There’s an image going around the Internet of a RadioShack ad from the 1980s. It features a page of electronic items that were available at the time — things like cassette recorders, telephones, cameras, AM/FM radios, compasses, alarm clocks, etc. The caption makes the point that all of these items, everything advertised on the entire page, are now merged into one device we call the iPhone.
The image is a funny and amazing reminder about the power of innovation, and how entrepreneurial spirit can change the world and make it easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. This spirit is behind all great inventions, shapes our world, and brings our wildest dreams to fruition.
When it comes to spirituality we tend to check these ideals at the door and, instead, accept the status quo without much thought or questioning. While electronics from the 1980s can be unrecognizable today, spirituality has changed very little over the last several hundred years (or if we’re being really honest, the last thousand). While we are entrepreneurially adaptive in our business culture, we are stiff and unmoving in our spirituality.
This would be just fine if our world was happy, loving, and filled with compassion … but it’s not. In fact, when we look around we see the opposite. We’re tired, stressed out, angry, and sick. As a global community we are engaged in warfare against each other, the planet, and ourselves at a magnitude that makes even the most positive among us wonder if there will be a world in the future. And many of the religious ideals that have remained unchanged for so many, many years are at the center of this fighting.
In the business world we have an overriding metric for entrepreneurial success: money. The evolution of the iPhone from an entire store of individual items into one, easy-to-use handheld device is deemed a success because it generated a lot of money. We don’t have to investigate, wonder or worry if it’s working, we simply look up the sales figures on the Internet and there it is. The iPhone is a success because the metric tells us so.
Spirituality is different. We don’t have many defined spiritual metrics. In a larger sense we might not even know what we’re searching for in our spiritual lives. While business is a venture in making money, spirituality can be about many different pursuits — love, salvation, immortality, joy, acceptance, healing grace, redemption, etc. The lack of clear goals and metrics makes it difficult to know when we’re succeeding. We don’t know how to be good at spirituality. So instead of innovating we join a club, we latch onto a tradition, and we follow ancient rules of success.
For many this brings a sense of fulfillment, community, and relevance. Others though, feel torn, stretched between the desire for a spiritual practice and community and the need to build something more personal. We enjoy the connection that religion brings but find that the rules don’t align with our intellectual and moral beliefs. We want to innovate and adapt, but that isn’t welcomed in religion. Holding a new and ever-evolving smartphone in one hand and a set of old rules from past times in the other, we find ourselves stuck and conflicted between our entrepreneurial values and our religious ones.
In my book, I wrote about the moment this all came front and center for me. President Obama had announced that his beliefs around gay marriage had “evolved” and cited his religion as one of the major factors in that evolution. This announcement caused an uproar in many religious circles, including mine. I watched as many of my friends, my pastor, and the community in which I had once found love and companionship behaved with intolerance, bigotry, and injustice … and I could no longer stand with them. The breaking point for me came when my pastor told me that my mom, who had passed a year earlier, was in hell because she had married a woman.
As I had so many times in my scrappy, entrepreneurial life, I was forced to find my own way, to create a spiritual practice that aligned with my own values and worked for my life. But I faced a major hurdle — without the simple measure of success of following religious rules, I wasn’t sure what I was aiming at or how to succeed.
I had learned about the power of metrics many years earlier as a young executive at Live Nation. My mentor and boss, Michael Rapino, had placed me in charge of a struggling division of the company. It was my first big job, and what I lacked in experience I made up for in commitment and passion to succeed. Every night for a month I worked at the office with a small team analyzing the past performance of the division, looking for the one “aha” metric that would allow us to grow. Again and again I took our findings to Michael and each time he shook his head and asked me to dig deeper. I asked him how I’d know when I’d found the key metric, he smiled and said, “You’ll know you’ve found it when you don’t have to ask that question.” He was right. After a month of analysis we found our metric. It became our mantra for a year of growth as we rallied our team. One simple metric became our touchstone … or path to success.
As I began patching together my spiritual practice I called upon my experience in business metrics. I questioned my spirituality the way Michael had taught me years earlier to question our business. I poked, prodded, challenged, and asked why. Ultimately I found the answer in the simple metric of “JOY.” What I was searching for in my life was an overriding sense of joy. Not a momentary or fleeting joy like the temporary pleasure of cold lemonade on a hot summer day, but a lasting and enduring joy. Guru Singh calls this unreasonable joy — joy beyond all intellectual knowing. The great Dzogchen Master Nyoshul Khenpo referred to it as “sublime joy” in his classic book Natural Great Perfection. Perhaps my son said it best in the handmade, construction paper Father’s Day card he gave me when he was five describing the joy he experienced when we were together: “You make me feel all ticklish inside.”
Joy is a hard metric for us to associate with spirituality. As children we’re taught that spirituality involves sacrifice, suffering, and even martyrdom. And sometimes it does. Our path to spiritual growth is often difficult, it involves looking in the mirror, accepting what we see, and developing habits to override past programming to create the life we want. Throughout all that, though, we can experience joy. The joy of curiosity … joy of exploration … joy of insight … joy of change … joy of self-love and of the true acceptance of who we are. This unreasonable joy isn’t free from pain; instead it’s the knowing that we are free to experience joy within the pain.
In our physical bodies joy is cellular. At this level joy is experienced through the open flow of energy among our cells. We communicate joy to our cells by sharing nutrients in the form of nutrient-dense foods, through activities that promote openness like yoga, tai chi, and long walks on the beach, and by getting a good night’s rest.
In our emotional bodies joy comes from letting go. We experience emotional joy through a long, deep breath and the release of our emotional tightness on the wings of our exhale. Emotional joy can come by connecting with others, by feeling seen and heard, or from a tender hug in a moment of pain. It’s the sensation I felt when I read that beautiful Father’s Day message from my son.
In our spiritual bodies joy is experienced through acceptance, stillness, and connection with the parts of us that transcend our physical bodies. We sit, breathe, and allow ourselves to become aware of something beyond the whirling of our minds. We allow our thoughts and feelings to be as they are, while inviting a deeper, lasting joy in the form of nothing at all … this is sublime, unreasonable joy.
This week I invite you join me in looking at your spiritual practice. Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Challenge a bit. Explore the role of spirituality in your life. Ask yourself the question “what is my metric?” If you find that the metric isn’t in alignment with the joy, peace, and love you’re looking for in your life, examine the parts of your practice that may need altering. Like the RadioShack ad, give yourself the freedom to mix and match until your spiritual practice contains the components that you desire in your life.
Spirituality is the path by which we learn to love and accept ourselves as we grow. Breathe deeply and allow yourself that gift with unreasonable and lasting joy.
Big hugs of love,