Spiritual refers to what is beyond the physical, material world. Nowhere are we promised that spiritual implies constant personal rapture. Certainly the ancient wisdom traditions teach that when we are in alignment with the Divine, our lives are easier, joyful and fulfilling. They also teach that along the way there will be lessons – sometimes very painful ones. Spiritual, then, is not separate from our lives. On the contrary, it is a thread that runs through everything, whether we perceive it to be good or bad.
As physical beings we are obliged to live a physical existence. That means we must work to earn a living. There aren’t any sacred teachings that I have found yet which say that business is separate from our spiritual existence. In fact, work is considered a noble practice.
Even so, we have been taught to think of business as an un-spiritual, tangible service or product that returns a tangible profit. In truth, very little of the rest of business is actually tangible. In fact, most of daily business activity is related to our individual ideas, emotions, beliefs and non-rational thinking – which are key in our spiritual experience. These intangibles are what make our work a spiritual practice.
Spirituality is a hot topic right now, even as it relates to work. A trend is forming as growing numbers of individuals ditch their corporate jobs in favor of purpose-driven businesses. They are seeking to reconnect to that noble, spiritual experience in their work. Although it demonstrates greater awareness of the importance of our spirituality, it still misses a vital component to the spiritual nature of our work.
The Spiritual Business: Purpose, Values, and Mission
While many experience their jobs as un-spiritual, that is not an accurate description of the work itself. The reason is simple: every business is based on several non-negotiable intangibles. These intangibles include its purpose, its values, and its mission. None of these ideas are physical, yet they absolutely shape the culture, attract like-minded employees and customers, support branding, and drive nearly every business decision.
It is entirely possible to run a business without articulating the purpose, values or mission.
It is entirely possible to run a business without articulating the purpose, values or mission. It is not possible to run a business without them altogether, however. Certainly there are still businesses scoffing at those ideas (purpose, mission and values) as “impractical.” Recently a client strongly resisted taking the time to establish common cultural values because it was a “soft” exercise and they had real work they needed to do. He is not alone in his stance, even though purpose, mission and vision are generally recognized by every business school and business consultant as vital for strengthening employee and customer engagement.
What my client ultimately embraced is that while you can certainly elect not to commit a purpose statement or set of values for your organization, you cannot avoid having them. They will be murky and undefined, but they will be expressed in every decision and action the organization undertakes.
So the business that elects not to state its purpose, mission or its values is simply choosing to operate on them covertly and unconsciously. Likewise, an organization that states a purpose, mission and set of values it does not actually adhere to, simply because it sounds good, but does not live into them, is also operating on an unconscious set of values and purpose. Employees, customers and key stakeholders clearly see this, even though they may not mention it.
Every business is operating at a spiritual, invisible level to attract or repel, based on what it demonstrates it believes about itself and the world. It might not be a joyful place – in fact, it is likely a highly stressful place. Still, it is spiritual, operating on a set of principles that are implied in its every activity. The question isn’t whether the business is spiritual, the question is whether it is choosing its spiritual path at the level of leadership, with conscious intent.
Everything Is Spiritual
As business owners, employees, customers, and even board members, we bring our own spiritual experience to our roles. When we feel overwhelmed, judged, manipulated, undervalued, disrespected; or alternately, admired, supported, rewarded, at ease, and valued, then we are having a spiritual experience. Whatever our experience is, it is about us, and not the organization.
Certainly, if we feel constantly out of alignment in our work, then we can find a workplace where we are better aligned. But it is important to be clear how we have participated in that misaligned experience first. In the realm of the intangible, only we choose to speak up or remain silent, to participate in conflicts or resolve them, to be of willing service or resent excessive demands. We are the ones who determine our positive or negative relationship to service and prosperity.
I have a friend in 12-Step Recovery, which asks its members to “practice these (spiritual) principles in all our affairs.” We were having a conversation about this idea, and she passionately protested, “But not at work! I can’t practice spiritual principles at work!” The principles she was so certain did not apply include hope, brotherly love, honesty, discipline, integrity, and courage, just to name a few.
The success we achieve, living in alignment with our own individual values and principles, will vary from day to day. Many things can interfere. We might be tired, ill or distracted. Nonetheless, every experience provides us yet another opportunity for us to constantly practice. That is why spiritual practice is called a “practice”. It requires continuous effort, and what better place to practice, than in our daily work?