Being and Doing, Work and Spiritual Practice

Last week I attended an interesting conference called Wisdom 2.0, about the convergence of technology and spirituality. To say it was interesting is an understatement: For this Midwesterner, listening to folks from the tech industry was fascinating, and the collection of spiritual teachers and industry leaders was artful. (You can watch what happened at Wisdom2summit.com.)

We heard from the folks who started up or lead massively successful technological companies—Google, Twitter, some new ones I hadn’t heard of—talk about how spirituality, and particularly mindfulness meditation, yoga, and service projects are part of their corporate environments. I was inspired.

I was also a little disoriented, and a little uneasy. With all of the talk of spiritual path, of wisdom, there was no talk at all about spiritual community. While we understood that some of the spiritual speakers came out of, and indeed dedicated their lives to, sustaining spiritual community, the talks seemed to suggest that wisdom was something attained by individuals who were devoted to meditation. The only spiritual community lifted up, in fact, was the workplace. Apparently on the job meditation and yoga cuts down on absenteeism and lifts productivity, while also providing health benefits for practitioners.

Pardon me if I don’t think workplaces really qualify as spiritual community. I say this as someone whose own workplace is a church, where I am a minister. Even this church does not qualify as spiritual community for me or the rest of the staff, though our work is spiritual in nature, and involves creating spiritual community for others. Every minister and religious professional knows that we must, ultimately, find somewhere else to ground ourselves and be able to embody the full mess we are, rather than believing our church is there to fulfill our needs. I’m not saying that being with the people in my church is not joyful, rewarding, deeply nurturing. But it’s not where I show up with all of my own stuff to work out. To believe otherwise is a recipe for misery for all of us.

And it’s not that spiritual communities don’t also need to raise money, either. We may be non-profits but we do need to be sustainable. So it’s not as if the concept of bringing in money is dirty or evil or wrong. I’m just a zealot for clear missions, and I think that the mission of for-profit companies is to succeed financially and the mission of congregations is to minister to a broken world. When congregations become centrally focused on raising money, they are not true to mission. And when corporations become centrally focused on the spiritual practice of their employees—well, I don’t think they ever really will.

When I realized that the workplace was being touted as the place to meditate and do spiritual practice, and when I kept hearing business leaders exclaim how this time was good for profits and the bottom line, part of me was afraid. As I write this blog, I’m waiting for some help from an airline which has let me down yet again with bad service. This airline used to be a different company—one dedicated to amazing customer service and care. After a hostile takeover, those same employees who used to do contortions to please the customers must look us in the eye and say there’s nothing they can do to help us. With or without hostile takeovers, I fear this could happen to any company as management discovers anew what actually helps the bottom line, and decides that it’s not spiritual practice after all. Far better to be part of a community which doesn’t care if you are a vice president or a mailroom clerk; they know you only as someone with a compelling spiritual practice. Far better, I believe, to belong to a spiritual community with the sole mission of being a spiritual community.

I loved the conference and learned a great deal. And I suspect I’ll go back next year. Next year, though, I’ll be more intentional and proactive about sorting through the folks present to find others who, like me, are interested in developing spiritual community with the bottom line of spiritual awakening, service, and joy.


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