In LIFE by Anja Hartmann1 Comment

By Anja Hartmann:
“Really? You meditate every day?” is a question I get a lot when friends, colleagues, or clients in the corporate world find out about my spiritual interests and involvements. And: “Really? You work with CEOs of, like, global corporations?” is a question I get a lot when friends, companions, or casual acquaintances at spiritual gatherings find out about my professional career and activities. And both questions are usually accompanied with a puzzled look of deep irritation and incredulity.

When the light of a blue moon reflects on the pond, dissolving the silhouettes of hermits and sharks. In those wondrous moments, the questions are no longer.

The feeling of dissonance, in others as well as in ourselves, between a high powered work life and a deep commitment to spirituality is something I’ve not only experienced myself but also often encountered in others who have both demanding jobs in business or politics and a personal dedication to a spiritual path whatever its denomination might be. Firstly, there are practical dissonances, like: How to fit that month-long retreat into a schedule of fourteen hour workdays? Secondly, there are dissonances in perception by others, like: Your spiritual friends doubting your intentions as they see you managing profit- and-loss statements, making money, and stepping out of the group meditation session in order to take a phone call from your investment banker; your business friends doubting your sanity as they see you sporting a protection cord around your wrist, spending your travel time staring into the void, and rescheduling the board offsite because you have to go and see a spiritual teacher at the other end of the world. Thirdly, there are dissonances in how we see ourselves, like: How can I be serious, committed, and purposeful about my professional career when I know that, ultimately, there’s no point in being attached to worldly endeavors?

Or: How can I go with the flow of a totally disorganized spiritual group when I know that, practically, they could get so much more done if only they’d be a bit more thoughtful about processes, structures, and responsibilities?

The result of such dissonances is all too often a nagging notion of not belonging neither here nor there, being a hermit in a pond of sharks or, maybe, a shark in a pond of hermits, with no presumption as to which metaphor better describes which situation, a lot of individual energy and enthusiasm wasted in both places as we worry about what to do or not to do, and also, most likely, a loss of possible value created for everybody involved that could come from mutual listening, understanding, and learning between hermits and sharks.

Now, as we all know, the world usually doesn’t change just to accommodate our needs and wants, so it’s unlikely that, despite all hype around spirituality in business, and despite all efforts of spiritual groups to become more professional, the universe is going to magically align its forces and make those dissonances disappear any time soon and still, every day, I pray that it does. So maybe we just have to continue to juggle our outer and inner hermits and sharks, pretty much like many of us juggle work life and family life, always falling short of our own aspirations let alone others’ expectations.

I confess that, a lot of the time, being that juggler is what gets me through my days, regularly dropping bits and pieces of hermits and sharks all over the place, and mumbling weak apologies as they hit other people’s limbs, feelings, or mental constructs. Then, however, there are other times: When the light of a blue moon reflects on the pond, dissolving the silhouettes of hermits and sharks. In those wondrous moments, the questions are no longer: “Am I a hermit? Or am I a shark? A hermit dressed up as a shark? A shark dressed up as a hermit? Or both? Or neither?”.

Professional or spiritual, underneath these traits are the very same qualities, appearing in different shades depending on circumstances and surroundings.

In those wondrous moments, the question is: “Who am I before I am someone?” Now, without going down the long and winding paths of philosophical, religious, scientific, or common sense answers to this fundamental question of human existence, my personal experience is that a good reflection on who we are before we are seen as hermits or sharks can actually help a lot with dealing with the perceived dissonances described above. In a slightly modified form, the question then reads: “What is it about me that makes me want to adopt both the life of a hermit and the life of a shark?”. For myself, thinking about this question, led to me better understanding a number of qualities and characteristics that shape who I am and what I do regardless of context or labeling.

For me, in a nutshell, the answers which, of course, will be different for everyone, so this is meant as an personal example with absolutely no claim to pervasiveness are: I’m obsessed with discipline, effectiveness, and efficiency, endlessly curious about other people’s motives, and helplessly self-reflective. In my professional career, these qualities manifest as sticking to deadlines and promises, always asking for purpose, eliminating useless procedures, relentlessly investigating people’s words and deeds, continuously questioning my own motivations, and uprooting my own assumptions. In my spiritual life, these very same qualities manifest as being paranoid about the slightest lack of consistency in study or practice, rigorous tracking of what can be tracked yes, I do use pivot table spreadsheets to count accumulations, always worrying about the wholesomeness of my own and others’ thoughts and activities including occasionally giving advice that nobody asked for, and never trusting my insights on any spiritual matter. Professional or spiritual, underneath these traits are the very same qualities, appearing in different shades depending on circumstances and surroundings.

Of course, all these qualities themselves are as fleeting as the silhouettes of hermits and sharks in the moonlit pond. At the same time, for the time being, for me, they and, mutatis mutandis, for you, the qualities that you find as you go through that same exercise do reflect aspects of an identity that can be brought to the life of a hermit as well as to the life of a shark without having to juggle masks, roles, or split personalities. In that sense, they also reflect a common nature permeating those lives, regardless of specific manifestations. So that by investigating ourselves in order to better understand how that common nature appears across our different spheres of life, we can gradually dissolve the apparent dissonances, waste less energy, learn more, grow more, and, over time, bring more of what we are into professional and spiritual communities while, hopefully, worrying a lot less about what we are not.

About the Author
Anja Hartmann

Anja Hartmann

Anja was born in Hamburg, educated in academia, groomed at top management consultancy McKinsey & Company, and nowadays gives advice to executives in business, NGOs, and the public sphere. She’s a long-term student of yoga and meditation, proud mother of a five-year old son, and author of the blog Bucketrides on leadership, sustainability, and all things human. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

Photo by Pixabay

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  1. Kay

    Namaste Anja
    As a long term hermit in my own hut and organic garden, but still belonging to a monastic country three year retreat set up in the Himalayas I have definitely this problem of, as you describe: “how can I go with the flow of a totally (prefer greatly here, not totally) disorganized spiritual group, when I know that practically, they could get so much more done, if only they’d be a bit more thoughtful about processes, structures and responsibilities.”

    I would add here, taking better care of applied dharma in daily life, applied cause and effect and especially good conduct! After decades of seeing dharma institutions, lay and monastic and their obvious problems and what I call willful incompetence, I stopped talking, except Sunday and now stopped talking altogether, which as a hermit might be more appropriate anyhow.
    Having been once a good chess player and still with a mind who can see long term strategies for social beneficial services with income, I might have been seen as a shark with positive critism and suggestions, since open talk is not that appreciated and there are for sure some who are relieved that I finally stopped talking altogether.
    With other words, I personally have resonance to your article dear Anja and your word choices of hermit and shark. Personally I see a more sustainable future for dharma institutions, when applied dharma is lived, especially concerning conduct in all matters and moments and a change from donation, hope culture to social beneficial services with income.
    Having written the above, I want to add, that these times are fantastic and wonderful. So many informations available,so much dharma to be studied, greatly thanks to the great and incredible survival struggle of Tibetans, who, one might argue, became (a percentage of them, not all) the world champion of refugees and to jindags and translators,…………….., ………… and as well thanks to this wonderful new magazine, using relatively new technology.
    As a hermit it is nice to check this out sometimes. Thanks to Eric and Tara and all who contribute, like you Anja.
    Thanks to you all.

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