Last week, I found myself with a group of film producers who were gloating over the genius of a corrupt politician who had inveigled a real-estate project that could earn him Rs.7000 crores. They envied how he threw money at women and secretly had his ‘fun’ too. Even beyond the morality of the politician’s actions – which they didn’t seem to have a problem with – what was disturbing was their naïve obliviousness of the psychological and emotional consequences of such a life. As the conversation veered to other ways to make big money, pretended I had an urgent phone call to make.
That evening, I shared this conversation with my wife, an alternative therapist and healer. Considering the option of moving back into a full-time job in films after three years as consultant, I lamented that the film business was fundamentally ‘unspiritual’. She reminded me that it wasn’t about the film industry, the potential for greed and fear existed in all professions – weren’t there healers and therapists who were obsessed with money and success too? She asked: “What if it’s not a profession which is spiritual or non spiritual? What if being cut off from consciousness is the real issue…? Maybe it’s not really about what job you do, what matters is how conscious you are while doing it…”
As if to provide me with that contrast, over the weekend, I chanced upon a biography of superstar Rajnikanth, who considers Mahavatar Babaji and Ramana Maharshi among his gurus and finds joy in meditation and kirtan. Rising from bus conductor to superstar to living God, he still wears his trademark simple white kurta pyjama and no make-up in public. Besides his own generous charity work, he has used the adulation to create a network of 63,000 registered fan clubs to do charity work at local levels. In 2004, he refused a cola endorsement because he felt his face on the bottle would mislead fans into ‘spoiling their health by drinking a good-for-nothing, no-nutrition drink’. And as contrasted with the producers who were obsessed with cheating others to making a quick buck, Rajnikanth actually returned money to distributors when his film flopped.
When asked about his attitude to money, Rajnikanth replied, “Why do we work? We work for three things: food, shelter and clothing. Any job, if you are successful, can provide you with these basic requirements. Acting is my job. Earlier I went in search of work by seeking four people, today forty people seek me – nothing much has changed.”
It struck me that stripped of our fear-fuelled imaginations and desire-fuelled fantasies, every job was a simple barter of time and effort for money. As long as the product or service your work creates helps others — or at least doesn’t harm others — and it doesn’t suck every waking hour of your life, every job can support spirituality. We can view our work as a means to gain wealth, prestige and power, but we can also see it as a powerful environment for spiritual development and contribution. Every workplace deeply stirs up our ego’s needs for security, control, money and respect. But therefore, it also presents the greatest opportunity for transformation. Can we work from a space of contribution, clarity and kindness? Can we work without narrowing our focus into that bubble of urgent, primal self-concern? When we get overwhelmed, can we remember, as Byron Katie says, that stress is a compassionate alarm clock that tells us we are caught in a dream?
Rather than resisting or avoiding work, perhaps what we need is a zero-tolerance policy for our unconsciousness within it. Rather than focusing on ‘doing’, maybe we need to pay attention to our ‘being’. As my mentor GD puts it in his unforgettable mantra for work and life: “Who you are being in any situation is always, always more important than what you are doing.” And the good news is while what we do at work is not always in our hands, who we are being always is…