Corporate World as a Spiritual Path
Updated: Nov 8, 2021
As many seekers progress on the spiritual path, there is a natural disinterest, or at times, alienation towards the material aspects of life.
This dissociation happens as an aftermath of the mind experiencing pain and suffering. But, one has to go through it with the least resistance because it creates space to look within and find a deeper meaning to life.
Many spiritual aspirants find themselves isolated due to an aversion to material life and attachment to a spiritual way of living.
But, what most of us don't realise is that the material world is a platform for exhausting karma, cultivating higher awareness, and helping others along the way.
We can meditate for countless hours, attend yoga retreats in nature, learn kundalini awakening techniques, and travel the world. These certainly expand the mind and teach us something.
But, the most important lesson is to integrate these insights into our mundane material life. After all, any retreat can become an escape if we don't apply the knowledge gained.
The Yoga of Modern Times
Humans are dynamic by nature, and that is why everyone can benefit immensely from Karma Yoga - a path suitable for the modern world, as we all have to work irrespective of spiritual progress.
The aim is to be fully involved in every action without expecting a positive outcome as per our wants, needs, and preferences.
The limited perception of Karma Yoga is service, volunteering, and charity. But, in the broader sense, every action performed with awareness and non-attachment is Karma Yoga.
Every thought, habit, lifestyle choice, behaviour, and interaction is a playground for evolution.
There is an ongoing trend of many people leaving the corporate world for lucrative freelance careers. The grass seems greener on the other side of the fence, but every industry has its challenges.
Some people have the option to change career paths or be their own boss. But, for most people, the corporate world is the source of their bread and butter.
So, if we perceive the corporate world from a different lens, it can be a potential stepping stone and a practical path to spiritual evolution.
Corporate World - The Ultimate Battlefield
In the Bhagavad Gita, a mighty warrior like Arjuna thought of quitting the war because emotions and inner conflict swayed him. But, Lord Krishna reminded him about the importance of fulfilling his duty and responsibilities.
It is relatively easy to meditate in solitude and feel a sense of calm. It is also easier to work in isolation. But, the yardstick of spiritual progress is during adversity, conflict and challenges.
Any job dealing with deadlines, feedback, egos, politics, and related stressors is a battlefield in itself. The challenge of working a corporate job serves as a mirror to our shortcomings and limitations.
After all, if we don't work with awareness, there is a chance of being defensive while receiving critical feedback, frustrated with a coworker who pushes our buttons, getting lost in the rat race of comparison, or working to the point of burnout by neglecting health.
In today's world, people want to talk over others and have everyone's attention. So, being patient and humble in an environment designed around collective egos is a challenging endeavour, and that can be a powerful spiritual practice.
Let us understand how we can use work as a means of service, growth, and excellence.
1. Learn the Art of Self-Awareness & Empathy
We live in a world of transactions where we interact with others to fulfil a need or perform a duty. So, one must learn how to navigate these waters because there are bound to be interplays of conflict and friction.
These are usually heightened in the corporate world because everyone is answerable to someone and deals with personal challenges. Working with deadlines, limited resources, and uncertainty in a stressful environment can often trigger our underlying fears and insecurities.
So, cultivating self-awareness and empathy are of utmost importance. Being aware of our triggers, reactions, and tendencies helps identify where we can improve rather than blame others.
The other half of the equation is cultivating empathy by stepping into the other person's shoes and truly understanding the situation from their perspective.
This does not mean feeling pity or sympathy, but rather nurturing a healthy connection, fostering teamwork, learning from different perspectives.
The marriage of self-awareness and empathy helps us manage the unconscious tendencies of reacting to triggers, acting from insecurity, or functioning with anxiety.
It instead empowers us to become aware of our patterns, be assertive when needed, and treat others with kindness - as everyone is working towards the same goal within the ecosystem.
When every individual on the team starts to look inward while observing the external situation, the outcome is a healthy work culture based on the values of trust, patience, empathy, and harmony.
2. Work with Involvement & Non-Attachment
Working without expectations is a difficult pill to swallow because we are conditioned to work for a reward. This reward can be financial income, recognition for efforts, job security, or comfort in life.
It is natural to make efforts and expect an outcome based on our likes and dislikes. Everyone wants to progress in their respective path. We have bills to pay, family to take care of, ambitions to achieve, and commitments to fulfil.
But, the essence of Karma Yoga is to perform work as a duty with complete acceptance of the result, whether success or failure, profit or loss, praise or criticism, joy or sorrow.
This is easier said than done, but with practice and faith in a higher power, we begin to understand the nuances at play. We realise that the outcome is never in our hands entirely because there are external factors involved.
For instance, one can do their best to prepare for an interview. But, other factors such as their situation at home, traffic on the way, the interviewer's emotional state, and the other applicants - will collectively decide the outcome of the interview.
Similarly, one can put in their best effort on a project at work. But, external factors play a more significant role in shaping the outcome.
When we become aware that we don't control the external situations, a substantial psychological load is taken off the mind. A sense of surrender dawns, which leads to accepting success as a blessing and failure as a learning lesson.
Interestingly, this surrender leads to being more focused on the process rather than anxious about the outcome. After all, we are only responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
It is also helpful to accept that every day at work will not be motivational, successful, and creative. Instead, there will be moments when external factors or one's internal state will affect emotions. Working diligently through those blockages leads to the purification of the mind.
We have to remember that work is worship. It is a duty and responsibility to fulfil. This process gets easier if we feel grateful for having a job while loving the work environment and process.
3. Soothe and Strengthen the Nervous System
Philosophical knowledge is practical only when we embody it. So, it is essential to balance the mind and body to improve wellbeing, enhance self-awareness, cultivate empathy, and work with a purpose.
An unhealthy body decreases tolerance to stress and leads to diseases. On the other hand, a healthy nervous system helps cognition, energy, relaxation, and performance.
So, it is imperative to reduce the 'stress response' of the sympathetic nervous system and activate the 'relaxation response' of the parasympathetic system.
This means moving from a 'fight-or-flight' mode where one is overwhelmed, agitated, defensive to a 'rest-&-digest' mode of being relaxed, calm, focused.
Any approach to service, empathy, self-awareness, and productivity works most effectively when the body is resilient to daily stressors.
So, when someone is getting on our nerves at the office, or we feel a threat, or have immense pressure to meet a deadline - a healthy nervous system will help us more than lofty philosophy.
The following practices help heal, strengthen, and rejuvenate an over-stimulated nervous system and build resilience to perceived stress:-
Practice asana and pranayama
Emphasise deep and rhythmic breathing
Take walks in nature (or parks)
Massage the body (or the scalp and soles of feet)
Eat nourishing and digestible food
Listen to soothing music
Practice good sleep hygiene
Reduce sensory overload
Reduce exposure to electronic devices
Limit consumption of caffeine
The activities mentioned above are also an indicator of the importance of finding a balance between work and life. We must never forget that we can only give what we have.
So, when we are overworked, stressed, anxious, burnt out - we are naturally unable to be present and enjoy work, relationships, hobbies, and the other blessings in life.
There is always a tradeoff and compromise based on one's priority. For some, work is more important than relationships and health. For others, healthy living is more important than material success.
Either way, the work we do in collaborative environments can be a spiritual practice when approached correctly. It shapes our character, teaches patience, fosters creativity, and cultivates empathy - which are spiritual virtues in themselves.
Spiritual life is not about escaping the world or renouncing desires. Instead, it is about using every experience in life as a stepping stone to learning and evolution.
"Every work is sadhana (spiritual practice) if done with concentration. Doing good for others without any ulterior motive will be the social philosophy of this century" - Swami Satyananda Saraswati