Sacred World, Sacred Work

Vast amounts of words and books have been written on time management. But few of these authors are willing to address the sacred nature of work. The spiritual journey and the commute to work are rarely linked. We humans are adept at keeping important aspects of our lives departmentalized and separate. So we imagine that spiritual things happen on Sunday and work-related matters begin on Monday morning. Living a Zen-inspire life can anchor you in a sacred world that includes yourself, your relationships and the way you contribute your gifts to the world at large. Who you are and what you become have very much to do with the work you do in the world. What you choose to do in the world is a major commitment of your time and energy. If you don't experience this work as something that is part of your larger vocation, you are likely to experience work as uninspiring, stressful, stale and unimaginative.

In this article I'd like to suggest ways you may reclaim your spiritual self in your place of work. This will not be easy. It will most likely require that you open to sorrow, sadness and hardship in your place of work. This is the price of happiness. As poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko puts it:

"Sorrow happens, hardship happens, the hell with it, who knew the price of happiness, will not be happy."

For those who say the spiritual journey is best left at home, the vast amount of corruption, greed and lack of integrity apparent in our corporate cultures today would seem to confound this conceit. Those who say business is only about the bottom line don't understand the sacred nature of work in the world, nor do they understand how detrimental the lack of spirit, imagination, joy and creativity is to the very profit that all businesses need to make in order to thrive and survive.

Our corporate world is adrift today because we do not appreciate how vital and important being principle-centered is to success in the world. When you compromise your core values for some future happiness or profit, you are acting in a way that is unclear. When you do not have complete integrity in your work, you undermine trust with those you work with and when you destroy trust business becomes much less efficient and more expensive to operate.  Patricia Aburdene, Author of Megatrends 2010 puts it this way: "Transcendent values like trust and integrity literally translate into revenue, profits and prosperity." The former Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Jim Burke says, "You can't have success without trust. The word trust embodies almost everything you can strive for that will help you to succeed."

One thing the management gurus have right is this–to survive in today's business climate you need to be nimble. The stakes are high. You can be fired today; lose your pension tomorrow, and if you're not vigilant, your company can be taken over when you least expect it like a tsunami flooding the board room.

If work is about doing, then the sacred is about being. When you reclaim the sacred in your work, you discover a stillness and spaciousness within the activity of your work. The battle cry of corporate consultants may be for more creativity, commitment and innovation in the American workplace, but you can not have this positive "doing" without the one who experiences how it gets done. When you are alienated from the process of how products and services are produced on a human scale, your workplace becomes a toxic waste land, like the polluted waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the black oil sticks to everything and sucks the life out of all your best efforts.

So where does the journey begin. Well, it begins where you are. Listen to Dante Alighieri's opening words in Commedia:

"In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost."

Reclaiming your spiritual work in the world is not easy. It may begin with depression. When we do our Zen services during meditation retreats, we chant the following words from "The Identity of Relative and Absolute":

"Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light. Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind in walking."

Your spiritual, creative potential seems strangely linked to those parts of yourself that you keep in the dark. Shining some light in these murky waters, you suddenly discover how unwelcome they are in the workplace and how easily you can be misunderstood and dismissed as having aberrant, deviant or negative behavior.

But you will not retrieve the joy and happiness your work deserves without risking the inconvenient and darker voices of your whole being. This is no easy task, and it means reawakening your imagination in such a way that you can again be the author of your work. One of the best ways you can begin to find the sacred in your work is to make room in your life for a daily practice of mindful meditation. It can help you balance the light and dark, keeping things in proper perspective while touching the nurturing stillness which is at the heart of all creative and productive work.

"Working is its own end" says James Hillman,  "and brings its own joy; but one has to have a fantasy so that work can go on, and the fantasies we now have about it–economic and sociological–keep it from going on, so we have a hugh problem of productivity and quality in our Western work."

When you bring mindful awareness into  your workplace, you honor your heart as well as your mind. Your body needs your full attention too so you can continue your work in a balanced way that does not end in chronic stress or burn out. And your heart will make it clear that you need community, tradition and continuity at work just like you need it at church, temple or synagogue. For there is a stubborn truth that refuses to be ignored. While you may try to ignore these inconvenient truths, there is that in you which longs for meaningful, productive and joyful work in the world. When you live a Zen-inspired life you'll discover this spiritual path runs through your home, your relationships and the board room at corporate headquarters.

Robert Althouse