This is a feature article I first wrote for the Life Coaching Inisights website. It is a topic which is close to my heart – the message that the path of spirituality and material engagement are not separate paths. These pursuits are not mututally exclusive. They can overlap perfectly and harmoniously. Here’s how…
Traditionally we are accustomed to seeing the pursuit of success and wealth as completely divergent from the path of self-development and spirituality. Consciously or subconsciously we tend to divide our pursuits into two broad categories: inner development and outer achievement. But when we take a closer look, we see that both pursuits can be aspects of the same path.
My thanks go to Devin Iyer, my friend and erstwhile business partner, who wrote this intriguing article for this week’s Blog post. You can find out more about Devin and how to contact him, at the bottom of the post.
A rather extreme approach
Separating inner development and outer achievement is something that I too have been guilty of. In my early twenties when I began questioning the deeper aspects of life, I became fascinated by spirituality, philosophy and metaphysics. I soon took quite an extreme viewpoint, surmising that there was little or no value in engaging in the world of money and success. I decided to sell all my possessions and move off to India, yearning to dedicate all my days to the earnest pursuit of ultimate truth and enlightenment.
For three years I lived the life of a contemplative monk. I revelled in my discoveries of the deeper truth of our existence and the principles of enlightened living. Then intent on a more holistic wisdom, I decided to return to the ‘real world’ (as we like to call it!) I gradually started to turn my philosophical mind to a deeper understanding of the world in which we live.
I soon came to a pretty harsh realisation: Whether I liked it or not, whether I agreed with the current dominant economic model or not, money played an important role in life and well-being in the world.
Having come to this basic realisation, I concluded that it was wiser to accept the reality of money and to work with it, than to wish it away and try to operate on the side-lines of society. So, as I engaged in the world again I began to study and contemplate the deeper truth and significance of money, wealth creation and what we call ‘worldly success’.
Amongst all that I’ve discovered, and continue to learn, here is a perspective on wealth and success that I’d like to share with you…
To win at the outer game, go within
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
From this perspective everything that we experience here in this life, as mundane or materialistic as it may seem, is of significance to our inner selves – our souls or spirit, if you will. And in this sense our work, our business, our pursuit of well-being, or even what we call ‘the daily grind’, is no less significant than practicing yoga or meditation, attending church or the mosque, or going on a spiritual retreat.
Traditionally we think of a spiritual pursuit as that which brings us closer to peace and enlightenment; that which brings us equanimity and detachment; or that which leaves us more compassionate and loving. Almost conversely, we look at the outer pursuit of work, wealth creation and success as that which brings us money, and with it the ability to afford our creature comforts, worldly experiences, more freedom, and all that life has to offer.
Yet, if you take the time to learn about the principles and techniques that result in success; if you study the insights and teachings of the wealthy and successful, you would find that the path towards success almost always drives us to work on ourselves. It urges us to develop discipline, to become more conscious, more focused, more productive, and to dig deep into the recesses of our being in order to discover qualities that we can use in the service of the greater good.
We also learn that success is not just about having lots of money, but about experiencing a sense of fulfilment, which comes from using our time and talents to create something of value for others.
“The reward of our work is not what we get, but what we become”
– Paulo Coelho
The deeper principles of success
What it takes to become wealthy and successful is to work towards a higher ideal, to be of service to others; to create or deliver something of great benefit to the world (or a large number of people).
The pursuit of wealth and success leads us to develop a mind-set characterised by focus, determination and perseverance. It requires mastery over your mind, learning to concentrate, and cut out distractions. Often you need the strength to sacrifice some of your interests in favour of a higher goal or ideal.
To become wealthy and successful also requires you to manage your emotions, to overcome apathy, negativity or selfishness. It takes knowing yourself better; identifying and developing your unique gifts and talents. It urges you to see the best in others, and to relate to them in the best possible way. This enables you to draw on the talents of others in service of your mission.
Not only that, the path of success even calls on you to be more conscious of what you eat, and to take the time to be active so that you maximize your energy and output. It can call for you to be highly creative and to find and tap into the very source of creativity. It drives you to become more conscious of who you are and what your unique gifts are.
It urges you to become more conscious of peoples’ pains and needs, and to care enough to want to help others overcome their problems in order that they too may experience more happiness in life.
The path towards success requires you to heal your limiting beliefs about life, but also about the nature of the world and the nature of money. In the process you are given the opportunity to heal your limiting beliefs about yourself, expand your consciousness, realise who you truly are and what you are capable of.
Focus, mastery over your mind, emotional mastery, becoming more conscious, developing compassion and being of service to others – all of these are characteristics of self-development, personal mastery or what some would call the spiritual path. (These are not mutually exclusive.)
The ‘outer’ pursuit of wealth and success has a sneaky way of driving you to look within, to move in the direction of greater consciousness, becoming of more value and of greater benefit to others. In this sense it is no different than the path of spirituality and self-realisation.
It’s more about the approach than the field of action
It’s not so much about whether you’re a city dweller with a nine to five job, or whether you’re a monk who lives in a cave in the Himalayas. It’s more about your approach, about your thoughts and your way of being as you engage in your pursuit.
If material wealth becomes your primary aim, if you are obsessed with money, or attached to the lifestyle, the spiritual element is lost and your endeavours are no longer beneficial to either your development or enlightenment.
Similarly, if you pursue wealth to allay your fears or insecurities; if you pursue it solely for the fame that feeds the ego, or for power over others; if you lose your balance in the process, or become addicted to money and wealth, you are not approaching the pursuit with awareness or enlightenment.
However, the same can be said about following a spiritual path. If, for example, you approach it with the intention of exerting power over others, as an ego trip, as a way to opt out of being productive and of service to others (or to open a church and make lots of money!), your life is no more spiritual than the life of a nine to five office worker who diligently goes about her work to make ends meet.
“Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is in the doing, not the getting – in the trying, not the triumph.”
~ Wynn Davis
Detachment and renunciation
Walking the path of heightened awareness or spirituality often calls for us to be detached and to have a sense of inner renunciation from what we do and what we have. It is entirely possible that a person who has very little can be quite attached to their few possessions, while a billionaire can remain quite unattached to anything he owns, choosing not to identify his personality or sense of being with his possessions. On the other hand, it is possible to find a poor person who is quite detached from stuff, or a wealthy person who clings onto everything he owns out of attachment, addiction or insecurity.
So, the mark of spirituality or self-development is not in how much you own, it is about how attached you are to what you own. Similarly, it is not of grave importance whether you are a serious spiritual seeker, or whether you are following the path of success and wealth creation. What is more important is your intention and your approach as you engage in your field of action.
Renunciation is not about renouncing the world, nor even about renouncing the pursuit of wealth, or well-being. It’s not giving up your job, your business, or your dreams.
It’s about renouncing attachment and identification with your pursuits, and renouncing your attachment to the results of your actions.
If you engage in an activity that you truly enjoy, if you enjoy the action itself, and if it makes a positive contribution to this world and other people, if it is valuable to life, and if it makes you wildly wealthy and successful… This is a life well lived.
It’s only when the pursuit of wealth and success becomes an obsession, or you develop an excessive preoccupation with the attainment of wealth, that your approach can keep you from expansion and awakening.
The call to become more
Here’s another deeply revealing perspective on our lives: According to Abraham-Hicks, “We are perfect yet expanding beings, in a perfect yet expanding world, in a perfect yet expanding universe”.
We are always expanding and seeking to become more. And this is where our drive for success and achievement comes from. When we heed this call, pursue our dreams and explore our potential, we also serve the greater reality by doing so.
Indeed most of us on the planet, in one form or another, are on the path of creating wealth and success, because we can see that this makes life easier and gives us more freedom of choice. But if we imbue our everyday pursuit with this fresh perspective, then the same activity can serve as an exercise to grow and develop ourselves more consciously; as an opportunity to explore deeper aspects of our being, and as a path towards ever greater levels of enlightenment. We can shift the nature of the daily grind, experience our work differently and maybe even fast track our path to success. With this new approach we can certainly experience more wealth and fulfilment as we travel this wondrous journey we call life.