Should business be concerned about spirituality?
I've been self-employed virtually all my working life. Since I was always profoundly engaged in spiritual questions and practice I always put spirituality at the foundation of my work.
But what did this mean?
I argued it like this: I defined spirituality as life, anima, that which animates. Therefore spirituality can be seen as that which is life-giving, life-sustaining, life-enhancing.
Since life, or spirit, contains all there is, it must contain business. That means that business occurs within life, occurs as part of spirit. At present when we talk about business and spirituality it's more like, "Business exists, we'll bring a little spirituality into it." Spirituality, I argue, is already there, complete and whole. The issue is not to bring it in, but to become aware of it already existing.
What does it mean to be aware of this?
For me it meant putting the insights I have about spirituality at the heart of how I designed my businesses. This resulted in some significant differences in business planning compared to my MBA business training.
Firstly it meant defining what was most important to me in life, and designing a business that expressed those values and needs. It meant making time each day for spiritual practice. It meant looking for the contribution I could make to everyone I met during my work; suppliers, customers, service providers. It meant using my work-life as a spiritual training ground. More and more it has meant being as open as possible to an inner sense of flow and trust.
It's meant listening to my intuition; about people, places, ideas, projects - and then checking this out rationally. Checking with others, no-one regrets trusting their intuition - only not trusting it. Time for people is vital for me, and time for myself. So I designed a business that allowed me four months holiday a year. Sometimes I take the four months as a day off a week, plus holidays; sometimes in a month block. I took two months to be with my mother when she was recovering from a heart operation, five months to travel overseas, shortened work days bring up my daughter (moving work into the evening), spent a month on my own in the country.
But what does it mean in your industry?
Soleira Green (www.soulutions.co.uk) states that as people get more spiritually aware, they will demand more spiritual energy in their products. This is definitely so in terms of food. We are becoming more discerning between food that is over-processed, and the excitement of food that crackles with vitality and taste.
It's true in terms of clothing and other products. When I walk through shops in many cities around the world I see so little that has life, texture, passion, vitality. There's almost nothing I would want to put around my body or into my home. We may have exported our environmental pollution to other countries who now are the factories for the West, but we get back products without soul. We get back from countries filled with spirit, products that are dead; a reflection of the emptiness of consumerism.
So, what can we do differently?
New information abut how life works from science provides new information about how business might work and how we can work with it. Much of the new science is expressed in language that mirrors the language of spirituality, allowing people to make connections and to speak out in words, either of science or spirit - to create new ways of thinking about business.
In my work with individuals and organisations I suggest they take a risk. Get clear what matters most to them and find out if and how they are already expressing this in their business. Then work out how they can do more of it. I then work with them to create ways that this can add value to their business.
I don't think it is simple to do this, but I think it is a place to begin.
For many people business and spirituality is about inner development, about bringing private practices and insights into the world of work.
In this context business is a place for personal practice, a training ground. Any organisation will do. But over time dissonance between personal practice and organisational practice makes a feeling of integrity difficult to maintain. The more we demand of ourselves, the more we demand of our place of work. People long for environments where they can feel safe enough to be honest, where the behaviour of the organisation is something they can be proud of, where values and people are as important as profit.
If we were to take action to bring this closer, what might it mean?
For organisations it might mean beginning with small steps; with creativity, dialogue, reducing fear. It might mean looking at values and acting on them a little more. It might mean looking at what would enable more fun, play and joy at work.
For individuals interested in bringing spirituality into business it might mean the inner disciplines of communicating more honestly and compassionately, working in jobs that match our values, listening from the heart to others as well as from the head.
And what might be the benefits?
The more spiritually aware the client, the more spirit they demand in their products; the spiritually discerning want products that nurture the soul with beauty and services that provide a sense of true connection. This may turn out to be another need of the privileged open to exploitation by the astute. Or it might be a much more profound movement that benefits clients and ultimately creators of more satisfying, soul-full, products and services.
Our businesses are our own. They are an expression of ourselves. If we place at the foundation of them our deepest values, they become an expression of our beauty - that which is most moving about us. In this way we feed more than the body, we also nourish the soul - our own, and that of our community.
For great insights into the enrichment of work through conscious awareness of spirituality I recommend Matthew Fox's book "The Reinvention of Work". HarperCollins, New York. 1994. ISBN O-06-063062-0, a book that links spirit and the new science, and which focuses on larger organisations is "The Soul at Work", R. Lewin and B. Regine, Orion Business Books 1999.
Lani Forrester Morris speaks, writes and works on business and spirituality. She co-authored "Map of Meaning: A Guide to Sustaining our Humanity in the World of Work" with Prof. Marjolein Lips-Wiersma. She is the world expert on implementing the Map of Meaning (TM) and will be delivering a masterclass on bringing meaning to our work in Brisbane in February, 2014. Contact her on: lani at kmcgovern.com