In my view, sacred and spiritual talk relies too often on abstract concepts, which seem far-removed from the daily realities of work and life. That’s why I like the phrase: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Since few of us retreat from life to live in a cave, we seek and need a practical sense of spirituality that fits modern challenges.
That’s exactly what a group of us got at a recent luncheon talk by Louise Mangan in Vancouver, hosted by the Workplace Centre for Spiritual and Ethical Development. (Mangan is the spiritual director of Pacific Pathways InterSpiritual Care, and chair of the InterSpiritual Centre of Vancouver Society.* ) She gave her talk, Fear in the Workplace: How Do We Cultivate Trust? in a conference room at the downtown Terasen Gas Building at Georgia and Thurlow.
Drawing from Taoist thought, Mangan reinforced that we can use our fears as an invitation to learn and grow. Rather than judging, blaming, and lashing out at ourselves and others when we’re in a situation that evokes fear, we can befriend fear as an ally. This starts with simple steps. When we’re afraid, we can bring awareness to our first response by asking: What am I feeling? (Mangan focuses on five key emotions: mad, sad, glad, afraid, ashamed.) We can each “be” in our body, centred and aware of its sensations, rather than ignore or try to suppress physical reactions.
In Mangan’s view, fear invites us to examine our responses, and to practice a sense of powerful presence, regardless of what conflict or chaos is swirling around us. Otherwise, fear usually freezes action, disengaging us and launching our egos into battle mode, either on the offensive or defensive. Do you embrace or shrink from fear? What lessons do you think it can offer you, both at work and at home?
Mangan suggested some valuable and simple ways to enrich and heal our relationship with fear, drawing on love in our interactions:
• Use a sacred word to centre yourself in prayer or meditation. It can be anything from “Patience” to “Forgiveness.”
• Each night, think of ways in which love came to you during the day. In the rush of life, it’s easy to overlook or take for granted a gift of love, large or small. This could range from a child’s smile to a compliment from a colleague.
• In reviewing your day, identify times when your love was incomplete or fractured. Consider how you might have responded differently.
• Return to your first experienced fear and replay it, reframing it from a loving, eternal place. This promotes forgiveness and healing.
• Do a Gestalt-style exercise with three chairs. Sit in one chair and remember a situation in which you feel regret or shame. Breathe deeply. Sit in the second chair, which represents Divine Source, and feel the love and acceptance of the divine connection within you. Then sit in the third chair and think of someone who has hurt you. How was that person trying to take care of him or herself? This process can help to strengthen our sense of compassion.
Lastly, Mangan reminded us to trust life to guide us. We only know the next step and that’s enough.
* Louise is a retired pastoral minister for the United Church of Canada. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. She is a former member of the ethics commitee at B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, and a former chaplain for the International Congress of Midwives. She was the founding chair of the Interdisciplinary Midwifery Task Force of B.C.