Spirit and practical

Montalut - Everything matters

Over the weekend I met someone who was so accomplished in the business of helping others, but when talk turned to spirit, it came out that he didn’t believe in God. For him, after we die we belong to the worms. He believes in science, in what is practical and tangible, and discounts anything that has had no “real” contribution to moving humanity forward. My initial instinct was not even to convince him otherwise — I was stunned — so I decided instead to try to see the world in his eyes. I’ve never shared a conversation with anyone who cared for the world and yet found no merit in the spiritual.

What’s it like to live everyday based on bottomlines, scaling up, creating impact, moving BIG? Not for the glory of success, but to genuinely help and respond to the world. To be on efficient toes, because there is no next time, no afterlife. This is all we’ve got. Hence the urgency to do what we can NOW — chop chop, and in big, solution-oriented ways. It may lead one to ruthlessness, but it also produces results.  There is concrete action. All the time.

That’s not a bad thing. Maybe I could use a little more ruthlessness in my life.

But my question is this: Is it possible for that kind of work to be effective and yet completely devoid of spirit?

I always took it for granted that anyone who wished to do good, by default, had some form of faith. Faith in goodness, in people.

What is spirit to begin with?

Growing up Catholic and in the Philippines, where belief in the supernatural dwende and aswang is as ordinary as going to the mall, I’ve always been exposed to the “greater things at work in the world.”

But to be spiritual is another story. It is alive, an activity, an impulse to pursue truth in all things — relationships, business, health. When faced with a fork in the road, the spiritual person takes out the truth radar. He decides not based on emotion or desire, but on truth:  what is my truth? What is the truth of the situation? What does it ask of me, of the other, of the world?  It is not an easy process to come to a truth.  One has to be driven both by results and process… to be patient. To move forward but also to recognize the lull moments. The negative space. And to be there, actively waiting, preparing. Because there is a rhythm to all things. One takes as long as one takes.

To be spiritual is to acknowledge the world and be present to it 100% — in mind, body, heart.  One observes and listens, but also makes sure he is equipped to do this task– so he clears the space inside and makes room for the new. All the time.  He recognizes the big picture and how we exist in its context.  It’s always about context.  There is a greater scheme of things, a thread that ties everyone and everything together.  I remember a scientific law that puts forward the same idea:  Energy is neither created nor destroyed.  It is transformed.  You can never get rid of what you put out there — be it physical trash or a brilliant idea.  It always goes somewhere, moves into a new space, a new vessel. The spiritual works under the same law:  There is no real death, no delete button.  Everything moves into the other.  Everything is connected.

This is what it means to be spiritual:  to recognize this connecting movement.  Change.  Transformation.  The spiritual person is open; he feels for the pulse of our time over and over again, so he can respond to it over and over again.

Swap the word “spiritual” above with “creative” or “scientific” and everything still holds true.

So where does that leave us?

They are not on opposite ends. There are overlaps, and it’s in the overlaps that we find loopholes in the argument that science and spirit do not mix.

Imagine the potential created when one really recognizes them as the same thing.

Truth we associate with reason, but I think it has more to do with love. When we live truthfully, we live in love and beauty in all aspects of our lives.  Everything is pared down, becomes simple, because it is what’s true.  There is no room for the mediocre or the pwede na.  Science or any work that pursues truth to move people forward, by default, is spiritual. There can be no lasting outer movement without an inner shift.

Translate that to technology and art: are they also polar opposites?

Technology has made our lives faster — we thrive on the instant. For now let’s just dwell on its upside: we are able to produce more, reach more, impact more. Contrast this with the countermovement of slowing down: slow food, slow travel.  To take one’s time.   Technology is reaching out.  Slowing down is reaching in.

We need both.

I have been on slow down mode for quite a while now. Art and quiet living have been my sanctuary for clarity… I go back to my art when I feel lost and overwhelmed by the world. Art is my prayer, and it takes many forms: doodles, writing, painting, even building my house. I’m no hippie, but have been called that for my ruthless pursuit of the pure, the basic, the beauty in the everyday.

But this new commitment I have to living a creative life, I think it comes as the next step after clarity– to give back. I seek and ask questions, because I want to help others do the same.

The dynamic world of business and innovation is more present in me now, and it fascinates me to no end. Maybe last weekend’s encounter with someone so results-driven was meant for me to rethink my pace. The key is to balance out the patient work of an artist with impactful results that are quantifiable and replicable.  Personal and scalable.  Is there such a thing? Maybe that is the task at hand — to “create” a new that will bridge the two.  Maybe I have been taking my time. And to step up is to really swim in the wider ocean and create ripples! Now!