The Business of Spirituality

February 27, 2013

The Business of Spirituality
In 1999, I quit my job of eight years as a paramedic to start my own business. At the very beginning of the business, it was clear it was failing. It took me years to finally master the art of what business actually was, and grow it. And one of the reasons behind the failing business was that I didn’t know how to deal with fear. I should also mention that I’ve spent years practicing and exploring Sufiism, and this teaching forms the basis of how I live and work. After learning Sufism with my Sufi master, here’s what I can share, an analogy for how we can look at our fears in business or in life:

Imagine a day when you’re working for several hours straight. And then at lunch, you realize, “I am so hungry. I didn’t have my breakfast and now my stomach’s rumbling!” And you walk up to get something to eat. That’s what you do, right?, You also never quite get over being hungry. It’s not as if you eat lunch and then not get hungry at dinner. You know you will get hungry over and over again. You want to take care of the hunger as and when it comes up. In other words, you first acknowledge your hunger and then take relevant steps to allow your body to deal with it. You would probably go grab something filling and healthy, if you haven’t eaten all morning.

The same goes for fear. The biggest thing you can do first is to acknowledge it and say “I’m scared. I’m going to get scared again, and that’s okay, too.” Fear is going to happen. We are most vulnerable when we are surprised by it, so take the steps just like you would your hunger, to know that it’s going to arrive and you should be ready for it Step two is to fill your heart. When you feel fear, your heart is hungry for love and connection. I do this by using my spiritual practice and Sufism, but everyone is on their own journey and you may do it differently.

In the earlier days of my spiritual practice, when fear would hit, I would freeze up and my muscles would become tense. It took a few moments, minutes, or hours to come to realize I was in a state of reaction and become aware of the hunger of my heart. With more and more practice, today the time I spend in reaction has diminished by a great extent.

busy and spiritual

The next time you’re scared, tell yourself, “I am feeling fear now. Is it okay to feel fear? Yes, I now have the awareness. This is what fear feels like.” And then ask, “Is love available during this time?” This is one of the things I teach my students. Most of them “get it” quickly: “Yes, of course, love is available for me if I choose it!” But we don’t really “know” this when we’re busy being scared. We wouldn’t choose fear if we could help it, would we? So asking this question really helps you to gain a different perspective: “Wow, I am feeling fear and it does not feel good. Is love available even here?” And see how you go with it.

Some people, when they acknowledge love, will have a physical feeling in their body. Some will have a knowing while some others will hear someone or something. No matter what your approach, that’s absolutely okay.

To receive love in such times, the Sufi practice of Remembrance is probably the simplest and most effective one I use. It’s using a name for the Divine and calling it to my heart. As a Sufi, I use the word “Allah”. You may call it the Source, God, Higher Self or whatever it is for you. I would call Allah into my heart and listen for what comes next. I want to emphasize that this is not an attempt to “fix” it. I am not asking Allah to get rid of my fear. It’s really to fill my heart with love because that’s what you’d do when you’re love-hungry, won’t you? The fear then starts to dissipate and I start to have a completely different sense of connection.

I have found that anything that can help me come back to a state of awareness is helpful.  So sometimes it’s a straight-up spiritual path and sometimes it’s walking outside and taking a deep breath of fresh air; sometimes it’s connecting with my wife and other times it’s simply calling someone for support. There needs to be some action to break the lock of paralysis. I think that my spiritual practice has given me that kind of action. There’s one prayer that involves body movement, and one of the other practices involves chanting. Once the openness starts to come in and I have a different perspective on the situation, I’ll look back at what initially made me scared with a heart full of love. This time, I’ll see it differently and I’ll see what the next step to take is.  It may not be the ultimate solution but it will be the next step. The next step, in the context of business for example, could be helping your client. If it’s done with an open heart, with love and there’s guidance in it then it’s not like you’re taking money out of someone’s account. You’re actually doing something for somebody. It’s helpful for them and for you. So there’s nothing wrong with that per se. It’s just that it’s nicer and more effective if it’s coming from love rather than just coming from a fear reaction.

Calm Tree

Along with being spiritual, I am a very practical person. I am a Type A personality. I worked as a paramedic in the past in the Bay Area. I ran a magazine. I tend to be a very hands-on person. Yet I cling to my spirituality because it keeps me sane. It’s what helps to treat the brittleness. I was raised Jewish and from a young age, I said to myself, “I’m going to be a rabbi.” Then there was dissolution and the loss of innocence that comes with growing up. As a young adult, I met the woman who is now my wife. We were involved with the Jewish community and I started to go deeper with that.

Two things had to happen to precipitate me into Sufism in particular: One was a longing to go deeper. The teachers that I had at the time in the Jewish community just didn’t have the ability to take me where I wanted to go. The community I happened to be in didn’t have a lot of mentors and resources readily available for me. And secondly, my wife had been chronically ill for years at that point. It took her over ten years to recover. We were looking for something that was going to help her – we tried everything. She eventually came upon a Sufi healer who was incredibly helpful to her, and we wanted to learn Sufi healing. I ended up going along with her. I had just quit my job as a paramedic and had started helping friends with their start-ups and businesses and was doing pretty well at it. I wanted a model, a resource, a framework and considered doing hypnotherapy for a while. But I eventually went ahead with Sufi healing and I am so grateful for that today. When I went through the Sufi training with my teacher, we spent an entire year learning to try to discern the difference in internal voices. I learned what the voice of the ego is, what the voice of the Divine is, and what the voice of what can sometimes be called the shaitan or the evil impulse is like.

I’ve realized that as you practice spirituality, you’ve got to have discernment too. It’s worthwhile being gentle with yourself, worthwhile to listen to and not judge yourself because something turned out wrong. This is also one of the dangers of mainstream spirituality — there is this equation of spiritual attainment with external results, which in its grossest form says, “If you’re rich you must be spiritually manifesting,” which is blatantly false. You may not always be looking for money – you’re looking for what gives peace to your heart or being in the right relationships. It’s different for everyone, so there cannot be a generalization. Taking time to value that, to me, is the most beneficial thing to do.

Life has taught me several lessons but the two big ones are on vulnerability and neediness. I remember a time when we had just started the business and there was a month when we were falling short of $3,000 that we really needed to pay someone. It was a few days left to the end of the month and I had completely been unconscious of this problem. When the day came closer, I panicked. My wife was not keeping well at the time and I didn’t want to pressure her. I was left on my own. That’s when I bumped into this awareness clear and loud in my head: “I am now steeped in fear. That’s interesting. I am panicky. I don’t know where the next three grand will come but I know that my heart could do with a little more love”. I recalled the name of Divine and waited for the next step.

For me, it was to ask my parents for help. Now I know not many of us are that fortunate to have our parents in a position to help them. But somehow, my parents had the exact money I needed at that time and they were happy to help us out. The biggest help that came out of that — and it was a very profound spiritual lesson for me — was my dad telling me, “You know Mark, your mother and I had help when we were young and just getting started with our lives and we didn’t do it entirely on our own.” In that moment, I realized how I was holding on to this myth from our culture that you must do it all on your own and that you’re not supposed to get help. This is at the core of how my spiritual practice with fear works. I no longer have to do this alone. There is the Divine presence. There is love available. There is community to help you out. There are people around who are willing to help. You just have to ask! You also have to be willing to be humble enough and vulnerable enough to have your neediness surface so that you can ask for and receive that help.

Vulnerability and neediness have been two of my core learnings. There have been many others along the way. But this understanding that we are all inherently needy at some point in our lives and that it is okay to be so is so freeing. The analogy that I learned and teach from is that human beings are like a lamp — we are beautiful and valuable, and there are many, many things that are amazing about us. But if we’re not plugged in, we’re dark. There’s nothing coming through. We are vessels and we have everything we need within us to transmute what comes in into really good stuff that comes out. Unless we’re connected and unless there’s stuff going in, whether it’s connection to the Divine, connection to the community, connection to loved ones or connection to whatever feeds us, then there’s not going to be anything coming out. In order to let something in, there needs to be space and that space is the neediness. When I am hungry, I know that my stomach is empty and I need to put food in it — that is neediness and that means there’s space for me to nourish myself. It’s the same with fear. It’s like this: “Oh, that means that there is this space in me to now receive some goodness that can then be turned into more goodness which might be through my actions and emitted into the world.”

Mark SilverAbout: Mark Silver is a fourth-generation entrepreneur who has run a distribution business, turned around a struggling non-profit magazine, and worked as a paramedic in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the author of seven different in-depth programs and a number of other smaller teachings and classes for entrepreneurs. Together they form a comprehensive entrepreneurial wisdom academy curriculum. You can learn more about Mark here.

Photos by jurvetsonNatesh Ramasamy and christopher.woo in that order.

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