Recently, I've been learning a lot about Business and Spirituality, integrated together from an online community, Heart Of Business. If you are like me, who often has to compartmentalize (life vs work, personal vs professional, private vs public) out of a need for sanity, but deep down knows that these domains are fluid and interconnected, you'll find such integration helpful and exciting. It is merging the two seemingly opposing fields.
For example, what makes business unique is its focus on concrete, measurable results. It's not my forte, so I've often been avoiding. On the other hand, spirituality is often considered a fuzzy domain of the immeasurables. Something that I intuitively gravitate towards.
Reality turns out to resist easy black & white categorization.
In the finite world of business, there has to be something infinite. Indeed, many people choose business because they long to be a part of a lofty, ever-approaching vision.
Similarly, the fuzzy spiritual life needs to have concrete practices and outward manifestation. Otherwise, the blissful spiritual ideal becomes its own bubble. If I say that I believe in the interconnectedness of all and not able to reveal it to at least a few people around me, is that even real?
It's one thing to develop awareness and reverence for a larger reality, it's another thing to make sure it's grounded in the ordinary.
Which brings me to a realization.
The healthy needs of Ego
I had an Aha moment recently when I was reading about Internal Family System. It's that the ego is a helpful construct that it may as well be considered real.
Ego has legit needs too. Just like humans are born with a body, we also have an ego. Like our body, when the ego is not being cared for, good luck with all the metaphysical spiritual pursuits.
Notice that by saying that "the ego is real", I don't mean unchanging. Our body is real, and it's changing all the time, growing here, decaying there.
By real, I mean worthy of consideration and some level of care. Proper care for the ego is what the Buddha learned after he tried to subdue it in his ascetic monkhood. Indeed, this denial of egoic needs, more common in spiritual circles, often leads to unnecessary frustration.
The word "ego" in popular parlance has got such a bad rap that it loses its usefulness as an construct.
What happens if we can speak to each other like this "My ego is feeling vulnerable, and it needs some acceptance and appreciation?"
This realization came to me in a rather funny way. As much as I like to tell myself that I write because it's an important work of my life, my ego craves for appreciation and acceptance in doing it. When it isn't there, it's hard to be motivated to keep on doing despite the lofty vision. It's quite a humbling to realize that my stuckness happens because the ego is craving and it needs to be filled first.
It turns out that delayed egoic gratification for the sake of some heroic ideal works for very few people and not sustainable for most of us. Contrary to the romantic notion of "if you love what you do, you'll do it despite what other people say", real egos don't work that way.
Go get some ego boosts. The more nourishing ones, like loving affirmation from a few people whom you respect and who directly matter to what you are making.
I started the guiding practice with a secret hope that it will be some sort of lofty spiritual co-evolution, what I tend to gravitate towards. Yet, in working with clients, I found myself mostly doing work to meet the needs of egos.
Don't get me wrong. The world needs healthier egos who can relate to each other with care, affection, sincerity and effectiveness. That's what I truly wish for. Egoes are important. Let's meet each other's egoic needs so we can all grow healthy.
It will becomes a problem though when we believe that's all we have.
A helpful distinction from Molly Brown's book, The Unfolding Self, is between Personal Growth vs Transpersonal Growth.
Personal Growth is the domain of the ego. To become confident, effective, stable, decisive, productive, emotionally resilient, kind etc.. It's the aim of a multi-billion dollar industry and many training & seminars, coaching and stuff.
Transpersonal Growth is the domain of the Spirit. To develop a deepened connection with the larger reality. It's the aim of spiritual practices like meditation, contemplative prayers etc..
It's important to care about both.
Three sources of appreciation.
These two dimensions of growth make me think about the question of self-esteem. Have you ever felt demotivated and tried to boost yourself up by telling yourself things like "I'm good enough, I'm confident, I care etc"?Things like Amy Cuddy's Body Language?
I do, and it really does work.
But despite what most self-help says about independence, most of us aren't heroes with iron will. Counting on our own will alone to help with our personal growth is not enough. We still need each other's acceptance and appreciation.
It's ok to be needy, and it's important to let your needs be known...
For example, if I don't have readers, I will still write, but probably not as much. Writing and sharing about my life is vulnerable, and it helps tremendously when sometimes people write back telling me they read it.
Sometimes the most beautiful and transformative moment of our life occurs when another person is present with us in our vulnerable moments and re-affirm us that our presence here on Earth matters. Indeed, I think it's one of the noblest aspirations: to strive to become that person for other people.
Yet, you can't solely count on having our needs met by other people, unless you want practices in handling disappointment (which is a real worthy goal in itself). The cynics got it right: other people will let us down.
What they got wrong though is the reason. Most of the time, it's not because they are bad people or hate us but rather that we are flawed humans.
Which brings me to the last point: ....The better place to ask for appreciation and generally to satisfy the needs of the ego is not another ego, but the Divine.
(As a side note: I still feel a bit queasy about using spiritual language like God or the Divine, mostly because it's such an amorphous terms that gets people into unnecessary debates about its meaning, and my ego doesn't like to be boxed in a mental category that it doesn't have control over. It's more of an egoic need rather than the truth of always changing self that the Buddhists talk about. I told you I'm starting to care about my ego ^_^ )
Despite the ego portraying an image of independence, it is needy. My ego needs to be held in the comforting arms of someone or something whom it trusts. It needs to be appreciation, but the source of that may not be someone else's.
So I sat down in a quiet place to practice remembering this Source. When I thought of something good that I did without any recognition (which is plenty as most of my writing doesn't make it to daylight) I asked in my heart to see an appreciation.
I got a response. Flooding into the chamber of my heart was a tingling sense of joy in my heart, a knowing that I am cared for, seen, appreciated.
It was sweet.
Caring to Know the Source
One of the merit of being cognitively flexible is that you can adopt different belief system somewhat more easily. I used to be agnostic, not knowing whether or not a Greater Being or God exists.
I realized that it wasn't a matter of knowing as much as it was caring to know.
Now I do. At least a bit more.
Not because of some big crises that got my life upside down, but rather because there must be more than meet the eyes. That's true in both theory & practice. What else would motivate the scientists to keep discovering new understanding about the world but their conviction that there must be deeper, richer ways to encounter this Great Mystery?
I'm no longer satisfied with the rational way of knowing, of purely using my mind. While keeping the experiential skepticism alive, I want to get to know the Divine.
There is also a more practical, even utilitarian perspective. To borrow an investment analogy, given that genuine appreciation allows us to live and work more fully, it makes more sense to diversify our sources of appreciation.
It's great if other people can celebrate us, although then the challenges will be finding good trusted friends who can do so meaningfully and regularly. It maybe better if we celebrate ourselves, although it can feel quite like a private indulgence.
What if you can ask the Divine to celebrate for you?
You don't need to please the Divine like you do to your friends and audience. Neither do you need to puff yourself up unnecessarily. You just have to show up, sincerely, asking to receive.
It's pretty sweet.
May you too find the nourishing appreciation from the Divine.
"You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents" - David Whyte.
Sharing is sprouting.
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Btw, I'm also offering a free conversation to chat with me if you feel like you are going through a trying times and need someone to accompany, clarify and keep you encouraged :-) Do reach out, please.
Quotes I'm contemplating this week
Growth "Growth can be seen as a process of disidentifying from past limited perceptions of ourselves and of the world, and identifying with new, more inclusive and integrating ones." - Molly Brown in the Unfolding Self.
- A definition with enough specificity that helps guide my understanding & direction of growth.
"An essential bond is a given of intimate adult relating—physical maybe, psychological and spiritual usually. Like all energy, it cannot be created or destroyed. It comes fully into evidence only in the conflict stage of a relationship. The bond in the romance stage consists of excitement, neediness, and attachment to an ideal. The bond that develops in conflict and in working through conflict is a lasting one, no longer dependent on whether you are getting along or are still together." - David Richo.
Conflict is not a problem, it's a sign, not just of some malfunctioning but also a potentially deeper, richer underlying connection. It also helps me understand how the strength and depth of the commitment that exist between not only lovers, but life partners and ventures accomplice.
"Brain is like GPS: helpful if you know where you are going. Enter the end goal, and systematically reverse engineer it to get the path, then optimize for shortest path.
Heart is like Compass: helpful if you don't know the destination. Don't use it alone though.
Gut is Gyroscope. Helpful if you want to stay sane throughout your journey."