“How do you take your spiritual side to work? Do you take your ‘whole-self’ to work or your ‘work-self’ to work?”

A very accomplished business leader and now a friend asked me this question last week. As i write this, i have mixed feelings of whether i am worthy of answering such a profound question and at the same time be careful of not belittling myself — ‘ego’ sometimes masquerades as ‘humility’.

This notion of work-self v/s whole-self has been spoken about by many including author and trainer Mike Robbins to former Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg. They both agree that we need to carry our ‘whole-self’ to work — all our vulnerabilities, our anxieties, etc. right alognside our strengths, our best-self. This they say would be authentic and they seem to value authenticity.

Interestingly, an Economist article argues to the contrary — about ‘not bringing your whole self to work’ and rather argues for a case to bring your ‘best-self to work’.

The argument for the latter sometimes trivialises the point by suggesting that we should keep our less than perfect self (our weaknesses), our socio-cultural and socio-political views, etc. away from work.

Let me attempt to bring out my perspective on this.

An Integrated View of Life

For me it is terribly important to live an ‘integrated life’. It’s a little hard to explain what i mean by an ‘integrated view of life’ but i’ll attempt it here by taking an example.

The theory of Ayurveda

Ayurveda (Knowledge of Herbs), a native Indian system of medicine known to have been documented over 3000 years (or more). It looks at a disease of the human body as a disease that has set upon the ‘whole being’ and not as an individual part of the being that needs fixing. Let’s take for instance, heart disease or diabetes or arthritis.

Ayurveda has a worldview of creation. It believes that all creation happened through use of five basic elements — Space, Fire, Air, Water and Earth. The Panch-bhuta (pronounced: ‘Punch’-’Bhoota’).

A side note for the reader: it is not important for the purposes of describing an ‘integrated view of life’ that you believe what Ayurveda believes. The focus instead is on the theory or the story of Ayurveda.

These five basic elements came together in combinations to form ‘tri-doshas’ (three primary energy qualities) —Vaata, Pitta & Kapha. Each individual human being is born with a combination of these qualities…usually two with one being a dominant one.

The theory of Ayurveda holds this true of animals, flowers, plants, time cycles of a day, and even seasons of a year — that they all have some combination of or/and a dominant dosha.

यथा पिण्डे तथा ब्रह्माण्डे य
था ब्रह्माण्डे तथा पिंडे
(Yatha Pinde Thatha Brahmande
Yatha Brahmande Thatha Pinde)

“So is the human body and so is the Cosmos,
So is the Cosmos and so is the human body” ~ Yajurveda

All disease, thus, in human beings or even plants and animals, it believes happens because of an imbalance from the natural self they were born with.

So in case of a heart-blockages or diabetes, you do fix the heart blockages via blood-thinning medicines or stents and you do not inject insulin in the body. Instead you work to find out the original natural tri-dosha state of that individual human being and via interventions of (herbal) medicines achieve the same state back. The diseases — whether heart related or diabetes or cancer — would be cure naturally via the body’s natural processes.

In this sense while modern medicine is symptomatic, Ayurveda is wholistic or non-symptomatic.

Corruption of Ayurveda

Sadly, in my interactions with several Ayurveda doctors, i find a deep regret in them over how Ayurveda in India is increasingly becoming a symptomatic just like modern medicine. Ayurvedic preparations are being made for Diabetes and Heart Disease, etc. increasingly. While they have some temporary effect in curing specific diseases this approach does not solve the root-cause of the problem. It only manages the symptoms, just like modern medicine.

With the training imparted these days in the Bachelors Degree for becoming Ayurveda doctors, it is nearly impossible for going to the deepest levels of the tri-dosha to find the natural state of the individual. It requires years of study and meditativeness which traditionally in India came via apprenticeship with a father/mother or under an Acharya (teacher). With a 4 year course, most Ayurvedic doctors you find these days, specifically in north India, operate at the surface of the ‘naadi-pareeksha’ — the art of checking the pulse to find out the natural state of the individual.

What does an ‘Integrated View of Life’ mean to me

While i have had treatments for myself for instance for my ‘gluten intolerance’ via Ayurveda, my search for a good doctor who could inspect me for my natural-born state of tri-dosha has not stopped. Earlier this year i eventually found a set of doctors — which is a separate story to be told.

But since now i know what my natural dosha is, i am more conscious of the food i consume which is in accordance with the needs for balance of my natural tri-dosha.

I am more observant of my own personality and my emotional strengths and weaknesses — as described by the tri-doshas.

Why i gather fat easily on my belly, why do i have a certain type of diseases, does doing intermittent-fasting benefit me, what is the level of exercise that my body needs, the discontentment and need for change and innovation… all of this seems to fall in place in an ‘integrated story’.

This is important for me. Finding and living by such integrated stories of life that i have internalised (or continue to attempt to internalise) is a constant urge/pursuit that i have.

In some ways this is what the pursuit of excellence means to me.

Whole Self or Work Self

What are the dilemmas that leaders face?

As far as i can understand there are two aspects to this question about whole-self v/s work-self.

  1. We are expected to put out our best/strong side forward while leaving all our our frailties behind at home
  2. OR we’re expected to carry our humanism to work as well as opposed to leaving it at home — this basically points towards leaders taking tough business decisions which sometimes may come in the path of humanist ideals and make us look ‘shrewd’ and ‘heartless’

To answer both these aspects, in this post i explore what it means for us humans to ‘grow’.

What does it mean for humans to ‘grow’ — emotionally, mentally…?

In Hindu philosophy there is a notion of a ‘universal consciousness’. This is called ‘Brahman’ (Brh-mun). The Brahman ‘inward’ is unmanifest. This is called ‘Niraakar Brahman’ — one without-qualities, without form, without action, non-judgemental, without likes & dislikes, infinite and yet nothingness at the same time. However, when this Brahman chooses to express itself, this formlessness takes form and brings forth qualities, desires, form, action, force. This is called ‘Saakaar’ Brahman.

All that is manifest — the visible universe, the dark matter within, planets, life, oceans, animals, humans — emerge from and are constituted from this conscious principle. A wave in the Ocean has a form and an individual existence, seemingly separate from the Ocean, albeit for a short period of time. Yet the wave is nothing but the Ocean itself. In a similar manner, the Atman (loosely translated as ’Soul’) is an ‘individuated Beingseemingly separate from the Whole in the process of creation. All life forms in this Hindu idea of Creator/Creation are conscious. Even the inanimate objects are nothing but expressions of the same ‘consciousness’ although possibly vibrating at lower frequencies or in lower order of consciousness.

अहं ब्रह्मास्मि
I am That / I am Brahman

This whole idea is what is referred to as ‘Non-Dualism’ or ‘Advaita’ in Sanskrit. This Universal Consciousness referred to as Brahman by the Hindus is what the Chinese refer to as the ‘Tao’. African tribes and Native Americans have their own similar names for IT. In the movie ‘Matrix’, you might call this Brahman, the ‘Matrix’. Or ‘The Force’ in Star Wars. Or ‘Eywa’ (The Mother) in the movie ‘Avatar’.

The byproduct of ‘manifest consciousness’ (or individuation) is a sense of ‘Ahankara’, loosely translated as ‘ego’ — although not in the negative sense but rater a sense of ‘I Am’…. I Am as an entity separate from every other manifest object and being.

The Atman travels from one life form of beings to another before it reaches its ultimate body-form — the Human Body. It is in this form that it finds ‘Viveka’ — imagination, discretion, intellectual thinking and so on. In this process of taking on a human body and interacting with other Atmans, it takes on ‘Karma’ — proclivities, likes/dislikes, pleasant/unpleasant experiences. Such proclivities and desires send the Soul on an endless journey of taking on human bodies and working out their Karma.

In this journey of the Soul being human, it experiences all possible emotions and feelings ever possible — love-hate, pleasure, success-failure, joyousness-depression, anger, fear, power, insecurity-security, compassion-ruthlessness and so on.

While in each human body the Atman falls and rises, it devolves and evolves carrying impressions of the manifest world — hurts and love from relationships, feelings and desires, proclivities, into newer bodies as the purpose of each old body gets over.

The journey of an Atman is from this feeling of separateness — of ‘I Am’ — to the final merging of this individuated consciousness back into the Whole. This is the Soul’s journey from separation to unification. Just as the wave dissolves back into the Ocean.

This is the story of what we may call ‘Growth’ (Scott M. Peck in his iconic book ‘The Road Less Travelled’ explores this notion of ‘Growth’ very beautifully). Or in other words, realising that ‘I Am That’. Hindus call it ‘Moksha’, the Buddhists & Jains, ‘Nirvana’.

In the journey of the soul, what we term as ‘negative emotions’ (or sins) namely hate, lust, anger, jealousy, rage, cowardice, are as valid emotions as are love, inner peace, power, compassion, sharing, courage, feeling wealthy etc.

There is nothing that is ‘absolutely wrong’ or ‘absolutely right’. Rights and wrongs are only contextual to social constructs of societies on a timescale. They are also contextual to what the Soul chooses to experience in its journey of growth.

From the ‘Tao Te Ching’

Back to — ‘An Integrated View of Life’

As shared earlier it is my preferred way to internalise and live by a theory of life — of medicine, of work, of relationships, etc.

Whether the story shared above is THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH about the nature of life or is not… it does not matter. Even if this were a conveniently made up story of the nature of Life… if it works… if it is a better story than other stories of ‘why we’re here’ then it might be worth living by this story.

There are more such stories offered by other religions and by science. For instance, the current and evolving story offered by modern science is that ‘life happened by a throw of dice leading to the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ for the Earth’, thus giving it the perfect distance from the Sun, having a moon at a perfect distance to hold the atmosphere together, and so on.

I live by the Vedic/Yogic/Hindu story of Life

It empowers me. It helps me get over guilt. It helps me take action (even as i know that avoiding action is also a form of action). It pushes me to gain competencies and skills that I necessarily do not carry at this point but I must learn to employ as a necessity to perform my role well on my journey of evolution. Because if I do not learn to act upon something that is demanded of me in my role in a certain context then I have not taken conscious responsibility for my journey of evolution — of becoming Whole again.

For Indic Religionists — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists — this idea of becoming Whole again or achieving Moksha is drilled into our vocabulary, perhaps with the hope that we will develop an understanding of it sometime during the journey of many lives.

Back to — ‘An Integrated View of Life’

For any person who chooses to live with any such integrated theory of life, it will be hard to separate one self between the Work-Self and Whole-Self.

My Theory of Life

I choose to live with the Vedic/Yogic theory of life as shared above.

In such a case all separation of what i carry at work and what i leave behind at home collapses. The difficult moral choices i must make at work simply become an extension of my own learning…my growth… my lived experience of what i chose.

What is my ‘Dharma’ (duty, responsibility, righteous action, natural order of action…) in the context of <a situation>?’ is a question I struggle with all the time! I suffocate sometimes at work because sometimes my Dharma as a CEO or as a human being — pulls me in two different directions. Sometimes because of political correctness imposed by societal values, work restricts me from being who i truly am or expressing what i think about situations in our environment. For instance, having an independent and perhaps contrarian view of the #BlackLivesMatter movement or on the #UkraineWar has been so difficult amidst the hysteria created by mainstream and social media.

The world, including the business world, demands conformity to the widespread socio-political and socio-cultural views. Independent thought is frowned upon, even attacked. This makes it very hard for me and suffocating sometimes — which is perhaps the only time i leave my whole-self at home.

My dharma as a CEO also includes my dharma as a human being — which leads me to sharing with colleagues my integrated spiritual view of Life, to leading group meditation sessions at every opportunity available, to encouraging people to question their views of life, if any.

To live like this is more difficult no doubt than living without a clear theory of life but it is more fulfilling including the occasional struggles/suffocation.

Disclaimer: And while I may understand all this intellectually, I of course fail and falter, shirk responsibility, avoid difficult situations, and so on…all the while knowing that these are impressions (or Karma) I am creating for my-Self to be worked upon later in the current lifetime… and if not, then the next. Learning the skills and equally avoiding to learn and act upon them, is what I do all the time. So surely, I am not sermonising here… rather just sharing a worldview that might help my readers get an answer to the original question.

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Rahul Dewan

Rahul Dewan

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Indic, Meditator, Sadhak (Seeker), Yoga, Entrepreneur, Open Source, Drupal, Blockchain, Business Ops & Finance | srijan.net