In the last post in this series, I talked about the ways of thinking that tend to block us from developing what I call “inner productivity,” or the mental and emotional state that helps us to be efficient and produce our best-quality work.
As I said, in our culture, we’re conditioned to ignore or push aside our inner experience of working. That is, if emotions or thoughts that aren’t related to our work come up, we’re expected to deal with them “on our own time,” and pay no attention to them while we’re on the job. If we put our attention on them, we tend to assume, we’re wasting time or being self-indulgent.
Unfortunately, this attitude achieves the opposite of what it’s intended to do—because it cuts us off from our natural joy and aliveness, it renders us less inspired and motivated in our work. Also, as I talked about in a podcast, pushing away our inner experience of working takes energy and makes it harder to concentrate.
So the next question is: how do we reconnect with our inner experience in a way that has us become more focused and motivated in what we do? In this post, I’ll talk about a new perspective we can take on the thoughts and feelings that tend to disrupt our work. As I say here, we can actually learn to see them as a form of valuable inner wisdom.
The Inner Guru
The idea of the “inner guru,” or gurudev, exists in several Eastern spiritual traditions. The inner guru is the part inside each of us that guides us toward truth, peace and love. It operates “behind the scenes,” outside our awareness, and often in ways we don’t fully understand. Even things that look like obstacles or setbacks may be simply our inner guru’s way of teaching us compassion, strength and wisdom.
When distracting thoughts and emotions come up as we’re working, our usual response is to ignore them or force them out of our awareness. Perhaps we tell our minds to shut up, divert our attention by surfing the Web or checking e-mail, and so on. We do these things assuming the thoughts and feelings are of no value to us. They’re random mental events that occur for no reason—or worse, perhaps there’s a malicious part of our minds that’s actually out to hurt us.
We don’t usually consider the possibility that our mental and emotional experience as we’re working is there to teach us something, and we can benefit from listening to it. Let’s take an example. Some of us, when we work by ourselves, start feeling alone and frightened, and find it hard to hold our attention. We usually react by either shaming ourselves—telling ourselves not to be childish, for instance—or frantically reaching out to others so we don’t feel so scared.
What we don’t normally do is simply sit with that feeling of aloneness, keep quiet, and listen to what it has to teach us. When we become willing to do this, we can gain amazing insights into who we are and what would serve us best in our lives.
A Practical Example
For instance, I worked with one woman who was persistently tormented by this lonely feeling when she was alone in her office. Her normal response to this sensation was to do some instant messaging with her friends, but this gave her only temporary relief.
When she decided to just breathe, relax her body, and accept the feeling rather than pushing it away, she had a remarkable intuition. She suddenly realized what she really wanted in those lonely moments was to reconnect with a few of her childhood friends. With this in mind, she got in touch with several people from her past, and today she greatly values those renewed friendships. The feeling of aloneness, as it turned out, contained a valuable lesson about how she could improve her quality of life.
In other words, when we begin to see our distracting patterns of thinking and feeling as important messages from our inner guru, rather than rejecting them as worthless or harmful, we gain access to a wisdom we didn’t realize we had.
Spiritual teacher A.H. Almaas, in Diamond Heart, Book One, offers a great quote that helps us to see the obstacles in our lives—on both the inside and outside—as messages from our inner teacher on how to find peace and fulfillment:
The problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They are specifically yours, designed specifically for you by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself. You are not going in the right direction unless there is something pricking you in the side, telling you, “Look here! This way!” That part of you loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance.
At its core, what I call “inner productivity” is about developing a closer relationship with yourself. By listening to what our thoughts and feelings can teach us, we can not only start getting more done—we can cultivate a deep inner peace and self-acceptance.
The next article in this series will be a list of practical exercises to help us get more attuned to our inner experience at work. If you enjoyed this post, check out the others in this series:
Inner Productivity, Part I: 3 Keys To Developing “Inner Productivity”
Inner Productivity, Part II: Reuniting “Work” And “Life”
Inner Productivity, Part IV: Some Exercises For Self-Listening
Inner Productivity, Part V: Breathing Through Our Fear