Outer Success and Inner Quality of Life

Most of us are enamored with outer success in the world. When we are young and not very mature, we don’t realize that outer success does not necessarily lead to inner happiness or a better quality of life. To awaken and guide young minds towards meaningful life, this relationship between success, quality and happiness has to become part of the core enquiry in education. This article examines this relationship in the light of an integral vision of life.

The Meaning of Success

The first step is to understand the meaning of success. What does it mean to be successful? Jack Welch, former CEO of GEC defines success as, “Setting personal goals and achieving them and enjoying the experience on the way.” I think it is a way very good definition of success. These personal goals can be at various levels—material, professional, emotional, mental, moral or spiritual.

Many people have predominantly material and economic goals in terms of wealth, power, status or career, such as becoming a millionaire or a CEO and regard the achievement of these goals as the mark of success. At a higher level are professional goals, for example, to strive for a progressive excellence in work and occupation.

There can be emotional goals which aim at happiness, joy or building harmonious and loving relationship with people. We can have mental goals aiming at knowledge, learning, understanding or a disinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. At the moral level, we may aspire for integrity, character, self-mastery, kindly service or contribution to society. And finally there are spiritual goals such as self-knowledge, discovery of the spiritual self beyond the Mind, union with the Divine.

The Path to Success

Success in achieving these personal goals depends on many factors. Each goal and each individual path to attain success has its own laws, principles and difficulties. But in general we may identify the following factors as key to success.

  1. Choosing the right goal which is in harmony with our nature, temperament, capacities and evolutionary status for which we feel a mental and emotional affinity or attraction, and as a result, fully engage our mind and heart.
  2. Clarity on the nature of the goal and path.
  3. Concentration of our mental and emotional energies on the goal.
  4. Some form of inner and outer discipline which cultivates all that is helpful to achieve our goals and reject all that is not helpful or opposed to it.
  5. Firm and persistent will in the pursuit of the goal and against all obstacles, difficulties and failures.
  6. Along with firmness in the will, a certain flexibility and adaptation to changing conditions and situations.

The Inner Quality of Life

However, as we have said earlier, outer success in the first level, in the economic or professional spheres, does not always lead to a better quality of life. This is one of the main maladies of the modern corporate life. Many corporate leaders and executives who achieve success or excellence in their careers or professions are unhappy and unfulfilled. Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project, and a thoughtful writer on career-related matter, describes what a CEO of a $5-billion dollar company told him: “I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve hit the bottom. The problem is that I’ve been numb for too long. I’m honestly not sure if I can find my way back to a sane life.”

This can happen not only to successful corporate executives but also to those who achieve success in the mental domain, such as a scholar, writer or a scientist; even to some of the greatest like Charles Darwin, who in a poignant passage in his autobiography wrote:

“Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds … gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also lost almost any taste for pictures or music. … My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact; but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. … The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

This brings us to the question what exactly constitutes inner quality? Some people associate happiness with quality of life. But a superficial and ephemeral happiness of the surface being cannot build anything meaningful and enduring. Happiness and sorrow are part of life; we can’t have one without the other. We may define inner quality as a deep and lasting sense of inner fulfillment or well-being which can remain even in the midst of the turmoil and dualities of the outer life. Let us now examine what are the factors which can lead to this inner fulfillment.

Infusing Meaning

The first factor is a sense of meaning which gives the feeling “I am doing something meaningful and significant.” Dedication to a higher ideal or a cause which transcends the self-interest of the individual can bring such a higher meaning to our life. This ideal or cause can be disinterested pursuit of truth and knowledge in science, philosophy or in various fields of learning or it can be beauty in and through various forms of art; it can be the seeking for pure, selfless love in relationship; or it can be a service or contribution to the well-being or progress of others or the community or the larger life.

An important point to note here is that this sense of meaning is to a certain extent subjective. For example, an engineer working in a public utility, such as a thermal power station, is doing direct public service and the moral quality of the work is more or less the same as that of those who serve the poor in a charitable or religious organization. But most of the engineers carrying out public service do not feel it as strongly as those who serve the poor in a non-governmental organization (NGO). They regard it merely as a profession or a means of living and not as a service. As a result, they do not feel the sense of fulfillment which a worker in NGO serving the poor feels, though the moral quality of the work is more or less the same. This principle has important practical implications for motivation.

It is now recognized in management thought that this sense of meaning is a vital motivational factor. One way of doing it is to make the employee feel that he or she is not working for an organization, or to fill the coffers of its owners but for a higher cause or purpose or activity which contributes to the well-being and progress of the community or nation or humanity. This cannot be done by communication gimmicks, for example by rephrasing the vision statement in such a way that it gives the impression that the organization is performing service to the society. This doesn’t mean it should not be done but that it must be something sincere which expresses something real and genuine in the organization. Second, leaders who talk about it must feel it and walk the talk.

Total Engagement

The second factor which is essential for inner fulfillment is a certain level of integration between the mind and heart and the faculties of action, especially emotional and vital being; in other words—engagement of the whole being. To arrive at this higher engagement, we have to make a conscious effort to integrate our body, mind, heart and actions around our ideals. The main principle of the discipline is to cultivate all that are in harmony with or helpful to the realization of our ideal and reject everything that are opposed to or contrary to the ideal. There may be many practical difficulties in following this discipline. For example, in the case of Charles Darwin cited earlier, there is dedication, disinterestedness and the pursuit of an ideal of scientific truth. But it seems that emotional being is not fully engaged in his scientific work. This can happen in fulltime knowledge work and it may not always be possible to bring in the emotions. The remedy lies in having an extra-professional activity which can engage the emotions like music or loving relationship. In this sphere, Einstein is a role model for all knowledge workers. He was passionately interested in music and with equal passion loved the two women he married.

The Spiritual Dimension

However, whatever we have discussed so far falls within the domain of mind. But within the mind whatever we do can only be imperfect and uncertain, because our human mind is imperfect and uncertain. This doesn’t mean mental effort is useless. It is a good preparation for something better and more enduring. For this deeper, more perfect and lasting fulfillment, we have to open our mind and heart to the spiritual dimension. In the integral vision, the first and the most accessible mansion in the spiritual realm is the psychic being or soul which is the evolving divinity lodged in the depth of our heart. This psychic being is the inner source of all our higher aspiration for eternal and universal values like truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, unity and perfection and holds the key for an effective implementation and realization of these values in our inner consciousness and outer life. It is also the source perfect integration of our body, life, mind and heart and as a result lasting inner fulfillment.

We may have to begin this inner journey towards integration with a mental or moral ideal, organizing all our thought, feelings and actions around this ideal, with a higher sattvic[1] intelligence as our guide and mentor. However, as we have indicated earlier this is a good preparation but for a higher spiritual fulfillment, we have to go beyond this sattvic harmony towards a spiritual integration around our psychic being. To do this we have to become inwardly open and receptive to our psychic being, through inner purification of our mind and heart, inner silence, meditation, work or devotion. As we progress in this inner discipline, it will build in us a psychic intuition in our emotions or intelligence which will provide the unerring guidance, discrimination and understanding, much more accurate, precise and truer than the sattvic intelligence.

Another yogic discipline that can bring a greater spiritual meaning to our work, whatever work it may be, is the path of ‘Karma Yoga’ of the Gita. This path is based on a spiritual intuition or vision that perceives that all the energies in our individual being—physical, vital, mental or spiritual—are part of the universal creative energy of the one divine being and all our individual actions are part of the one indivisible cosmic action of the Divine Power. The aim of Karma Yoga is to become more and more conscious of this spiritual truth of action and make all our individual energies and action into a conscious instrument of the divine power. The main discipline of Karma Yoga is to offer all our inner and outer action at all levels, from the most physical to the highest mental or spiritual, to the Divine Power which is the source of all action—without seeking for the fruit or results of our actions. In other words, Karma Yoga can transform work into a sacrament and worship. In this path of yoga, the nature of work or social status of the worker has no significance. What matters is the inner quality of the consciousness put into the work which depends mainly on the quality of the dedication, selflessness and consecration. This discipline of sacred work, if it is put into practice with sincerity and persistence, can infuse our work and action with a higher spiritual significance. The other important part of the discipline of Karma Yoga is ‘equanimity’, which means an undisturbed inner detachment and equal regard to the dualities of life like happiness and grief, pleasure and pain, success and failure, praise and blame. This discipline of equanimity can help us to rise beyond the unequal reactions of our surface nature to the touches and shocks of life and enter into a deeper and higher level of consciousness, which is calm, peaceful and undisturbed.

The path of Karma Yoga when put into practice with sincerity and persistence can lead to a deeper and inner fulfillment, greater than surface happiness; it may also bring greater creativity, efficiency, productivity or success in outer work and life. But we should not take up karma yoga to achieve such mundane aims. This path has to be pursued for achieving a higher and inner spiritual fulfillment with other aims coming only as a secondary by product.

[1] Sattva is the quality of goodness, positivity, truth, wholesomeness, serenity, holistic, creative, constructive, balance, confidence, peaceful, virtuous, drawn towards Dharma and knowledge, from where the word sattvik is derived.

M. S. Srinivasan

 

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