It is probably an overstatement, but I have seldom met a person over 50 years old who was void of a spiritual life and could still claim personal fulfillment and happiness. Maybe a better way of saying this is, “Our frequent failure as leaders to deal with our inner lives leaves too many of us and of our institutions in the dark.” (Thank you Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak [link: http://www.amazon.com/Let-Your-Life-Speak-Listening/dp/0787947350]).
Through the wisdom of Parker Palmer, we must ask ourselves: Do we value “inner-work”, the emotional and/or spiritual effort we make to become more aware of our personal needs? We at Spencer Shenk Capers see examples day after day of people behaving in ways that are counter-productive to themselves, their goals, and their organizations. We don’t need to list the ways. People get in trouble because their “shadow side” shows up, resulting in ineffective, detrimental behavior.
Can we lift up the value of inner-work? The notion strongly suggests that inner-work is just as important (if not more important) than outer-work. Mr. Palmer suggests that the term inner-work should become commonplace in our language; its practice should start in our families and schools. We hear: Have you done your chores today? Do you have a plan for addressing that problem? How can we better service that account? We hear: It is important (a value) to respect your elders, to learn followership skills, to communicate better, to improve our skills by taking a class or seminar. These are examples of the outer-life. What don’t we hear?
Are you spending time every day reflecting? Do you meditate (many choices) or even pray (if you are so inclined)? Do you think about your spiritual practices designed to help you get out of your own way and live a less anxious life? Ten to twenty minutes of daily reflection unlocks a number of benefits that will quickly clarify your internal world and, it is proven, reduce stress—a welcome benefit for us all. For some, this may mean reading a chapter of reflective material (I’m not talking about the newspaper or the latest mystery novel, but rather something that speaks to you for the purpose of awareness, perhaps the Bible, a memoir of a spiritual nature, or a self-improvement/self-help book, to name a few). Support groups and meetings serve a similar purpose, as discussion can often open new avenues of introspection. For others, a more solitary endeavor like taking a walk (important: phone off!) provides the quiet focus to turn thoughts inward. Another great reflective exercise is to keep a journal. Putting down your thoughts and feelings with an eye toward what it says about you and your choices can both help you know yourself better and solve problems more effectively.
My thoughts and experience have led me to conclude that if we cannot discover our authentic selves, we will not have the courage to live a life true to ourselves. And when we live the life that others expect us to live, we end up spending time on people and things that drain us of energy. Avoid a destiny of repeating unproductive thoughts and behaviors. Start small with a goal of only a few minutes of reflection a day and grow your practice from there. Slowly add a minute or two every week. Notice the changes: What falls away? What grows? Put the highest value on your inner-work and make this practice a priority.