness might have caused me to create an ugly situation out of one that was merely emotionally uncomfortable. I might still be harboring ill feelings today.

Recommended practice: Find a way to increase the service element of your present job, no matter what it is. Many companies now give employees time off or even paid time to provide community service; if your employer doesn't have such a program already, you can suggest it.

LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. If you don't start your meditation sessions by giving God a piece of your mind, then don't charge into the workday that way either. At all levels of business, truly effective listening is ultimately more powerful than getting your words in first or last. When the time comes to speak your truth, it will have far more effect if you've built a reputation as a careful and caring listener.

In The Corporate Mystic, Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman tell a story about a friend of theirs who went to a party where he knew almost no one. He decided to try an experiment: Rather than talking or trying to impress anyone at the party, he vowed to do nothing all evening but listen carefully and restate what each person said to him. On the way home his wife, glowing with pride, told him that several people had remarked about what a powerful, charismatic, and articulate person he was.

Recommended practice: With the other participants' permission, record a few of your work-related conversations for the purpose of listening to yourself. Listen for when you stopped listening and note what happened next.

SLOW DOWN WHENEVER POSSIBLE TO LISTEN FOR YOUR SOURCE. In the age of e-mail, cell phones, and faxes, some kind of centering practice is essential to maintaining your sanity, efficiency, and inspiration. If you can't build five minutes of quiet time into your daily schedule, it's time to face the music: You're losing your mind, if not your soul. Change something in order to give yourself the time and space to reconnect with your intuition and inspiration.

Meditation broadens one's perspective on the everyday challenges of work, says Kaye. Not only do you see things in more detail in the present moment, you also see things in a more universal view, the big picture. Your decision-making is more profound because you see problems in the context of all the relationships involved. You see that what you decide will have more than narrow consequences, so you consult with more people in the process and go about things more carefully.

Recommended practice: Use moments of anger, disappointment, or fear as cues to breathe deeply, close your eyes and reconnect with spirit. Then you'll certainly be meditating frequently.

GET CLEAR ABOUT MONEY. Now here's a lifelong discipline. As unspiritual as it may seem, the capitalistic mindset actually worships money. The first step to personal economic liberation is to recognize money as a means to greater ends, never an end in itself.

To stay awake spiritually in business means applying your deeply felt values to the material world right down to the discussion of how much money you get and how much money I get, without whining, flinching, or being vague, says Honora Foah, a veteran of the contemporary spiritual practice known as Subud and creative director of the Atlanta multimedia firm Visioneering.

Once an actress and dancer who identified with the archetype of the starving artist, Foah initially resisted the unavoidable task of financial management when she joined the successful company founded by her husband. For the longest time I felt like I was chewing rocks; I really hated dealing with money. But when I finally turned around and faced it, money became a very important spiritual discipline for me just doing the math because I had never been the kind of person to do it.

Recommended practice: First you have to recognize how unclear you may be about money, and that means paying close attention to what you do with it not just at tax time, but every single day. There's no better guide to this eye-opening (and sometimes mind-blowing) discipline than Your Money or Your Life, by the late Joe Dominguez.

Next, figure out which problems in your life would actually be solved by money and exactly how much dough would be required. For this exercise you may need a broader philosophical overview than you'll find in typical self-help financial guides; one good resource is Jacob Needleman's Money and the Meaning of Life.

Finally, devise a workable plan for achieving serenity, intimacy, and fulfillment for the rest of your life based on the assumption that you'll never have the amount of money you need to solve your problems. Impossible? Then you're still not clear about money. Return to the beginning of the practice.

BE READY TO DIE. Sounds dramatic, but it's really just mystical common sense. If you step off the sidewalk on your way to lunch tomorrow and see a careening bus with your number on it, would you rather go down thinking Dammit, I never made manager! or Oh well, I was absolutely doing the best I could under the circumstances?

Recommended practice: Contemplate the possibility that your next life could be a promotion.

D. Patrick Miller is a contributing editor of Yoga Journal and author and publisher of The Complete Story of the Course: The History, the People, and the Controversies Behind A Course in Miracles (available from Fearless Books, 800/480-2776).

BEING LIGHT AND PLAYFUL Effective work must be fun. We are convinced that life is meant to include having a good time. To the best of our knowledge, the earth is not a galactic penal colony! All our activities should include joy. No matter what, make certain that you have fun by bringing play into your work. Bringing a lightness or sense of humor to your work creates balance in the face of even the most serious challenges.

Bringing your best energy to your work creates a magnetic attraction that calls others to support the work as well. The same is true with your enthusiasm. You know how you feel when you are with someone who is lukewarm about his or her work. It's no fun, and the work itself is less effective. However, when you interact with people who are fully present and truly there, the energy and enthusiasm are contagious and attractive, and you're the beneficiary.

We notice this when we go grocery shopping. There are several large grocery stores in our town, and we find we most often go to the one where the employees seem happy. They are always smiling and joking and having a good time with their coworkers and customers. There are several other food stores where the checkers are almost always fretting about when their next break will be and about how badly they need a cup of coffee. If we ever desire to work at a grocery store, we will certainly know where to send our application.

Over the last 20 years we have spent time with a number of Tibetans and have noticed that they approach life with lightness and playfulness. Although many of them have endured great hardship, including being exiled from their native land, they're not weighted down with the pain of the experience. We've never heard one Tibetan express a negative word about the Chinese or complain about their situation. Rather, they are effusive and upbeat, continuing to look on the bright side without being unrealistic. Indeed, they are among the most pragmatic people we have ever encountered, and they are constantly breaking into laughter.

One of our favorite sayings is from the 14th-century Tibetan Dzogchen master Long Chen Pa, who said, Since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter.

Excerpted from True Work: The Sacred Dimension of Earning a Living by Justine Willis Toms and Michael Toms. Copyright © 1998 by Justine Willis Toms and Michael Toms. To be published by Bell Tower Books, a Harmony imprint, a division of Crown Publishing, Inc.

HOW TO BE A CORPORATE MYSTIC By Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman

Corporations are full of mystics. Over the past 25 years we have been in many boardrooms and many cathedrals, and we have discovered that the very best kind of mystics those who practice what they preach can be found in the business world. We are now convinced that the qualities of these remarkable people, and the principles they live by, will be the guiding force for 21st-century enterprise.

What is a corporate mystic? The dictionary says that mystics are those who have been initiated into esoteric mysteries. It says that mystics intuitively comprehend what is true. The people we call corporate mystics seem to operate at a level of effectiveness that appears esoteric until you understand the principles they are drawing on. In addition, the mystics we have known definitely have a strong connection with their intuition and know how to use it where it counts. We go further in our definition, however: Corporate mystics are those who operate from a base of integrity, pursue their visions with passion and compassion, and evoke the full potential of those with whom they come in contact.

We believe that these qualities will become crucial in the century to come, when change occurs at a rate that may be hard to imagine even in our speeded-up present. Here is an opportunity to check yourself out against these qualities, attitudes, and operating strategies. Find out how many of these characteristics are part of your life already.

ABSOLUTE HONESTY. Every single mystic we interviewed said the same thing: The first secret to success in business is to say only things that are true and to say them with total consistency. Business people get into trouble when they say one thing to the banker, one thing to the customer, one thing to the board. We have facilitated many emotionally charged sessions in which company executives admitted lies, distortions, and concealments to people who had believed them. Yet even though these meetings were often loud and long, we have never seen a situation where absolute honesty did not pay off. People cannot relax and produce at their finest in an atmosphere of distortion and concealment. Honesty brings out the best in everyone. In other words, integrity is not just a noble idea, it's a tool for personal and corporate success.

Corporate mystics are also honest, even brutally honest, with themselves. They want to know the truth, even though that truth is sometimes personally painful.

FAIRNESS. Scrupulous attention to fairness distinguishes the corporate mystic. They do what they say they are going to do. They don't do what they say they're not going to do. And all of this is carried out with across-the-board fairness and consistency.

SELF-KNOWLEDGE. Human beings are born learning, and the moment we stop learning we start to die. Corporate mystics are particularly concerned with learning about themselves. They recognize that our minds, bodies, and spirits are the instrument by which we carry out our actions, so they put a great deal of attention on examining their motives, history, and feelings.

FOCUS ON CONTRIBUTION. Early in his executive development work, one of Gay's clients was a CEO who had been uprooted by the shifting winds of corporate politics. Gay recalls, I asked him point-blank why he didn't just retire right then in his early 50s. After all, I said, you have more than enough money to live on for the rest of your life. You could play golf, enjoy your grandchildren, get to know your wife. What would you miss that would be worth getting back into the fray for? He looked at me with a total incomprehension. The contribution,' he explained, as if he were showing a child how a clock worked. When I retire I want to be completely satisfied that I have made my full contribution. I'm not finished yet.'

NONDOGMATIC SPIRITUALITY. Corporate mystics tend to be allergic to dogma, and often remain at a distance from religion in its more structured forms. Rather, they attempt to live their lives from the universal sources of spirituality that underlie differing beliefs. Above all, spirituality means deeds, not words, to the corporate mystic. MGet More Done by Doing Less. To get more done by doing less is a credo and a key operating style of corporate mystics. They put a great deal of attention on learning to be in the present, because they have found that this is the only place from which time can be expanded. If you are in the present not caught up in regret about the past or anxiety about the future time essentially becomes malleable. When you are in the grip of the past or the future, there is never enough time, because you are trying to be in two places at once.

CALL FORTH THE BEST OF THEMSELVES AND OTHERS. Most mystical traditions speak of a clear space at the center of ourselves, whether it is called soul or spirit or essence. It is what some call the higher self and represents who we really are at the core. Corporate mystics know how to stay focused on this essence in themselves and in their coworkers, and how to bring it forth reliably.

OPENNESS TO CHANGE. Mystics have a respect and even a fondness for change that reaches down into their cells. They know that everything is change that's the way life works in this part of the universe. At times they may have unpleasant feelings about the direction of change, but they are careful not to let those feelings limit their ability to respond.

A SPECIAL SENSE OF HUMOR. Corporate mystics laugh a lot. They are quick to point out the quirks of life and the human animal, and they are quick to include themselves in the joke. They can laugh at themselves and do because they have embodied a basic duality: the sacredness of life and the utter absurdity of it at times.

KEEN DISTANT VISION AND UP-CLOSE FOCUS. Corporate mystics have a gift for engaging people in big dreams. They can stand in a future that does not exist and map out the details of how to get there. At the same time they can look steadily at right-now reality.

UNUSUAL SELF-DISCIPLINE. Corporate mystics are fiercely disciplined, but it is a discipline born of passion. They generally do not rely on the kind of authoritarian discipline that is driven by fear. They motivate themselves through a clear sense of purpose, not with the shoulds and oughts of a fantasized ideal. This type of discipline makes them flexible and adaptable rather than rigid.

BALANCE. Mystics keep a keen eye on balancing their lives in four main areas: intimacy (including marriage, family, and close friendship), work, spirituality, and community (including social and political life). The balance between work and intimacy is usually where problems occur. A considerable amount of our consultation time has gone into helping extremely busy people achieve a harmonious balance between work and home.

From The Corporate Mystic by Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman. Copyright 1997 by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. Used by permission of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, Inc.



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