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Features

Beyond the Bottom Line

Brian Draper

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I was sitting in a coffee shop, some months back, with a senior business leader. He is a 'successful' man: he grew a business, sold a business, cashed in, and was considering what to do next. I explained to him why I called my consultancy work 'Echosounder'. Aside from the fact that the word came to me in a dream, I find increasingly that I am helping people to look beneath the surface of their lives. In the words of Proverbs 20, 'the heart of a man is like deep water…'

There may be wrecks down there, but there is also treasure. We were created in God's image, after all. And we need to know that it's all right - in fact, it's imperative - to slow down, to stop, and to look for it. As the theologian Matthew Fox writes, 'If it's true that the spiritual life is, for many, hidden or concealed, buried or covered up, repressed or forgotten, secret even from ourselves, then great things might follow if we dare to unbury and open up, reveal and unveil, uncover and herald, and speak out loud.'1

The businessman knew, without having to think too hard, that this made sense. It simply does. A tear emerged from behind the mask he seemed to have been wearing. 'I have lived my whole life skimming the surface of things," he said. "I have been too afraid to look below it.'

And this man is a Christian.

SILENCE SPEAKS
Soon after, I was invited to speak at the headquarters of one of the biggest business consultancies in the world. The company was running a series of events on 'leadership', as it sought to consider alternative approaches to consultancy in a changing world. I spoke about how we can reflect spiritually, contemplatively, on 'who we are', in order to demonstrate this more powerfully through 'what we do'.

We tried something daring for this particular set of people: a period of extended silence, in which I invited them first to relax, and then to begin to notice their overactive minds at work. It helps for us to smile or sigh non-judgementally at the voice in our heads that won't stop chattering, before we can move beyond it, and settle into a deeper kind of stillness; which is what we did.

'I wondered what the hell you were playing at,' admitted one man after we'd finished, almost aggressively. 'But then a whole load of things began to float to the surface,' he confessed. 'Things that had been buried in my soul for years, that I'd completely forgotten about. I wish we'd had longer.'
Another confided, 'The silence was the most powerful thing tonight. I haven't sat quietly like that for years.'

It need not be complicated - despite our constant, insecure drive to impress others and to prove our own worth through the credibility of the 'solutions' we offer the world.

CORPORATE SPIRITUALITY
Many leaders are, without doubt, searching for alternative ways for their organisations to become 'part of the solution', instead of 'part of the problem' at this pivotal time in history. And while there remains a near blind devotion among so many, corporately, to 'the bottom line', deep down most of us sense that capital is no longer all about the money; and that through our life's work, we can, if we so choose, make a difference to the world around us by generating different kinds of capital: social, emotional, spiritual…

'By their fruit, you will know them,' after all. And few souls, ultimately, would expect the fruit of their life's work to be assessed on the strength of their balance sheet alone. But how do we call, 'as deep calls to deep', so that people may start to believe they can play a part in, and help to shape, a bigger story than just their own? That they can truly make a difference?
Opportunities are slowly, tentatively arising for those with spiritual expertise to help to show the Way within corporate culture and consultancy - when it comes to, for instance, helping companies and individuals to re-discover their values, recover their ethics, nurture far-sighted vision, foster trust, release human flourishing, lead through serving, realise potential, help others to 'become the change they want to see in the world'...
But the blind cannot lead the blind. And any Christian, for example, who aspires to encourage others to gain competitive (or preferably co-operative!) advantage through their spirituality can only do so when they have learned what this means for themselves.

The time is coming to play a part in a revolution, of sorts, by helping to harness the extraordinary power of business, and organisations, and transformed individuals for good; yet first we have to know what it means to live through such a revolution personally. As one US statesman said, 'It's hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look silly sitting on a horse.'

OVERHEARING OURSELVES
In the summer of 2007, I interviewed the Irish poet, mystic and firebrand John O'Donohue. This was a man who, over breakfast, while nursing a hangover, could explain poetically how and why our soulfulness was crucial for such a time as this.

'Soul,' he explained, 'is a bloody dangerous thing to have: it links you into the infinite, whether you like it or not, and won't let you rest happily in your mediocrity and escapism.'2 It was stirring stuff, all right. The contemplatives are not esoteric naval gazers, but fierce and practical prophets.
As he continued, however, he slipped in a phrase that I had never heard before. We are so busy in today's culture, he explained, that we rarely, if ever, stop to 'overhear ourselves'. I didn't know what he meant.
The Christian mystics, I later discovered, talk of a chattering voice in our head - the one we hear when we lay awake at night fretfully, or when we switch the TV off, or when we are forced into silence - which provides us with a false, narrow, constricting sense of our own identity. Once we are able to recognise this - and 'overhear ourselves' - we can learn to 'die' to this false, or former self.

Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote that we must be 'renewed through the transforming of our minds'.

And once we recognise the voice of the false self, we can begin to overhear the true. Here lies our chance to transcend the constraints of the small, ego-driven 'me' that clings to the stuff I own, or my reputation, or labels, or my past, or my future, for dear life. It's our chance to leave the shallows of a fear-driven culture, to abandon 'mediocrity and escapism' and instead to discover the soulfulness, and connectedness, and deeper consciousness, that lies below the surface of things.

sintel3.jpgDEEPER COMMUNION
All of which seems to resonate with 'spiritual intelligence', the idea behind a phrase that was coined ten years ago by the scientist and philosopher Danah Zohar to describe discoveries in neuroscience that suggest the existence of a 'God spot' in the brain.

Her phrase has gained currency, especially in the world of organisational behaviour, probably because it has some empirical and scientific basis (and also makes much good sense). Consultancies have begun to explore and some-times embrace the potential of 'SQ', by asking (for example) how spiritual practices such as meditation can help some people to access more of their creativity and potential, to alleviate stress and reduce sickness, to increase presence of mind, to encourage active listening and to activate deeper thinking.

Zohar argues that we are born with not one but three fundamental 'intelligences': rational, emotional and spiritual. Since the Enlightenment, we have focused unhealthily and increasingly on the rational capacity of our brains to generate intellectual solutions to life's problems. Daniel Goleman broadened our horizons by introducing the idea of 'emotional intelligence' (or 'EQ'), helping leaders and their organisations to understand how they can manage their emotions, and learn to flow with others who behave differently, in order to oil the wheels of co-operation and human activity.
But Zohar argues that our 'SQ' is the 'central, unifying intelligence' that helps us (if we allow it) to make profound sense of life through the pursuit of meaning, purpose, values and identity. It's where we attend to the really smart work of our lives. As such, it has powerful echoes with Ecclesiastes: 'God has set eternity in the hearts of all people'.

Zohar writes: 'We long for what the poet TS Eliot called 'a further union, a deeper communion', but we find little resource within our ego-bound selves or within the existing symbols or institutions of our culture.

'SQ,' she continues, 'is the intelligence that rests in that deep part of the self that is connected to wisdom from beyond the ego, or conscious mind… it is the intelligence with which we not only recognize existing values, but with which we creatively discover new values.'3

 

BEYOND EGO
I don't claim to be capable of understanding the science, but the playful theologian within me smiles as I find myself asking, How spiritually intelligent is my life? My church? My community?

How can I nurture my own spiritual intelligence, in order to capitalise on that yearning for meaning within me - that soulful drive which responds to the beauty and magnitude of a brilliant novel, or film, or song, or to the majesty of a sunset, but which seems to wither during a routine church service or from 9-5 on weekdays?

There has to be more to life than this, doesn't there? To work life, home life, church life, love life?

So few of us seem to demonstrate the kind of 'life to the full' that Jesus mentioned fleetingly, tantalisingly, in John's Gospel.

And the worldview we have developed in the West - our brand of unfettered capitalism, through which individually and corporately we live and move and have our being - struggles to provide a meaningful context for such human flourishing. Much of its survival, after all, depends on feeding the ego-driven insecurities of our 'false self'. Consumer culture, in particular, offers the props with which we may continuously re-create a false sense of identity, and few of us spiritually have mastered the art of living 'in but not of' this world.

The psychologist Oliver James argues that the English-speaking Western nations now suffer from unprecedented mental and spiritual dis-ease as a result; an affliction he calls 'Affluenza'.4 After his book of that name was published, fresh research from the World Health Organisation placed these countries at the bottom of the international league for mental well-being. (You can read more in his response to the research in his most recent book The Selfish Capitalist.5)


James believes that we suffer from 'maladaptive social comparison' - the drive to compare ourselves relentlessly with each other, only to find ourselves wanting more and more. We crave higher status, newer clothes, a bigger house, a faster car, and will never be satisfied.

It is only as we learn to 'detach', as the Zen masters would say, from our false sense of identity and self, that we can declare ourselves out of that particular race, and begin to access our true self - which is capable of Eliot's 'deeper communion', of changing the world around us for good, of becoming part of the solution. For as long as we identify ourselves too strongly with the job we have, or the stuff we've bought, or what people say about us, we will fail to discover what it means to become more fully human.

And we can only truly practise detachment when we stop, to overhear the incessant chattering of the ego-driven mind, and learn to smile or sigh at it, and realise that there is another presence, a true, made-in-the-image-of-God self, that's doing the smiling or sighing, a presence which need find no significance in any external form.

The simplest contemplative prayer, or meditation, can help any of us to detach, whether we are unemployed or a CEO or a full-time mum or dad, or whoever; to step back from the false self, to see past the prevailing worldview, and to become more deeply, powerfully aware - sometimes for the first time, ever - of who we are, and what is on our heart; those passions, convictions and values that have lain dormant within us for so long, but have always been there, and can help to lead us home.

TRICKLEDOWN FEAR
Fear continues to grip our culture: the fear of being left behind; of being passed over for promotion; of being wrong (or seen to be wrong); of not being accepted; of not being loved; of not being secure; of imperfection; of dying; of living. One of the top-ten fears among CEOs is of 'being found out'.
Too many corporate cultures are possessed by a fear that is passed down from the top by insecure people who are afraid of all the above and more. In the process, untold human potential can be lost, as people rarely feel able to be themselves at work, or to give their self to the cause, or to live and work in true flow, without fear of failing, according to their own unique gifts and talents.

I once asked a director of a successful corporation how much his own values and beliefs had managed to influence all the people who worked under him. He is a good, Christian, intelligent man.

'Almost none,' he replied. At least, not until he realised he'd be retiring within a few years - at which point, mysteriously, he stopped fearing any consequences of 'being himself' and started leading with greater vision through the courage of his convictions.

It was the knowledge that he had less to lose which helped him to flow more energetically, decisively, creatively, as a person. So what do we have to lose? And what does it profit a man, anyway, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?


THREE SELVES
If our spiritual task is, in part at least, to enable deep to call to deep so that we may help others go beyond the shallows of our culture, then business coaching provides some of the most exciting areas of overlap and opportunity for those who wish to nurture the spiritual intelligence of those around us.

The aim of coaching is to increase performance (a pragmatic outcome, of course, within the business world), by raising awareness through asking powerful questions of the coachee, and by encouraging them to take responsibility for what they do.

Ultimately, however, it's about helping to unlock more of their innate, hidden, buried humanity, as the 'coaches' coach', Myles Downey, explains:
'We are on the brink of letting humanity loose in the workplace - and beyond. When the whole human being, with all its capacities - intelligence, creativity, imagination, sensitivity and pragmatism, to name but a few - freed from the tyranny of fear and doubt, expresses itself in the workplace, extraordinary results accrue.'6

This is an impulse that we, as Christians, can both endorse and learn from, as we seek greater integrity for ourselves, and travel a narrow path towards wholeness. And this is especially significant theologically, as we seek to regain the positive tension between original sin (which has been over-emphasised in the Church) and original blessing (which has not).
Coaching affirms both our brokenness and our innate goodness; and not just that, but (whisper it) our potential greatness, too. The kind of greatness, surely, which comes with being made in the image of God.

Such brokenness and goodness is represented through two different 'selves' that are identified in the coaching process, a delineation that has strong echoes with contemplative Christian spirituality and Zen philosophy.
In particular, Timothy Gallwey, in the 1970s, developed a form of coaching called the 'Inner Game', which has become widespread today, and which helps coaches to identify a 'self 1' and 'self 2' in themselves and their coachees.

'Self 1,' explains Downey, 'is the internalised voice of our parents, teachers and those in authority. It seeks to control Self 2 and does not trust it. Self 1 is characterised by tension, fear, doubt and trying too hard.' It is prone to mentioning that you do not have what it takes.

'Self 2,' he continues, 'is the whole human being with all its potential and capacities... It is characterised by relaxed concentration, enjoyment and trust.'7

The similarities are striking between the false and true self of contemplative spirituality, and the Self 1 and Self 2 of Inner Game coaching. As we grow able to recognise the voice of Self 1, simultaneously we become more aware of Self 2, the naturally flowing 'me' that hits a great tennis shot out of seemingly nowhere, without thinking; or finds a rich vein of form at work from out of the blue, or is able, unusually, to become fully present without distraction for a friend or colleague.

There is a third self, which Gallwey alludes to, which echoes that frequently unexplored Christian territory of the soul - the idea that 'it is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.' If only we understood the reality of such a truth.

'When the player of the Inner Game has searched for and found his way to the direct experience of Self 3, he gains access to the catalyst capable of finally stilling his mind,' writes Gallwey. 'Then his full potential as a human being is allowed to unfold without interference from Self 1. He plays the rest of the game in the increasing joy of expressing with love his unique humanness, and in accordance with his own given talents, and circumstances.

'He is free.'8

Brian Draper

 

1 From 'The Hidden Spirituality of Men', by Matthew Fox, in Ode Magazine, October 2008
2 'The Business of Spirituality' by Brian Draper, Church Times, September 21, 2007 - http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=44571
3 Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, Spiritual Intelligence: The Ultimate Intelligence, Bloombsury, 2000 (p9)
4 Affluenza, Oliver James (Vermilion, 2007)
5 Oliver James, The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Afffluenza (Vermilion, 2008)
6 Myles Downey, Effective Coaching: Lessons from the coach's coach (this edition, Thomson, 2003, pxi; first published Orion Business, 1999)
7 Downey,  p45.
8 W Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis (this edition Pan Books, 1986, p128; first published by Jonathan Cape, 1975)