Is Your Job Destroying Your Spirituality?

Work vs Spirituality

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…”

Rajnikanth with friendsAs 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…

Image used under creative commons via katiew

11 thoughts on “Is Your Job Destroying Your Spirituality?

  1. Dear Aalif
    I am an old Magna colleague from the 1990s – very marginally so. I have been reading your great posts for a while. What GD says is spot on. But…as the great Dogberry said in Much Ado – “they that touch pitch will be defiled.” You are attempting a brave experiment. Keep us posted

  2. “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.” ~ Rumi

    The words you marked in red reminded me of something I posted on FB on friday –
    “At the end of the day, one will find that thinking of one’s self alone does not bring a lasting peace. And thinking of only others does not bring inner joy. When both intents are balanced one will find there never was any difference at all.

    It just takes a while to recognise the unity.

    In the meantime, we oscillate between various degrees of self-centredness and self-sacrifice, wondering at our internal sadness and dissatisfaction.”

    As simple as this may sound, I believe remembering this makes it easier to live a conscious life. As long as our priorities are largely dictated by the needs of the individual, we will continue to reinforce the sense of separation and fall more deeply into the story.

    To add to what GD said, the more we focus on who we are being, the more effortlessly we steer away from doing what is not in alignment with our being. It just becomes glaringly obvious and impossible to sustain.

    • Yes, so nicely put, Sangeeta:”the more we focus on who we are being, the more effortlessly we steer away from doing what is not in alignment with our being” 🙂

  3. I remember talking to a friend who is also in films who was a fellow seeker and sharing Eckhart’s “A New Earth” with him. After reading it he said something to the effect of, “this all sounds beautiful but without ego you cannot survive in the film industry”. I was quite taken aback. Yes I’ve had a few light brushes with people in films and it is this whole cloud of beliefs that weighs them down. Truly speaking everything is just a thought, and a thought can be changed and you will see the effect of that change gradually. It is an industry like any other. But it takes a lot of courage to nail these beliefs and do a Byron Katie Work on each of them. But beyond this, it takes a lot of awareness to see beyond the commonly accepted lack perceptions and act from this awareness. Simple examples are the way filmmakers are many a times “running out” of time, the way they believe that they aren’t amply funded, etc. It’s very easy to observe these standing from the outside. I sometimes wonder what it would feel like to work with a filmmaker who feels abundant in terms of time, money, talent, individuality and creativity. 🙂

    • Hmmm… What an interesting comment! My thoughts: when I read the interviews of Ang Lee, he sounds like such an abundant filmmaker. In India, Raju Hirani seems to come from a right place. Is there an enlightened filmmaker around? Well, let me know if you meet him! 🙂

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