Rev. Shankar Fern believes that the workplace is the schoolhouse for evolving ourselves as spiritual beings. In this article, he highlights some of the key teachings of Swami Satchidananda that he has applied during the past three decades as a successful business consultant and industry leader.
Keeping Your Inner Peace
There are so many stressors in today’s work environment. People have pressing deadlines, not enough time and fewer staff to meet these deadlines. They are under a constant barrage: being attacked by bosses, colleagues and other departments competing for resources. So, there is no shortage of ways we can lose our peace in the workplace. When we lose our peace, we start to make poor business decisions. It erodes our ability to build relationships with colleagues. Today in business, innovation is so critical. You can’t innovate without inner peace—it’s a prerequisite. Maintaining one’s inner peace is a key element in applying Yoga to business. So, find a way to make your inner peace your priority, not just when you are sitting to meditate, but when you are sitting in your office.
Live Only to Serve
Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev) had a phrase printed on his stationery: “The dedicated enjoy supreme peace. Therefore, live only to serve.” In business, so often we perform a task to achieve a certain outcome. Usually we hope to get some gain: Our boss will recognize us, our clients will give us another sale, a colleague will work a day in our stead so that we can take a day off (but we have to reciprocate). And even, if not for personal gain, everyone works with the intent of some outcome. Sri Gurudev taught us to approach everything we do as Karma Yoga—acting not for our own benefit but for the benefit of others—this then becomes service, seva or Karma Yoga. When we do that, it’s a way of keeping our inner peace and enjoying supreme peace.
When we don’t build attachment to outcomes, we’re not upset when we don’t get something from it or don’t even get the expected outcome. That might sound counterintuitive in business, when it is usually all about outcome. Let’s take these examples: A salesperson spends months trying to sell something to a corporate client, and then the client picks someone else. The doctor works hard to save the patient, but the patient dies. The project manager creates a new team to bring a product to market, but the product fails. What happens is people get devastated, they lose their peace, their sense of purpose and, when they lose that, they lose their footing. How can you be happy at work? Not by the promotion or the raise, but by selfless service. Then, happiness comes from the pure joy of service not from the result of the service.
Karma: The Law of Cause and Effect
Many companies and corporations that are after the almighty dollar, don’t recognize the law of karma. Understanding that karma is about putting something out there that comes back to you can radically change how we are in the world and how businesses can and should operate. For example, if I do something hurtful to someone else, even if I don’t think of it like that, something in me knows it is wrong. Maybe it’s the higher Self that understands what we are doing and how it affects others. Karma is about understanding your actions, the motives behind them and the effect those actions have on others.
Just being aware of the law of karma is very helpful in business. Healthy people learn business lessons by observing the cause and effect patterns of their actions. To give an example, suppose I’m a manager and I decide that in order to gain brownie points with my boss, I want to get a report in early to them. So I make my team work 14-hour days for a week in order to do that. I have created unnecessary pain and suffering for those around me because I acted selfishly, without realizing the effects of my actions. That’s going to come back to bite me. It’s the classic Ebenezer Scrooge syndrome.
It’s All for Good
There are many times throughout my day and my week, that I invoke this saying from Gurudev, “It’s all for good.” It’s an incredibly profound teaching. It’s about creating a winning frame of mind for ourselves. Let’s see if we can apply this to three common challenges we face in the workplace: issues with coworkers, being asked to do too much and doing tasks we dislike.
Say you and a coworker can’t get along and you’re miserable about having to work anywhere near each other. What if you reframed this and affirmed: What I am going through is all for good. If it’s for good, what am I supposed to learn? Suddenly you realize that maybe there’s something here to learn. Maybe you discover that there is some trait in you that’s not so great and you have to look at it and adjust in order to get along with this person. In the end you turn around and say, “Thank you,” because you realize that person helped you work out something that is for your highest good. There’s an opportunity that was a blessing in disguise. So, make it your business to find the good.
Now let’s apply, “It’s all for good” to being asked to do too much. How in the face of being asked to do too much can we assert that it’s all for good? Maybe you have been in a rut of constantly trying to please others. In order to manage your workload, you have to learn to say no. So, being asked to do too much is really an opportunity for you to build confidence and faith in yourself and to learn when and how to say no. Now, you have an opportunity to cultivate a deeper sense of self-reliance rather than being so dependent on what others think about you.
For our last example, let’s look at a situation where you either have tasks at work to do that you dislike or work that you really hate to do. How could that be for good? If you hate filing, how is that good for you? Maybe you are being presented with an opportunity to really go within, look inside and ask yourself the hard questions: Do I really feel fulfilled in this job? Is this what I want to do with my life? If you weren’t presented with things you didn’t like, how would you figure out what you really did like?
These may be simplistic examples, but hopefully they help to illustrate the type of transformational shifts that can occur when establish a conviction that it is, ultimately, all for good.
The Power of Mantra
Repeating one’s mantra doesn’t only change one’s mind and heart but it also can change the physical, external reality around us. A mantra is sound vibration. Gurudev used to always explain that sound vibrations are so powerful that they can cleanse and transform us inside and out. I was fortunate to receive mantra initiation from Sri Gurudev. If you don’t have a mantra, you can choose one like OM, Hari OM, OM Shanti, OM Namah Sivaya. Repeat it as often as you can.
I’ve seen firsthand the power of mantra. Try it for yourself: If you are in a meeting and everyone is arguing with each other and no one is listening to you, start repeating the mantra silently. Watch as your own mind gets clearer, your heart settles down, you get answers to questions that were unanswerable a moment before. I’ve done this and I’ve seen that all of a sudden the people around me are transformed by this mantra repetition. A moment ago they were arguing and then they stop. You’ve literally changed the vibration and shifted the energy in the room. The vast majority of times, when I have the clarity to begin repeating the mantra, challenging situations clear. Never underestimate the power of mantra.
“Adapt, Adjust, Accommodate”
This is actually a key teaching from Swami Satchidananda’s Guru, Sri Swami Sivananda. Sri Gurudev used to quote this all the time, and it’s fantastic to apply this in any business setting. Imagine that you want to be in a company that has a warm, loving work environment. You try and get people to bond and to spend time talking about their families and kids, but, that’s not what they are doing. People aren’t on the same wavelength as you. What can you do? Adapt to the environment. Maybe you realize that you needed to talk to someone for twenty minutes at the start of each day but that maybe you were being too needy. Or the opposite may occur. You are very, very businesslike, but, you wind up in a situation where everyone is warm and loving. The boss tells you that you are turning people off and that you need to learn to adapt to the office culture.
When we can adapt, adjust and accommodate, we can step out of our comfort zones, habits and needs to allow ourselves to stretch and evolve, rather than trying to change others or our outer environment. Ultimately, it’s good business to trust your path with Yoga and know that in every situation there are golden opportunities to learn and grow.
About the Author:
Rev. Shankar Fern is an Integral Yoga Minister, teacher and serves on the Board of the Integral Yoga Institute of New York. Rev. Shankar is also a chaplain, business/life and spiritual coach and the president of Change-Ready Solutions. He was one of the first professionals that merged banking and brokerage in the 1980s, was one of the first human resources department professionals to launch e-learning in the corporate workplace and is considered a world opinion leader in the field of employee engagement and retention. For more information please visit: yogaminister.com