We all want to enhance our experience of work and enrich our work environments with meaning and purpose, vision and values, creativity and inspiration, joy and deep human connection. How do we do this? Let’s look inside our own self, into our own soul, for guidance.
If we’re going to use the word soul in a business context, we’d better define it, we’d better understand its meaning clearly. Otherwise, this single word – so often thought of as abstract, esoteric, and unpractical – will probably create much confusion, doubt, and maybe even cynicism. Let me tell you what I mean by soul, and how I think it relates to our work lives in very practical and useful ways.
There are many definitions of soul, some more precise than others, according to various religious, spiritual, and metaphysical belief systems, varying from culture to culture. I use the words spirit and soul in the same way and to mean the vital principle or animating force within living beings.
I use the word soul poetically and metaphorically, to evoke a dimension of living which opens before us from time to time with such compelling force that we fall to our knees in silence and awe and gratitude. Soul refers to those gorgeous moments of self-transcendence, of love, of joy, of communion with the whole of existence in which we find ourselves intimately connected to everything and everyone.
When these disruptions to our conventional way of living occur, the mask of appearances falls away, and we see something profound about life. We experience something that is timeless. It’s beyond words, and the mind hardly grasps it. In these moments, a new perspective appears.
Let’s go into this a bit deeper and see what this soul perspective implies for us. Take a moment to please remember a time when you experienced an awakening to the fuller and deeper meaning of being alive. Try to remember a time in which you were lifted by the hand of grace into a feeling of unconditional joy, abundance, and generosity. In this remembrance and from this perspective, what does soulful living mean in the context of our work? What are the implications of soul?
The soul implies a real and living connection to others. Recognising this connection with others means that we must treat others with respect, kindness, compassion, and dignity. Who would not like to be treated in this manner?
Soul implies beauty. This means that our actions must preserve the natural beauty of life in all its manifestations. Recognising the natural beauty of life, we will not destroy, pollute, defile, or degrade anything. This is certainly a sound principle to guide us in our business strategies and decisions, isn’t it?
Soul implies truth. This means we must speak the truth, we must be accountable for our actions, and we must be straightforward in our dealings with each other and with the communities of which we are a part. Recognising this, we are bound to be honest and transparent in our actions and intentions. This is how business organisations can claim an honourable place in society.
Soul implies balance and harmony. This means we must keep our priorities in order and give equal time to our own personal growth, to our families, to our communities – to those pursuits and activities that enrich our whole life. Recognising the need for balance, we will not be compulsive or greedy, we will not sacrifice the integrity of this moment for a future promise. This will keep us sane and healthy.
Soul implies universality. This means that we are all shareholders in certain basic values. What do we all want? We all want to be appreciated, to be accepted, to make a positive contribution to others. We want to feel that our lives and our labours make a positive difference. We want to give, to serve, to be the reason for someone else’s happiness and well-being. A popular bumper sticker reminds us to serve others in these words: Practise random acts of kindness.
Soul implies inspiration and deep passion. This means that we live and work from our hearts, from what we truly love. If we follow our hearts to work, we will not need to be motivated by some cheap management trick to give our best effort. Our heart will always ask us to give our best, for the sake of love and passion. We will not need to be bribed. Enthusiasm, cooperation, and commitment are the hallmarks of a heartfelt life. Is there anything we could not accomplish, together, working from and with our hearts?
Soul implies joy. This means that we work from joy, with joy, and towards joy. This is not a Pollyanna principle, because I think that everything we do in life is for the sake of joy. Let’s be honest about it: no-one likes to work in an environment of tedium, depression, and sadness. Let joy be our standard: if joy is present, we are doing things right, and doing things well. If not, we are doing things wrong, and we should stop and figure out how to get back on track. Can you imagine a performance review whose only question was: Please rate the amount of joy you experienced on the job, on a scale of one to ten.
Soul implies going beyond conventional boundaries. This means we should always feel free to risk new ideas, new approaches to old problems. This means we should develop our minds and bodies and spirits so that they shine with creativity and innovation. Recognising this, we would welcome boldness, diversity, and initiative. We would be open to continuous learning and growth; and not just for the sake of profit, but for the sake of being human beings. I hope that we are all growing in self-awareness each day.
Soul implies clarity and awareness. This means that we speak and act mindfully. Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of our true motives and intentions. It is a balanced alignment among thought, word, and action. Mindfulness means to be deeply in touch with our thoughts and emotions every moment. Mindfulness means that we are able to see what is actually happening around us, and to not be confused or misled by our own projected fantasies and ideas of what is happening. Being mindful implies a commitment to an ongoing process of self-inquiry, of discovery, of illuminating the unlit aspects of our subconscious that often drive us without our knowing it.
These are some of the things I mean by soul, and some of the implications of soul in the workplace. I do not presume to be the authority in this; I do not want you to think I am laying down an exact formula. But if we continue this line of inquiry in our respective work places, I believe we will open up great and wonderful possibilities. I believe any organisation that encourages such a dialogue will stand at the very forefront of meaningful change and progress. I believe that such organisations will be known as much for what they do as how they do it; known as much for their products and services as for their ethics, values, and principles.
Liberating and nourishing the human soul within the workplace is a gift the world sorely needs at this time. Please be generous in your giving.
I’d like to leave you with a few questions to ponder, perhaps to discuss with others:
What is your definition of ‘soul’? Is this definition based on what others have told you, on what you have read, or from your own direct experience? Does your awareness of soul guide your choices and decisions in life? Have you ever had a conversation about soul with colleagues in the workplace? How do you feel when you are required by your job to say or do something that runs counter to the knowing of your soul? How do you reconcile this? What fears come up when you consider being truly authentic and congruent with your soul’s wisdom? How do you deal with them?
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