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Applying Practical Spirituality at Work
on May 28, 2007
Most of us spend a third of our adult lives at work, and for many it is not much fun. It becomes something that we do to pay the bills, rather than being a fulfilling activity in which we can be fully engaged. Even for people in the professions that require a lot of thinking, work often becomes a bit of a hindbrain activity that people can do in their sleep.
For the last three decades I have been asking three questions:
"Why do so many people sleep walk through life?"
"Would they thank us if they woke up?" and
"What could we do to help them wake up?"
The author of this important book helps provide some answers. He founded Awake at Work Associates, a consultancy that specializes in helping organizations and individuals apply mindfulness awareness in the workplace, to help both recover balance and well-being in work. Michael Carroll is both a practicing Buddhist who is an authorized teacher in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and has over two decades experience in human resources in several large companies. He teaches mindfulness meditation at the Omega Institute, New York Open Center, and the Wharton Business School in Philadelphia.
Michael encourages us to explore our relationships to work and his book is full of practical and uplifting suggestions that are grounded in his work in meditation.
One good example is this: he points out that if we are going to be awake at work, we need to understand how we fell asleep. In Tibetan Buddhism, meditators study the six confusions or "mindsets that describe how we imprison ourselves at work." He then applies these six confusions in the workplace:
Work as drudgery
Work as war
Work as addiction
Work as entertainment
Work as inconvenience
Work as a problem
As he says, "recognizing that we, not work are imprisoning ourselves is critical if we expect to discover well-being in our livelihoods." So he provides precise ways of "letting go" of the imbalances that work can introduce into our lives by cultivating authenticity and a right code of conduct.
He also describes a practice that he calls "enrichment," that can be used to used to resolve conflicts. The idea is that in an adversarial situation, we should not try to defend our own truth or position, or to find some way in which we can benefit, but to act with good will to produce an outcome that is mutually beneficial. This is more than just trying to find the win/win in a situation: it is a broader concept that goes beyond personal gain to try and find the greater good. This may sound like something easier said than done, but the book contains good advice on how to attain this.
What I particularly like about this book is that it is an exercise in practical spirituality. A spirituality that we visit for an hour or two a week may be fine for some people, but the real value of a spiritual life is that it can be something that can inform all of our actions, from education, to work, sex and politics.