How can you make work into a spiritual practice?
More specifically, how can you do it and still live within a secular framework? After all, the most obvious way to make work into a spiritual practice is to do something like join a religious order or get a job in a house of worship. If that’s not an option for you, then how do you consciously integrate your career or job into your spiritual practice?
The first step is to acknowledge two of the most prevalent paradigms or thought patterns that cause us to leave the most important parts of ourselves behind when going to work.
Paradigm #1 – There’s my work life and then there’s the rest of my life.
In his famous book, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, wrote “…when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.”
Sounds fabulous doesn’t it? To go to your job and experience love and unity with yourself, others, and God. Yet, many of us don’t know such unity. We tend to break our lives down into various categories and call each one a life. For example, there’s the family life, the social life, the spiritual life, and the work life… and those are just a few of the more popular categories.
When you compartmentalize your life like this, it becomes difficult to experience unity with yourself, others, and God as Gibran suggests. You become more willing to forego using your special gifts and fulfilling your purpose at work. You think you’ll find a way to do that more fulfilling work elsewhere. Perhaps, as a parent (family life) or by volunteering in your spiritual community (spiritual life), etc.
You can choose this paradigm, or you can choose to look at your life holistically and see all the parts of it as interconnected. You can choose to bring who you really are to what you do into all parts of your life, including your work.
Paradigm #2 – Work is drudgery.
Another reason we forego using our special gifts in the workplace is that somewhere along the way, many of us agreed to be less “naïve.” We bought into the falsehood that we’re not supposed to love our work or work with love.
It’s possible that when you were just starting out in your career, you believed that you would be able to make the difference you were meant to make in the world. Then your idealism shattered against the harsh reality that your manager or the company leaders really didn’t care about your special gifts or your life’s mission. They simply wanted you to do the job you were assigned to do. They’d squashed their own gifts and found a way to fit in so that they could have “security,” and now it was time for you to do the same.
When you’re in this thought paradigm, you see people who clearly love their work and work with love and think they’re just lucky is all. You think, “Not everyone can do that.” If you’re the optimistic type, you might even believe that you’ll eventually get to do what you really love. Maybe when you retire? But for now, work is drudgery. So you just accept it.
You can shift this paradigm when you decide that “they” don’t know best after all and agree instead with Gibran when he said, "Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune. But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth's furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born..."
Your Spiritual Practice
After shifting your previous thinking, you can take the next step toward making your work into a spiritual practice, and that entails understanding who you really are and what is meant by a spiritual practice.
According to Wikipedia, a spiritual practice “is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of cultivating spiritual development.” So, it’s regular actions you take, and your goal is spiritual development.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s work was his spiritual practice – he was a Jesuit priest – and he wisely said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
This profound statement puts into perspective who you truly are – a spiritual being. Since your goal for a spiritual practice is to develop your spirituality, then your human experiences are the regular actions you take every day. The act of living is your spiritual practice when you are doing it consciously.
When you reach this level of awareness, you question how engaged you are with “living” and “having a human experience.” You no longer see yourself as simply “living” and what you do in your work as separate from your true essence.
It’s at this point you understand that every action you take at work can be done with the purpose of spiritual development. You realize that whatever you do with that level of awareness is, indeed, your spiritual practice.
"And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life's inmost secret." ~Kahlil Gibran
Angela Loëb is an author, speaker and self-development consultant who loves to study, teach, and write about mind mastery, spirituality, career, and life purpose. More at http://about.me/angelarloeb