Spirituality in the Workplace
for the Self-Employed
(This article was originally published in the textbook, Spirituality in the Workplace, published in India.)
Sometimes it happens that the invitation to speak or write about a subject turns out to be an opportunity to explore something of great magnitude and personal meaning that wasn’t a conscious focus until the invitation made that subject visible. So it was with me concerning what you are about to read. I had given some thought to the subject of spirituality in the workplace in a random kind of way—for example, to spirituality in other people’s workplaces, and to work as a form of spirituality. But until I was invited to write this article, I had never given full and conscious attention to the subject of spirituality in my workplace. And that is because I am self-employed. My workplace is a company of one.
THE LACK OF CUES TO REMEMBER GOD WHEN YOU ARE A COMPANY OF ONE
When your workplace
is a place of one person only, it can be easy to forget the presence of God.
In the absence of other people to not only bounce ideas off but also be reminded
of their humanity—to stretch beyond your immediate concerns and open
your heart to theirs, and thus have your own divinity reaffirmed—it
can be easy to confuse your essential Being with your doing, to get caught
up in the fast-paced frenzy of the race to succeed, not to mention the race
for your business to survive. In the absence of others in your workplace,
it is possible to drive yourself harder and less mercifully than you would
dare drive other people, and to withhold from yourself—whether by design
or sheer unawareness—the kinds of acknowledgment, appreciation, and
kindness you would normally give to others whom you worked with, or for, or
who worked for you. In short, self-employment, while having many benefits
of its own, can lack those built-in cues that can remind you of the divine
purpose of your work, the divine nature of others working with you, and the
divine nature within your Self, from which all your real work comes.
There are, of course, aspects of my work that bring me into contact with other people. In my work as a book developer, I work with first-time book writers helping them write books from deep within. Therefore, I get to (mostly joyfully) sit with these people, listen to them, and help them to discover and write the book that secretly lives inside them. At such times, my work is decidedly spiritual. Not only do I meditate before their arrival and light a candle at their coming, but inwardly I chant the name of God as I sit with them so that I will hear their deepest truth and need rather than the filters of my own thoughts and projections.
And I also come into contact with the kinds of people in a commercial capacity that any business does—suppliers, vendors, advertising venues, customer-service representatives, potential customers, people who might help me market to potential customers, and others relevant to my work. Although these tend to be superficial contacts—sometimes one-time, sometimes repeat business—I make the effort to be aware of the humanity of these people beyond their momentary roles, and have some interchange that acknowledges this connection, whether with them directly or silently, within my own awareness. And unless I am so harried and forgetful that I move about like an automaton, this always works.
Some among the self-employed hire helpers to work in their environment and take the burden of executing the mundane details of the larger business vision off their shoulders. Perhaps this day will come for me on an ongoing basis. So far, however, as a one-person business, I have only rarely hired outside help to deal with the minutiae of tasks, both to conserve cash flow and out of the belief that it helped me to put my own attention to it. Yet during those rare times when a helper sat beside me, busily entering data into my computer and freeing me up to plan my next move, my neglected spiritual focus resurrected itself immediately, showing like a mountain peak above the clouds. I cleared a comfortable place for my helper to sit, gave her clear written and verbal directions and a flowing river of verbal appreciation in addition to a check for her services. And when she left, my work all wonderfully done, I told her and myself she was a treasure.
But when had I told that to myself? When had I given myself clear written and verbal directions, and taken a breath of gratitude for all I was bringing to my business? Had I not, rather, more usually just hit the deck running, papers trailing behind me, lists of things to do dancing in my head like litanies that did not plan to go away, only, perhaps, to replace themselves with others in kind? When had I determined a minimum salary rate for myself, and paid it no matter what? Was I not, instead, the sweatshop labor I decried in others, lacking amenities, forced into long hours, my shoulder put to the wheel of some internal and external factory, with some foreperson with the power of life and death shouting down at me, “Produce! Produce! Produce!”?
What this points to is the challenge—when one is a one-person business, particularly a service and professional business—to consider oneself as deserving the same kind of spiritual treatment and orientation that one would provide for one's clients or customers, helpers, colleagues, and suppliers. The challenge is to cease to think of oneself as a producer, putting in so many hours per day to bring about a certain result and make a certain amount of money per week/month/year, and to begin to think of oneself as being in the image of God, and allowing God to work through you, even in business.
PHASE 1: STARTING WITH YOURSELF
In the West, the religious precept of “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” is thought of as the fundamental teaching for those seeking to live a holy, worthwhile, and happy life. Yet the reverse— to love yourself as you would love your neighbor—is equally important (and, indeed, instrumental in being able to love your neighbor). And this can be just as much of a challenge as the other way around. For if you have been led to believe that giving love and attention to yourself is wrong—e.g., “selfish,” “indulgent,” even, in business terms, “unprofitable”—you will be tempted to ignore your own inner experience and knowing, to bypass it, dismiss it, bulldoze over it, in favor of taking action in the direction of others—including a direction dictated by external standards, which may work for others very well. And while this may even produce results and profits for you, it can leave you feeling strangely empty inside.
So I am proposing—for myself, in the quest to discover what is spirituality in the workplace for the self-employed, as well as for you reading this—that the first focus of attention needs to be on how you treat yourself. To acknowledge and attend to your divine nature and your human needs. For this is the central starting point, from which the ripples in the pool concentrically spread. And to ignore this starting point—this place of you, within you—is to gain the world and lose your soul. That is a sadly common social ailment, and not why you are reading this book. You are reading to find out how to connect what is deepest within you with the work you do and the people you do it with. If you are your most consistent company (pun intended), a spiritually committed working relationship and environment (inner and outer) is not only a basic requirement, but something you richly deserve.
Most writers on a subject tend to put forth some theories, principles, and steps on how to achieve them for maximum success. In all truth, I must tell you that this may or may not happen in the course of this article. Something valuable is sure to come from it, but as to a neat set of steps that I can vouch for, I’m not certain I can provide that. What I can provide—and it has always served me well, in other times and contexts—is the willingness to propose the question, and follow where it leads. This constitutes a quest. And whether a quest is spurred by something external, a driving inner need, or just surpassing curiosity as to what life would be like “if…,” all real quests ultimately lead us home. And this is what I wish for you. You have every bit as much ability, right, and worthiness to make this quest in your own way as I have. I hope the doors that open to me on this subject are of interest and blessing to you.
THE QUEST BEGINS: ONE PERFECT DAY—
BLESSINGS, LEARNINGS, AND INDICATIONS FROM THE LABORATORY
SELF-OBSERVATION, MEDITATION, INTENTION, AND PRAYER
With enough intention, I believe it is possible to have the right kind of and sufficient experiences in a single working day to give direction, encouragement, and sweetness to the quest. And while this may seem a bit intensive and condensed, I believe that total focus and, paradoxically, surrender can bring forth these results on a level that is not dependent on linear time. Since spirituality exists in this nonlinear realm, and the workplace exists very much in linear time (thus, deadlines, timelines, plans, calendared meetings and appointments and all the rest of business paraphernalia and lore), I believe that a single day’s experiences can illuminate the territory and chart a course across an unknown landscape that, somewhere our spiritual being, we know to be true, whatever vehicle we travel this landscape in.
And so, upon going to bed the night before, I set my clock and my intention: to love my Self with all my heart, awareness, and kindness, and to transform the workplace of one into a workplace of One.
On Awakening . . .
7:30 a.m. Reflections while still lying in bed.
I awake with the clock, and immediately remember the intent and adventure of this day. This will not be “business as usual.” I’ll need to see what’s made conscious—what to follow. As I lie in bed reflectively, thinking about “spirituality in the workplace,” at first I think of my actual workplace—the various areas in my home where my home office is located: the spare bedroom containing my desk, bookcase, and filing cabinets; the walk-in closet in my bedroom with a table supporting my computer and printer, a calendar, and many papers—a cluttered space obscuring the color of the table. Ordinarily, I would be out of bed and into the “office” long before I’d had a chance to ask myself, “How are you this morning? How do you feel? What speaks to you?”
But as I lie in bed, breathing with more and more depth and ease, it comes clear to me that I am the workplace. I am the inner environment that goes to these locations, sits in them, and does things or procrastinates doing things or goes into overdrive and does too many things. The inner environment is within me. Today is simply the first day I have set myself up—through intention and the conviction that something essential will be revealed—to become aware of it.
The next realization (still while lying prone in bed) is that the inner reality has as much or more weight than the outer reality; indeed, it influences the outer reality. I know and live by this in my relationships, spiritual life, inner work, and art, but I have had a difficult time bringing this awareness into business. Perhaps it’s because I came to view myself as doing business late in life, without much foundation, experience, or even, in truth, approval (neither inherited nor self-administered). Therefore I don’t tend to go within my Self for the business part of my business, but rather seek external advice in this field that I intrinsically feel is not natural to me. The external advice tends to be very external—lots to do, and almost none of it requiring me to draw on my natural abilities. And so I have worked from this disconnected place, becoming less and less enthused at the split between my spiritual life and how I spend my workweek as time goes on. But today I can feel the inner world within me—through my breath, through a lightening of thought that comes along with that. This is the day I let spirituality into my workplace.
My third reflection, before my feet have touched the floor, is that business puts so much emphasis on goals and plans and “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” and so on that I have resisted this emphasis on the destination. Paradoxically, as a consequence I am always in motion, but not necessarily getting anywhere. My marketing efforts have not gotten me hordes of new clients, for example, and though I’m developing more mastery, I have not usually enjoyed that work. From today’s laboratory perspective, I see that (1) my very resistance to goals has kept me working hard but treading water, and (2) even if I’ve resisted clarifying my goals, all that busyness of business has effectively eclipsed my soul during the work week. Spirituality in my workplace must include room for the journey as well as the destination—to enjoy the experience itself for its own sake and be fully present to it.
me a bit closer to a willingness to clarify my goals from the inside out.
To find out, “What does my spirit want?”
All this, and
I haven’t gotten out of bed yet.
And this leads me to understand about my own nature that I need room for contemplation. Whether it’s lying in bed and breathing deeply and seeing what awareness arises from that, or properly meditating, or going for reflective walks without accusing myself of indulging or slacking off, contemplation rather than continual action more closely fits my real nature. I see that I’ve “bought into” the belief that business is purely an external thing, requiring me to conduct it on the periphery of myself rather than from the deepest place—the place I write my books from, the place I meet and listen to my clients in, the place I meet my Self in.
The other way that rises up today, at the invitation to write this article and my embrace of that focus as a way to shift my own way of approaching my workplace, feels like a more natural path. I don’t know exactly where it will lead, but I do know that if I stay with it, it will lead me someplace real. This feels immensely more relaxed a way to start my workday. I am present, and instead of that internal groan at the start of the workweek, I feel gratitude. The key is to stay mindful, conscious, receptive. No less than in creating art.
When I am in touch with my inner nature, enjoyment and kindness flow naturally. I am not at odds with myself, or busy shutting down the most essential part of me just to get something accomplished. There actually is more of me available to draw from. In this state, there is room for longing. I feel a longing for creative collaboration. I love creative collaboration. I love solitude too, but today I feel the wish for more creative collaboration—for a “playmate” in work. At first I try to talk myself out of it: “Your work with your clients is a creative collaboration.” Yes, but it’s on their books. Today I’m dreaming of someone to play with in my work, itself. It’s a surprising, though pleasing, thought. I wonder what that will lead to, if anything. But I do see that making room for the inner life in the workplace leads to greater spaciousness, to more and undreamed-of possibilities.
My feet at last touch the floor. This is the spirit I will bring into the workplace.
On Getting into Motion
I feel an actual desire to get dressed and go to the local café and work on the business goals and plan I’ve been stalling on for weeks, if not months. Interestingly, I rarely take my work out to a café. But that will extend my working environment. And that café, too, is a workplace—if I am home within myself, and I am in that place.
The thought of a café reminds me of a place I just recently found on the web, not far from home. It bills itself as the workplace of the future. It’s a workplace and café for independent professionals (i.e., the self-employed), where one can rent space to work, hold meetings, conferences, meet with clients; where one can pay a fee that covers administrative help, technology, and many other services. A place where people in diversely distinct businesses can still have the companionship and water-cooler relationships that characterize working for someone else. The café is open to everyone. It sounds very exciting. Still, I am not sure I should go there on this day. Relevant as it is to my quest (though its offerings cost money, of course), it would provide a built-in workplace that might obstruct and color my findings on my own. I override this objection and phone to make sure they are open. I get an answering machine. I leave a message asking if I can visit and explore the place another time.
Moving Toward the Destination/Destiny of My Business
I am sitting in a café/bakery co-owned by a collective. It’s called Arizmendi, after a collective in Spain, and it’s an offshoot of a very successful local collective called The Cheese Board. There’s an air of things happening here, and blues music playing under the sound of people talking at the few, small tables that are fit into a few nooks and crannies. The rest of the space is taken by the coolers selling cheese, olives, and drinks; the wooden shelves holding the fresh-baked breads, buns, muffins, and cookies; the counter where enthusiastic co-owners ring up purchases; and in the back, only partly visible, the huge tables where the breads, etc. are mixed, kneaded, decorated, and baked.
The atmosphere is both hard-working and cheerful. This is the first time I’ve actually sat here, though I’ve bought muffins and scones to go. It is 4 blocks from my home. I have brought my atmosphere to this atmosphere. It creates a third thing.
I’m sitting in front of a piano, writing by hand on paper leaned against the piano’s closed lid. The piano is the only place available—all the few tables are taken—but it is a perfect place. I love music, and I play piano, to some degree. There’s a loosening up entering me at the notion of writing my preparations for my business plan on top of a piano. Maybe the creative and business worlds don’t have to be so far apart.
On the way here, I passed a woman on the sidewalk, sitting in a folding chair, selling “Street Spirit,” a local paper funded by the Quakers to help homeless people support themselves financially while alerting readers to the plight of the homeless. “Buy a paper—donate something?” she had asked me, smiling widely, in a cheery voice. “Buy a paper? Have a great day!” I looked at her clear and peaceful face, and felt a sense of incongruity. Here I was, intent on finding spirituality in my workplace and a way to generate more income. Here she was, on the street, selling papers.
I donated 50 cents, rather than buying a paper for $1. “You’re one of the happier people I’ve met,” I said.
She smiled up at me. “Have a great day!”
A table is freed up. I take my brioche and cup of decaf and my papers off the piano and move them to the table, and set up shop there. As I set out my papers in preparation for preparing for the business plan, I see a man outside through the store’s plate-glass window. He’s reading a book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
Flow is what I’m seeking.
With a bit of trepidation and simultaneous excitement, I pull out of my tote bag the papers I’ve been ignoring until now—on determining my goals and making a business plan. And there is a moment of pause—before just grabbing for the next thing to do—where I remember the inner life I am bringing to this, the intention that it need not be imposed from outside. In this café/bakery of a temporary adopted workplace, the Source of my work re-calls me. I am grateful. I breathe out. I give thanks.
When you are on the precipice of change, even a wanted change, there is that sense of vast openness before you. The unknown reaches across the horizon, invisible as air. If you open your arms and lean into it, will it hold you, like water? Who would logically think, seeing water for the first time, that such an element could hold up a dense human body? And yet. . . .
Floating in water is something I trust completely, and love to do. So I look into the invisible dancing air beyond this precipice, and say my prayer for guidance, listening, moving closer to my destiny—and take out the papers that could constitute a roadmap for reaching that destiny/destination. This awareness—this taking time to keep current with the breath and the inner call—is also spirituality in the workplace for the self-employed.
Directions for Side 2 of your Strategic Attraction Plan:*
1. Write on the top of the page: “I Choose for My Perfect Clients to Expect Me to…”
2. List all the services, products and other items that you have decided your customers can rely on you
3. …The clearer you become about what you want your most perfect customers to expect from you, the
them will appear—quickly and easily!
4. As you write your list, remember to be as specific as possible about each item.
5. This list should be at least as long as your list of perfect customer qualities. When the list is completed,
read it aloud to yourself. After each item, ask yourself, “Do I really choose to provide this service?” If
the answer is yes, add the qualifying details to your list. If no, remove
the item from your list.
[*Adapted from: Attracting Perfect Customers: The Power of Strategic Synchronicity, Hall &
Totally interested, I begin to make the list:
Strategic Attraction Plan, Side 2: “I choose for my perfect clients to expect me
to…” (what they can rely on me to provide):
Services Products Items
1. Help clients with whom I resonate write books from scratch Cassette tape(s) on writing
month (same, in 2 locations)
2. Help clients put together partially written books
Books on writing (WFDS book in progress)
Ongoing group(s), 6-month commitment (prepaid)
3. Teach clients to write by listening within
Books evoking WFDS approach to writing
Presentations at conferences
4. Help clients believe in themselves, their value, & the value of their writing Articles on WFDS
5. Provide hands-on constructive suggestions to actual manuscript
Products available through e-zine, website, in person
6. Editing/revising/diamond polishing of manuscript in progress
7. Compassionate listening and guidance through the writing process (emotional, spiritual)
8. Help with writing articles that serve a spiritual/healing purpose, and may or may not lead to a book
9. Speak with prospective clients at length in initial phone call to determine suitability for each other
Two pages into Side 2 of the Strategic Attraction Plan, I realize I am going far into the future with this list—I’m not breathing much. This recall is a blessing, breaking my trance. I breathe, return to the present. Then go back in.
10. Send them an e-zine with writing encouragement, tips, and news each month
11. Contact publishers & agents who share a similar vision to mine, ask them to look at clients’ mss.
12. Return clients’ phone calls within 24 hours, unless out of town (make clear)
13.Keep clients in mind and heart—send light to them & their projects. Care for their well being
as much as their books’
When I get to #13, my spirit becomes happy. I remember the times—a little neglected, now, but still resurrectable—when I used to do this routinely: hold my clients and their writings in prayer, and send out love and success and encouragement to them. The very doing of this brought me joy, let God flow through me. And this goes back to what I’ve always known, beneath it all: that giving to my clients (many of whom began as friends, or became friends in the process) feels far better to me than a sense of needing to get. Giving has richness and fullness in it. Seeking to get feels like begging; it’s impoverishing. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask for help, but asking is different from begging.
The woman on the street was asking. And giving.
I have completed the Strategic Client Attraction form. And I note, now, that doing it following the context it rose out of make it more possible for me to look at what I actually know and want, and believe them as I wrote them down. Some things on the list are things I dreamed up and then forgot about (e.g., the practice of blessing my existing clients on a consistent basis). With this solid a foundation, it was not difficult to go to the next steps of finding what could be improved in the services I offer (or will), setting a date to begin that improvement, and assessing my availability to receive the fruits of these specifications for the “perfect” clients—essentially, these prayers.
And a bonus: ideas for fulfilling these needs to make improvements jumped out of me with rapid ease. I noted them on a separate page. This, too, is spirituality in the workplace.
There’s a long line of people wanting scones, coffee, pizza to my right. They faded out for quite a while in my earnest, intensive concentration. Now that I’ve come back to the immediate present and my environs—my vision came back into view—I’m amazed at how selective attention can be! And I’m thankful for the whole-hearted, whole-brained attention I could give to this strategic task. There are still more forms I could dive into—“What Targets Will You Aim For? (financial/ marketing & sales/ operations/ human resources),” “Crafting Your Vision Statement,” “Crafting Meaningful Objectives,” “What Accomplishments Would You Like to Celebrate…This Year? Next Year?”
But the producing that took place in the last hour came out of the intention to be aware of my Self, true to my Self, kind to my Self. It was a gift born of time spent within. Despite my habit of just pushing on—with very reasonable-sounding justifications (“I’m already thinking about it…. “I’m halfway there…. It won’t take so long…. And then I’ll be finished”)—the focus of “spirituality in the workplace for the self-employed” enables me to remember the Self that made all this doing possible.
So I will return to a focus on Being—breathe in the animating, enlivening spirit—and close up my papers now, stop, breathe, and see where else I am led.
Spirit in the Larger Workplace
I am now sitting under a tree in a block-long city park, the air cool on my face and neck. This is not my usual practice on a workday, especially a Monday. Usually, I would have been sitting at the desk in my walk-in closet, working on marketing and mapping out the week, in hopes that this activity would generate business and clients and prove to myself that I was serious about being in business. Today’s quest has put a question mark into these routines—many of which were unfulfilling and somewhat driven, anyway. Today has opened the question. Some interesting, ordinary, and subtly wonderful things have come to fill that space.
When I returned home from the café a little after noon, I did ordinary homemaker things for the first time in a long time on a weekday afternoon. I blended the cooked apples that had simmered overnight in the crockpot, adding cinnamon and raisins and brown rice syrup to make a delicious, brown applesauce. The apples themselves came from a friend’s overabundant tree. Then I washed all the dishes and utensils used to make the sauce, and wiped down the stove and the counters. It’s been a long time since this kind of balance was present on a business workday. Usually, only when I’m writing is there a desire and need to ground myself in cooking, cleaning, mindful bodily activity. Perhaps the combination of intention, going out of my home to work, and a sense of creating characterizing this quest, similar enough to the experience of art (contemplating, resting, letting things arise, focusing intently, bringing seemingly disparate elements together) brought about this intrinsic desire to sustain things. To “take care of business” at home.
I am sitting here in this park, where I’ve often driven past and never sat before in all my years in this neighborhood, because when I was finished with the dishes, I took out my laptop (my one and only) computer—and discovered that my word-processing program would not boot up. It blinked once, as if it would boot up—a kind of tease and withholding. After trying to get it to work a half-dozen or so times, and even seeking information on the Web that didn’t materialize in the form I needed, I decided to take the computer to a repair shop in the neighborhood, one I had never been to. (I had been to another one in the neighborhood, but they charged $75 an hour and tended to charge the full hour for 25 minutes of poking around.)
As I left home with the lightweight computer in my arms and got back into the car, it crossed my mind that:
* If I worked in an office for someone else, there would be another computer available
for me to use.
* If I had given the matter the right kind of forethought, I would have a backup computer,
not only one.
* If I hadn’t waited until so close to the deadline for sending this article in, I’d have a few
days of repair time to spare.
Nevertheless, even so, with all these legitimate-sounding reasons for why I had failed to do things right, I noticed a quietness inside my mind as I drove the car with the computer as my passenger. I noticed that these litanies of blame did not have as much weight as they once would have. I noticed a kinder quality within me, and that all the nourishment from earlier in the day, and the resulting productivity, had had a positive effect—was like an investment in myself.
For although it was true that I needed the computer to work in order to finish the article and e-mail it to India by the next day, and that this urgency had me strung a bit tight, it was also true that the flow of life sustaining me enabled me to be grounded enough in my Self to feel an overflow, even under such circumstances. And I knew that even the process of having the computer repaired was still part of the spirituality in my workplace.
In the midst of an urgent need, brought on by a combination of my lack of foresight and external circumstances, something in me looked forward to interacting with the people in the repair shop, to seeing the Divine in them. My habituated ways, thinking of the urgent need for a computer that was suddenly not working, said, “Oh no, what if….” But the inner Source, rarely contacted this frequently in the course of a workday, let me know—through an unaccountable sense of ease, continuing adventure, and the presence of a parking space (with a broken meter!) right by the store—that I was being carried along through all of this. And that, in the larger scheme of things, this need for a repair was not really such a calamity. At worst, I could type the entire 5000+-word article into the body of the e-mail. Or borrow my neighbor’s computer (if he has one). Or go to the library tomorrow and reserve two hours on their computer. Or….
I let the contingency plans go. Trust didn’t require too many. It was enough to take on one thing at a time, give my all to whatever presented itself.
I walked into the repair shop to find a man sitting at a computer. A child of perhaps ten was playing behind the counter. Urgent though things felt, I was glad to be there, noticing them.
I explained the situation. The repairman responded, “We charge $60 an hour. It will take maybe 1, maybe 2 hours to fix.” He was Asian-American, slight of build, and unflappably calm. By contrast, I was the one who was wound up.
“I can look at it,” he continued, “have it ready maybe tomorrow. Absolutely by Wednesday.”
I nodded. Of course: I was asking for a very short-notice repair. Still, my need was real, and I presented it with all seriousness. “I have to send a document by tomorrow. I need to work on the document before then.”
The man was silent a moment, thinking things over. Then he said, “I see that this is urgent. I will try to get to it today. Call me by 5 o’clock and I’ll tell you if I was able to fix it.”
I knew this was a stretch on his part, but my own need kept me intent and insistent. “If it’s not done by 5:00, that will be difficult for me,” I said. Then, “I do realize this is short notice.”
“I will try to get to it after lunch,” the repairman said, adding, understanding everything: “It’s urgent.”
I signed a form and took his card. It gave the name of Daniel. “Are you Daniel?” I asked him, partly wanting to know who to ask for when I phoned at 5 o’clock, and partly just feeling a connection to him after his act of kindness.
“No,” the man said, pointing to a smiling man behind the counter who seemed to have only just appeared, “he’s Daniel. I’m Wayne.”
“Thank you, Wayne,” I said, and left feeling quite good. Even the breakdown of the computer, even the $60-120 I’d have to spend to get it fixed (that day, I hoped) felt part of a flow, more part of a flow than an obstacle. And—having three hours between now and 5 o’clock, and no computer, and still this quest to undertake and this article to write, I drove by the block of grassy park and spontaneously parked, deciding to give myself the gift of nature, as well.
Never, on a workday, have I allowed myself this much inner nourishment and guidance. Moved from one thing to the next, without the push of “I have to” at my back, I have felt loved and honored all the way through this day. And really, no one else was here for most of it—in a work-related capacity, at least (my husband and I spent a bit of morning time together)—but me. But it was the “me” under the fears and harsh factory foreman, the “me” that existed before the thought of being in business, with or without anxieties. The essential Self has been here today from the moment I woke up, and it has not let me push myself into a frantic pace, as I normally would have done. It has responded to my invitation and prayer, clung to me (or held me fast to it) as caringly as a mother, as adoringly as a child, as faithfully as a dog.
And as long as I turn in that direction, breathe, trust, and follow, feel the breeze on my hair, stop to smell the flower, it will come with me every place I go, and shine its radiance ahead like a light in a dark cave. The day is not yet over, and already I am brimming with gratitude for what sustains me, guides me, leads me, knows me, loves me, created me, knows what I’m made of, what I have to offer, what to learn, and how to put the pieces of my puzzle together. God willing, after this day I will no longer be able to just push myself into activity from denseness, fear, mistrust, even eagerness. A day in the life of what really moves things into motion is a moment-to-moment celebration, and— with all the unknown in it—I would not trade this for the unfulfilling way I operated before.
Is this park, too, my workplace? It is here that I am writing this, my “work” and transformed work orientation of this day. A city block of high dense green grass, with thick-trunked trees bordering the length of it, and a playground at the other end where little children play and their parents help them do it. This grass, the children'’ cries of delight, the trees arching up toward the heavens, the great blue sky, the sun at the eastern edge of the park, the shade at the west which I recline in, the gas station and church across the street, the computer-repair store on the corner, the row of other stores as well—it’s all my workplace, the entire planet is my workplace, everywhere spirit touches me is my workplace if I am really here while I work. The children at play down the street will go to school and grow up to work, but now I am learning to grow down, remembering how to play. To work is to concentrate, to play is to create, and the flow of spirit links it all.
I don’t know that every day will be like this. There’s something young and fresh and astonishing about a quest that takes it out of regular time, like a myth or a tale. Later this week, I will see clients, and I will prepare for their arrival, and I hope to send a book proposal for my own book and a client’s book to an editor at a publishing house whom I’ve befriended, and vice-versa. But I trust that the impact of this day will linger—that I’ll remember to listen within—that this day of flow and thanksgiving and kindness, including to myself, will not be an anomaly but a true paradigm shift, a new foundation, from which all sorts of wonderful and miraculous things, relationships, even profits can come. Forgetfulness is always possible—but look how simple (not always easy) all this has been. Anyone could do it. Spirit is waiting to be asked.
PHASE 2: THE GIFT OF GIVING
When there has been enough attention and kindness, such as I have given to myself today, it seems a natural development that the water level rises and is available to give to others. Quite naturally, without the need for internal whips, the question now arises, “What can I give to others?” And this shift to giving feels so comfortably wealthy. It feels so good to have something to give, and to want to give it. Kindness to my Self did that. Attention to my Self did that. Listening to my Self did that. Following my Self did that.
What do I have to give, in my business? And to whom? I once went to a wonderful conference on business and consciousness, and one of the most valuable things I learned there was the priorities of caretaking in a business with employees: “First take care of your employees,” they said. “Then take care of your customers.” This stood the “customer first” rule on its head, of course, but their point was that you can’t skip over the people who are closest to you; they have to come first. I must have had this in mind and extrapolated it to my one-person business, putting myself in the position of the employees. You cannot be harsh and inattentive with yourself and expect to bring forth treasures for others. Even if you do, you will be exhausted and embittered. You must be the first line of receiving in what will be a chain of gifts, for you are not the ultimate Creator of what comes to you in the first place.
Well, now that I am well taken care of, the next line of care seems to be my existing clients. And then, the next concentric circle would be the people I deal with in doing my business—like Wayne. And in the next circle are the clients I don’t have yet—and basically, anyone I deal with.
The horizon of being the giver in all these relationships opens such sweet doors in my heart. I don’t have specific ideas yet (I could bring flowers from my garden to the repairman as a thank-you, or some lemons from my tree). But it’s such a vastly different orientation. It pleases and excites me, fulfills me. Even before the fact.
Back in Business
From home, at exactly 5 o’clock, I call the number of the repair shop, after praying that the computer will be ready. “Can I speak to Wayne?” I say into the receiver.
A voice replies, “He’s not here.”
I don’t miss a beat. I expect things to work out, now. “I left a laptop—he told me to call at 5 o’clock….”
“What is your name?”
I tell him.
“Oh, yes. It’s ready.”
I’m reprieved! “I’ll be right over,” I say.
As I near my car, the desire to thank Wayne for helping me out beyond just paying the bill grows stronger. My garden, small but now thriving, is opposite the curb where my car is parked. My choice of gifts: blue flowers from a bush, lovely to see but sticky; purple mallow flowers on twigs; or lemons from the tree. I incline toward the lemons. They are huge, round, sweetish Meyer lemons. The ripe ones are toward the top. I lean in to pick one and twist it off its stem—and I don’t pay enough attention, the branch it grows on splits. “Oh,” I cry, “I’m sorry,” to the tree. I didn’t mean to give a gift of a lemon at the expense of the tree. Still, I remember that this tree had another split branch a year or so ago, and that split healed well enough to support fruiting from that branch.
I carefully twist a second lemon off, get in the car, put the lemons on the passenger seat, and drive back to the computer repair shop. A different man, alone in the shop, shows me my fixed computer. I am immensely thankful. “What was the problem?” I ask.
He begins to tell me what the problem was not. “It wasn’t a virus,” he says. “If it was a virus, you couldn’t fix it. You’d have to clean the whole thing out….” And he goes on at length about what the problem was not. He seems to be having a good time telling me this. I am tired. Now, with the computer, I will be able to complete the article. I’ll also be staying up late. But I am patient while the man tells me things I don’t really need to know, because in this state, in this day, that too is part of spirituality in the workplace. And he is part of my workplace. Without him, today I wouldn’t be able to fully work in my workplace.
I write a check for $90 (it came to 1-1/2 hours of time—right smack in the middle of the estimate) plus $31 for a new printer cartridge (I didn’t know I could get them so close to home). Before I go, I put the lemons on the counter.“Please give these to Wayne,” I ask the man, “to thank him for doing my repair so quickly.”
This leads the man into a conversation about lemon trees. “My wife planted a lemon tree a year ago,” he says. “No lemons. When do you get lemons? When did your tree give lemons?”
I thought back. It amazed me that I could speak about fruiting trees with any knowledge, but there it was. “Next year,” I assured him. “By next year, you should have lemons from your tree.”
I left feeling not like a businessperson, a separate race, but a human who was in business, just like Wayne and the man with the wife with the lemon tree. Something in the giving sustained me, included me, gave me back.
I went to the grocery store, bought some healthy frozen food for supper and ice cream, then went home to eat supper and finish the article.
On my message machine was a call-back from the man from the “Workplace of the future,” warmly inviting me to speak with him tomorrow, and an offer of more work from a former client who needed me to proofread the book, now in galleys and containing some mistakes, that would be published in India. I called him back to arrange a time to do it. “The publisher is using the book review you wrote”—I had offered—“as the introduction to the book. Is that all right?”
Was that all right? Yes, it was. It was very all right. Everything I did out of the desire to give came back in good and unexpected ways. It was a good book. It deserved a good review.
The article on “Spirituality in the Workplace for the Self-Employed” came out to be 20 pages.
But you already know that.
AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE SELF-EMPLOYED
WANT MORE SPIRITUALITY IN THEIR WORKPLACE
The process of transformation from working for yourself to working for your Self involves not making the distinction between the secular and the holy, but bringing your Self to every moment and also trusting that the Divine is there speaking to you in every moment, act, and need. No less than poetry, the spiritual workplace of the Self-employed contains, creates, and encourages the movement and nourishment of the spirit.
I “made” this day into a special day, a quest that illuminated and sweetened the journey as well as moving me closer toward the destination. But any day could be this kind of day, with enough intention, spaciousness, receptivity, and willingness to trust that what’s given from within will sustain and lead you faithfully.
May it be so with you, as well.