As I was about to check in for my flight from Kerala back to the UK, I was posed a straight forward question which threw me. “What do you do for a living?” asked Prasanth, the airport transport manager from the hotel where I’d been staying. “I help people to find more happiness and purpose at work or to change to a new job that brings them more fulfilment.” I answered. My explanation left him perplexed. And, in turn, me too.
A parting gift
It appeared that it was not such a ‘thing’ in India (or at least not in this part of India) for people to provide such help. And in that moment, I wondered if a secret to finding happiness and fulfilment at work had perhaps just been revealed to me. A little parting gift of sorts from a country which I have always felt a strong connection too, even before I first set foot on Indian soil at the end of December.
I do acknowledge that there is perhaps no need for someone like me in India because there is simply less of a luxury of choice around what you do for a living over there. (I have often wondered whether choice is in fact more of a curse rather than a blessing – but that’s another blog for another time.) But that aside, maybe, just maybe, people there already know the secret to feeling happy and fulfilled in their working life. I’m choosing the latter to investigate as I look back on my time in India.
Sevā: The secret to happiness at work?
Everywhere I went on my two-week trip – firstly to the city of Hyderabad (in the southern central state of Telengana) and then to Kovalam (in the south western state of Kerala) – I was struck by the people I met in service positions in the hotels, shops, restaurants and taxis. So many of them seemed to project a light, joyful and contented energy as they went about their duties.
I believe that serving others is at the heart of a life of purpose and can provide a deep sense of fulfilment. The joy of serving others is something I witnessed in India to the point where I wondered whether it was actually more of a spiritual act. And so, I felt compelled to do a little research when I returned home.
I found that acts of service are actually an integral part of the Hindu philosophy. There is a concept called ‘Sevā’ which is ‘selfless service that is performed without any expectation of result or award for performing it’. I sensed this selfless service across every role within the hotel I stayed in: from the security guards and room attendants through to the chefs, the restaurant staff and the gardeners.
It got me wondering two things. Firstly, whether unhappiness at work often stems more from our expectations around the result or reward (or rather when they are not met). Maybe the key is to let go of expectation and focus more purely on the act of service. Something we can all try in the here and now to find more happiness at work without having to change career.
And secondly, I wondered whether work was perhaps, in some ways (or at least to some people), a form of spiritual practice. An opportunity to perform ‘seva’ and therefore live out their deeper purpose. Work and spirituality appeared to co-exist in a way we don’t typically see over here in the west. In many of the shops, hotels and taxis there were shrines or deities on display. Spirituality was never far from anyone’s reach.
The ultimate act of service
But the one practice of spirituality at work which has really stayed with me was the greeting of ‘namaste’ which I received each day – head bowed, hands in prayer position at the heart centre. The literal translation of namaste is ‘I bow to you’. This felt like the ultimate act of service, to be honoured in this way. Such a simple gesture which created a deep momentary connection and enabled me to see the person beyond their role and honour them too as the divine being which they are. Oh, how I wish we did this over in the west (not just at the end of a yoga class!)
The connection between spirituality and work
Maybe it’s no surprise as a Spiritual Career Coach, but for years I have been fascinated with the connection between work and spirituality and the possibility of work being a spiritual practice. I recently unearthed a book with that exact title (‘Work As A Spiritual Practice’ by Lewis Richmond) which I bought back in my days living in the States around the year 2000. My trip to India has reignited this curiosity for me. I have seen what I believe to be a clear connection and the impact that it can have on experiencing more happiness and fulfillment at work.
For the last couple of years, and certainly since I relaunched as a Spiritual Career Coach, I have derived immense joy and fulfilment from serving my clients. I have shown up to my purpose in a way I could only have dreamt of back in my days in the corporate world. Every interaction with a client is, for me, an opportunity to practice presence, to connect with my Higher Self (and to honour that of my client) and to open myself up to being a channel for the Universe to work through.
I know that work can become a spiritual practice if you choose it to be. And I would like to think that I have the concept of Seva nailed. But in truth, fully letting go of expectations is challenging! It seems we are hardwired to expect things as a result of being of service. I am a work in progress on that one (thanks no doubt to my Ego Self). Although there have already been many times when I have let go and I can say this with great conviction – I have enjoyed my work more, I have felt more at peace and the results have, ironically, been better.
Parting thoughts and questions...
My experience of India is, as yet, relatively limited. I’m pretty sure that what I have witnessed is not representative of the whole nation. And I’m eager to discover more and see if this theory rings true in other parts. But I do feel like there is a lot to be taken from what I have initially witnessed. Namely that being of service is a divine act which can connect you to your deeper purpose and, if you let go of expectations, bring you much joy and fulfilment. And in that way, work can indeed become a spiritual practice.
How much happier and more fulfilled might you be if you focused more purely on selfless service within your job? Or if your work became a spiritual practice?
How might it impact your working life if you were to enter into a life of service without expectation?
Hello, I'm Rebecca
Career Coach for people on a spiritual path
I support mid-career professionals who are ready to make a career change, launch into a more purpose-led career or business or simply enjoy a more fulfilling or balanced working life.
I believe that we all have a purpose here on earth and that life is too short to be stressed, unfulfilled and playing small.