The Spiritual Practice of Running a Business
For many years I lived in ashrams, continually meditated and did other spiritual practices day and night with nothing to distract me. To say that I was inspired, deeply satisfied and happy was an understatement, and my uninterrupted, focused spirituality gained me both deep understanding and wisdom. Everything was just perfect in my solitary and quiet world. Certainly, even thinking about living in the “real world,” especially running a business with hectic schedules, heavy responsibilities and many employees with the associated problems, from my perspective at the time, would seem to be the epitome of how not to live a spiritual life.
However, Spirit lead me in a different direction than my idea of how to live (of course,) and instead, I ended up with just what I feared, running a big business. When I started what I thought would be a very small business showing people how to work with crystals and making healing stone jewelry, I had no idea at the time that the use of crystals would become so hugely popular and there would be such a demand for my jewelry. So, basically, besides designing and writing, I had to run along behind my exploding business and learn how to run it.
As it turns out, after 40 some years of running a business, I have learned that rather than business getting in the way of spirituality, instead it can actually be an excellent spiritual practice in itself. It is a perfect opportunity to learn how to develop equanimity in even the most difficult circumstances, to balance the spiritual with the material, and to learn to maintain your focus on the enduring spirit-self even in the midst of a whirlwind of activity. Running a conscious business as an aware person allows you to help bring spiritual awareness into the everyday world so that people can be happier, open hearted and fulfilled. The more your business becomes your practice, the more effective you are in this goal. One of my spiritual teachers once said to me that true enlightenment is being able to live in all planes of reality at once. The more I run a business, the more I understand this statement, especially when I am dealing with business problems.
My current lifestyle is much quieter and my business is much smaller, but I remember my past business experience quite clearly. During those times when I ran the business and raised my family, my life could be seen as the direct opposite of the life I lived in the ashram when I only had myself to worry about and had no real responsibilities beyond my daily practice. After I went into business, life was no longer quite so simple. Along with 46 employees, I had endless responsibilities and commitments. I couldn’t have done without my day timer scheduling book to remember everything I was supposed to do.
During this time, I used to alternate between frustration and guilt because, more often than not, I didn’t have even a fraction of the time I had before in order to practice spiritual disciplines. As my business grew and I got even busier, I worried that I was getting lost, slacking off and backsliding. Not being able to have even a moment to sit in meditation, I was forced to shift my perspective, to expand my understanding and awareness of the meditative state, and shift the way I viewed business. In doing so, I found that once I shifted my perspective, I could see all of the ways that business could be a perfect meditation. It’s all in how we view it.
The heart of my practice of spirituality in business, the path of business yoga as I experienced it, was this: Could I maintain my spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical equilibrium in the midst of the pressures of everyday business problems and a fast pace of living? Could I maintain a sense of inner peace and harmonious connection with all of life as being a manifestation of the enduring Spirit, not only when things were going well, but also when I felt threatened or pressured? Could I continually experience the balance between the inner and outer planes no matter what is happening? After years, I have found that these goals are certainly possible. Not only that, but because so many issues and situations come up all the time that need to be dealt with, the progress along this spiritual path can be very fast, perhaps even quicker than only sitting, undisturbed, on the yoga mat.
Doorways to personal growth
Business is like life in that business doesn’t always “go right” just because you are a “good” person. Everyone in business has problems at one time or another. Sales may drop, the economy may change, styles may change, the customer demographic may change, employees may cause problems, thieves may take off with your inventory or money, you may not have enough working capital to avoid cash flow problems, and so on…and so on…and so on. I don’t think there is ever a time where there are no more problems in business, no matter how nice a person you are, or how spiritual you are. Partly because of these continual problems, running any kind of business continually requires a massive amount of attention along with skillful problem solving. This, in turn, can create ever-increasing levels of physical, psychic, and emotional pressure, all of which you are called on to handle with skillful wisdom.
In the face of all of these issues and problems, how do you maintain your spirituality? First, it helps to know that all businesses have problems, not just yours, so none of us are alone. I know that in the early days of my business, I used to think that everyone else was somehow “doing it right” and I was “doing it wrong,” which was why I kept having problems. Looking back to my 40-plus years of business, I never reached a point, beyond a few hours, where everything was finally going smoothly, and nothing ever went wrong. Problems are just part of running a business. Even if an archangel ran a business, he or she would have to deal with business problems.
The point, then, is not to strive for the elimination of all problems, but to learn to benefit from them. You can do this through the use of observation, non-attachment, honesty and thoughtfulness. Rather than running away from problems, you can turn to face them, observing them as they actually are rather than how you would like them to be. With non-attachment, you can see the interweaving of cause and effect that results in one problem or another. With this more dispassionate viewpoint, effective solutions come more easily and naturally. This approach not only has practical and positive results, such as the ability to make clear and effective decisions, but also helps to keep the connection between Spirit and business alive. A business problem, seen in this light is not a tragedy or a sign of personal failure. Rather, the problem merely points out the next area in which you and your business can experience both personal and economic growth. In short, a business problem combined with meditation, non-attachment and truthful observation brings spiritual growth.
It helps to be forgiving of yourself. As I said, I used to feel terrible when I did something wrong in business, or I discovered something wasn’t going right. Feeling guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed, I thought something was wrong with me. Now I am more accepting and forgiving of myself, and just try to correct the problem and do better next time. I don’t require myself to be “perfect,” realizing that there is no such thing. Now I fix problems rather than taking them personally.
I am not saying that I never have negative feelings. I still get nervous when I have promised to get jewelry made by a certain date and the stones that I need and have ordered haven’t arrived. I still can feel frustrated with lying and dishonesty. Cash flow crunches still make me very nervous. If sales seem like they won’t cover expenses, I still experience some fearfulness. However, when feelings such as these arise, I try not to lose myself in them. I often use a meditation that centers on the question, “Who is it that is feeling afraid, or angry, or frustrated?” This brings me back to the experience of my true self, the inner, undying beingness of which I am merely an expression, which, in turn, helps me to keep my equilibrium and sense of inner peace, no matter what is happening.
Whether running a large or small business, I try to stay attuned to Spirit in all that I do. I try to keep God in mind at all times, no matter what is happening. Of course, this is a practice that is a lot easier to do in the ashram where you don’t have to deal with such big issues that can distract you, like fear of failure or fear of going bankrupt, and the ever-present pressure of having too many things to do and too little time. These things can easily take your awareness away from the underlying reality of the Higher Spirit.
When things get tough, mantras and quick visualizations are techniques that you can use anywhere and in any situation. Try taking a few moments and repeat to yourself, “This, too, is a manifestation of God,” or “These constantly changing forms, feelings, and thoughts are all part of the Higher Spirit.” If you are feeling anxiety or fear, or your mind and emotions are racing, spend just three minutes breathing slowly and deeply, (preferably through your nose,) while focusing on your heart center in the middle of your chest. Your breathing will slow and so will your thoughts and feelings. If you are feeling depressed, envision yourself as being flooded with golden light that brings more lightness and joy with every in-breath. On every out breath, let go of all your tension and just relax.
When business problems bring pressures, fear, anxiety, and other such emotions that threaten to overtake you, keep your perspective by practicing present-centeredness and mindfulness in action. I try repeatedly to bring my attention to the present moment by concentrating just on what I am doing in the moment, whether it is arranging a display, talking to a customer, designing, filling out checks, carrying displays, or any of the hundred and one things that there are to do in business. I do one thing at a time and try not to be distracted by my hopes, fears, anger or any other such feelings or self-judgments. No matter what you are doing in the day-to-day activities of running a business, you can practice mindfulness and present-centeredness. For example, take a few moments to be aware of every body movement, emotion, and thought as it arises. Just notice them without responding or judging them in any way. If you do this, you will soon feel centered and calm, no matter what is happening. You can do this anywhere; in a meeting, talking with a customer, or sitting at a desk. Bring all of your attention to where you are and what you are doing each moment. At your desk, for example, bring your attention to your breathing and your body. Feel your back pressing against the chair. Feel the seat of the chair beneath you and the floor beneath your feet. I have found that only when I am present-centered do I have the clarity to make the best decisions. Only then can I feel peaceful.
I have discovered that I cannot just regain a sense of present-centeredness and then Higher Spirit will take care of the rest of my business. Not only is this impractical, but it is highly unrealistic. There are business realities that apply whether you are present-centered or not. The supply and demand curve, for example, are just as important and unfailing as gravity, remaining unchanged no matter how attuned you are to the Higher Spirit. By not requiring these business realities to go away just because you are spiritual, you can, instead, see them clearly and then know what they mean. For instance, a cash flow problem usually indicates an underlying business problem like undercapitalization, not enough credit, taking too much money out of the business for yourself (but do pay yourself), poor financial planning or reporting, buying too much inventory, poor collection of receivables, dropping sales, or changing market conditions. If I am not swept away by my own inner projections and can be mindful on an outer level as well as an inner level, I am able to understand these business realities more completely and make more realistic and effective corrections.
Even though I regard business as a meditation, then, I have learned that I still have to pay attention to business realities. As I guide my business, whether large or small, I try to use my intellect, analysis, and experience balanced with empathy, forgiveness, and trust in the guiding Higher Spirit, to the best of my ability. Then I let go. If I have done the best that I could do, there is nothing else to be done. The results are up to God.
As I mentioned before, everyone in business makes mistakes. I sometimes joke that I have probably made every mistake there is to make! I have over-purchased, over-hired, under-purchased, under-hired, under-capitalized, trusted too much, trusted too little, demanded too little accountability and “mothered” too much, and mismanaged at one time or another. In the process of learning to run a successful business, everyone makes his or her own share of mistakes. That is part of the growing process. The trick is to learn from them, pick up, and keep on going. I have learned to lighten up on myself when I make mistakes. After all, I do not make mistakes deliberately! With self-forgiveness it is easier to have persistence and not give up. I try to regard business problems as puzzles, things to be solved rather than as a reflection of personal failure. With this attitude, I find that I experience a lot less stress and have much more clarity and energy.
Take care of your vision
When you find yourself having business problems, it’s useful to hire someone who can help guide you, whether it is in planning, management, sales, or operating systems. I have had many people help me throughout the years. However, I have found that the only times that hiring additional help was successful were those times when the people hired supported the manifestation of the underlying vision of my company. Always remember that your business exists to support your vision. More than once I have hired a manager who tried to take the company in another direction because it was safer, or potentially more profitable, or more appealing for a variety of reasons. This situation has never worked for my business, whether it was my large UMA Inc. or my current smaller business as a Maui artist. Never forget that you are the heart of your business. If you take yourself away from being its heart, your business will more likely than not, eventually fail.
What has always worked for the UMA Company is to stay in alignment with its roots. That doesn’t mean that I always keep composing the same music that was popular before, or refuse to create new jewelry designs, just that I stay aligned with my original vision; to provide helpful information and the accompanying tools for consciousness, whether it be in the form of books, music or crystal and gemstone jewelry.
Your vision is the ultimate life force of your businesses. Your job is to interpret your vision in your own unique way and express it with your unique and valuable talents and skills. In other words, you must trust yourself.
At various times I have struggled with this issue as I listened to “experts” I had hired to help me with my business growth. I found that I always had to balance the expert advice with my own sense of inner knowing, because if I didn’t, my business would suffer in some way. I am not saying that you shouldn’t learn from others, but only that you not let outside influences take you away from your own unique vision. Trust your own sense of inner knowing. Not only that, the Higher Spirit cannot guide you if you leave your vision aside and give up the heart of your company, for the vision that you have is Spirit’s continuing gift to you and the vehicle through which the Spirit will communicate.
In difficult times, it is especially essential to follow your vision, for that is the very thing that will make your business creative, unique and prosperous. Today’s times are economically and emotionally trying as the divides of this country play out into the economy. To run a small business today can be challenging, as it is being squeezed by increasing taxes, higher expenses and internet competition, to name a few factors. As a result, besides being tired, it is not unusual to feel less than prosperous. Does this mean that the vision that you have is wrong and that if only you had it right you would be more prosperous? Even in these times, I do not think so. Even in tough times, you can make a profit and do well, so it is more likely that there is some business problem or hidden mistake that needs to be discovered and overcome. Stick to your vision while using your present-centered, dispassionate analysis to find out what it is.
If you are constantly in a tight cash situation, for example, you should probably cut your overhead as soon as possible. Overhead usually tends to creep up constantly and needs continual pruning. You can decrease your inventory and make your line smaller to free up cash. Make your organization more efficient with better systems.
If your sales are dropping, you might solve this problem by making sure that you are reaching the right customers for your products. To be prosperous in my company, for example, I continually have to define my customer when creating new product. In my case, it wouldn’t work to try to sell my latest recording, “Altered States,” to a market of rap or heavy metal listeners. Instead I need to figure out which group of people like meditative, angelic or heartfelt, quiet music. “The Ultimate Guide to Crystals and Stones” book that I just wrote wouldn’t sell well to a market of mystery or romance readers. Again, don’t sacrifice your vision in order to sell more. It won’t work. The customer who will like what you offer is always someone who is in alignment with your vision.
One common problem that causes a lot of pressure and decreases your sense of prosperity is feeling like you have too much to do. Feeling overworked and pressured tends to end any feelings of joy and prosperity. Not only that, when you feel overwhelmed with too much work, it’s easy to get so lost in those feelings that you become ineffective in what you do. Becoming ineffective only makes the problem worse. When you are feeling overwhelmed with too much to do, take a deep breath and start concentrating on one thing at a time. When you are doing that one thing, give it your full attention. Let go of your worry and be completely present. When you are done with the first thing, give each succeeding task your full attention. Don’t think about the last thing you did or what you have to do, only what you are doing in the present and you will see that you get more done. Getting more done brings relief from the overwhelming feelings of too much to do, because instead of feeling overwhelmed, you will begin to feel the fulfillment that come from actually getting things done. Things are in their right rhythm, getting done one by one. It is easy to feel more prosperous what you feel more fulfilled.
In using my business as a spiritual path as well as a way to make a living, I have found that I constantly need to slow the pace. I live very slow paced now, leaving lots of meditative time just sitting in the presence of the Spirit, but I remember what it was like when my business was larger. There was never an end to what had to be done and I always had the temptation is to do more and more, faster and faster. As my company grew and the number of employees increased, bringing even more responsibilities, I found myself cramming deadlines closer together and filing my schedules with impossible goals, with the result being that I felt pressured and angry rather than peaceful and fulfilled. Working in that way created more problems than it solved, within the business as well as in my personal life. For me, the key to escaping this trap was to continually simplify. I constantly streamlined my operations so that my business became easier and easier for me to run. I learned to set my goals farther apart with more relaxed expectations of what was possible for me to accomplish. As much as possible I did away with any unnecessary complications, whether with the creation of my designs or letting go of a difficult employee. In short, learning how and when to slow down is vital to maintaining your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual equilibrium in the business world.
Take care of yourself as well as your business
Now is the time for all of us who are providing tools and services for the consciousness community to not only stick to our vision, but also to define our collective and individual vision even more clearly. The times that we are in today call for us to strengthen, renew and deepen our sense of purpose, anchor light into the planet, and find out what the next steps are for us as a collective, planetary, business community. We need to then discover, moment-to-moment, how we can even more clearly communicate that re-discovered sense of purpose to our customers through our business. Doing this will not only bring practical results, (like increased sales,) but will also bring a deepening spirituality into our personal life and business.
To do this requires energy and inspiration. As a designer, composer and writer, I have to be inspired to create. That inspiration comes when I feel attuned to the Higher Spirit. Along with running my business in a way that keeps me attuned, then, I have to treat myself right. This is as true now with a small business as it was with a large business. Back when I ran Uma Inc., it was easy not to take time off even though I was tired, because there were so many things to do. However, since there were always things to do, I had to learn to make time for myself anyway. I tried to give myself some time to relax every morning after I dropped the kids off at school and before I went into the office. Through the years, instead of trying to do everything myself to be sure it was “done right,” I learned to delegate as much as possible. To delegate I had to let go of the thought “It will be easier if I do it myself.” I had to learn to trust others to get the job done right. I also found that having a good calendar and reminder system contributed greatly to my inner peace. With that in place, I no longer had to carry a multitude of things around in my head. I learned to use good business planning to keep me off of the treadmill of moving from crisis to crisis. Learning to read and understand a profit/loss statement was very important in this. This planning helped me maintain a clear mind. With my mind uncluttered, it was easy to center on the Higher Spirit. Resting in the sense of Divine Presence, inspiration flowed easily.
Of utmost importance, though it may sound obvious, you need to be paid, even in difficult times. It is easy to not make paying yourself a priority. Not paying yourself can build a subtle resentment towards your business. You need to be rewarded for your work, to be acknowledged, and to get an energetic return for the enormous amount of effort that you have put forth. Thought it may be true that you are it in it for the money, denying the importance of profit and not making profitability one of your very clear company goals is foolish. Profit is like the blood of your company, keeping it healthy and alive. Even if the Buddha ran a business he would need to make a profit. In “earth plane reality,” making a profit is the natural result of the exchange of energies produced by a sustainable business.
At one point in my business I discovered that I was operating, on a very subtle level, with a belief system composed of a combination of various 1960s and 1970s anti-materialistic ideas and vows of renunciation. My subtle, unspoken belief was that “spiritual” or “good” people didn’t think about making money. The result was an uneasy feeling that somehow it was not right for me to make money so I often did not pay myself. I felt guilty for even thinking about money because it felt so unspiritual. Consequently, though I felt more “spiritual,” at the same time I also felt subtle resentment that I was not being rewarded and I lacked the feeling that things were working well.
It took some time of reflection, but eventually I realized that I should pay myself. Practically speaking, I found that, even though it was acceptable to cut from my salary first if I needed to cut expenses elsewhere in my business or salaries for my employees, I still needed to make money for my own expenses. After all, my employees were not the only ones with bills to pay; I had bills to pay also! I eventually learned to let go of my incorrect and irrelevant spiritual judgments and include some form of payment to myself. Now, I include a just payment to myself in my business planning instead of just having some vague idea that whatever money is left over will be what I receive.
This is not to say that you have to pay yourself such large amounts of money that you leave your business under-capitalized. It just means that you should always pay yourself something. Even in financially lean times, include a reasonable amount of money for yourself in your financial planning. Expense your own labor. If you keep finding that you cannot pay yourself and you cannot increase sales, look for ways to cut your overhead.
Finally, business is, in many ways, a microcosm of life. Like life, its problems can bring you closer to the Higher Spirit or take you farther away. It depends on the context in which you hold these business problems, whether they are catastrophes or opportunities for growth, looming disasters or exciting challenges. If your first priority is to use your business as a path towards wisdom, every part of your business will help bring you ever closer to the sense of the Divine.
My hope and prayer is that our conscious businesses will act as paths to the Higher Spirit as we all learn to balance the spiritual with the material and manifest the visions we have been given. May all of our businesses bring us contentment and help usher in a more peaceful and enlightened world.