Friday, March 08, 2013

Spirituality is a means, not an end

Last week I was talking to a senior corporate professional on the different aspects of spirituality.  On the one hand, one sees growing popularity of spiritual-oriented movements such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living, Sahajyoga, or 10 days meditation of Vipassana. On the other hand, many feel that these movements of 'spirituality' are mere 'talks' and have no relevance to 'hard performance' in corporate or work life. They claim that spirituality can help manage stress-related disorders, at the most, and are therefore useful only at the later ages of life. For a hard core working professional, engaging in spirituality is a luxury, it is presumed.

As always, the truth is hidden. We have confused means with ends. For working professionals, spirituality is a means to achieve our ends. (For others, it could be an end itself.) But, because corporate professionals  have forgotten the 'end'  of spirituality, they are throwing baby with bathwater.

Spirituality offers three benefits which are absolutely critical to excel in work-life:
  1. It helps us understand and appreciate the purpose of life
  2. It helps us appreciate our inherent limitations of effort 'that we can only produce output, not outcomes' and 
  3. It helps us accept that "People around us are not black and white; they are grey"
If any other system ( other than spirituality) can offer me these three benefits, then i need not try to become 'spiritual' ?

Why is the first benefit of spirituality [finding the purpose of life] useful? It helps us get a long term direction in life, a bearing that enables us to navigate through the thick and dense jungle, called life. It helps us understand that our daily work is just a means to achieve an end that connects us to the source of life. It helps us therefore avoid short term actions ( such as immediate transactional benefits ignoring our conscience ) that hamper the long term result of our life. It helps us do something daily to reach that end to which we can only 'contribute' like all others. It is a brilliant stress buster for us who are constantly in the mode of achieving something everyday.

Why is the second benefit of spirituality [Effort can produce output, not outcome] useful to excel? As we have discussed earlier in an earlier blog, through our effort, we can only generate output. But we cannot generate outcomes, because outcomes are the result of many interacting elements, most of which are out of our purview of control. Even President Obama cannot control terrorism; or ensure health-care to all. Good intention, hard work, or single minded dedication can only produce outputs, but may not produce outcomes. Deluged with advocates of 'positive psychology' self help Gurus, we have forgotten this important principle of second law of excellence. We therefore tend to overdo efforts, 'somehow' try to twist outcomes impairing the long term health of the system, and win the war, but lose the battle.

Why is the third benefit of spirituality [ People are not black and white, they are grey] critical? We tend to see others ( and therefore ourselves) as black and white. However, we are more complex grey creatures, because our ( and people's ) behaviour changes on how our past interacts with the unfolding present, on how the reality matches with our  expectations, and how our actions produce ( or not produce) the desired outcomes. But instead of understanding this reality, we tend to simplify people as good vs bad, nice vs rude, confident vs passive, right vs wrong. This results in dysfunctional behaviour with people: conflicts, taking rigid stands, avoiding to face  reality. People, instead of becoming collaborators, become a bottleneck. And without joining hands with people, nothing of significance can be achieved.


With these three benefits, Spirituality is not only useful for corporate professionals, but is absolutely critical to excel in their work. By providing them long term direction in their lives, it not only helps them excel in the current task, but prepare for the next challenge. Professions, with long term direction, tend to anticipate the challenge instead of reacting to the challenges.

Third benefit of spirituality affects our productivity the most. We tend to take stands visavis people all the time, and unwittingly create roadblocks for ourselves in our path of excelling.We are either against them or too attached to them.

The second benefit perhaps affect us the most because we always forget that we cannot produce 'outcomes'. Like Daniel Kahneman, the Noble Prize winner says, Success is equal to talent plus luck. But big success is a little bit of talent plus a huge luck.

I have seen many working professionals practicing spirituality without gaining these three benefits, because they are confusing means with ends. For them, spirituality becomes another way of spending time, instead of learning more about life. Spirituality becomes another crutch, instead of a step to go ahead. For them, Spirituality is really a luxury.

But i have also met some professionals practicing spirituality without being religious, or following any movements of any Guru. I know a family where the father has been doing social activity while the mother has been working to keep the fire glowing in the kitchen. Both children claim to be atheist, but are deeply spiritual and successful in their work-lives.

How are you practicing spirituality?

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