Why the soul is the highest refuge for a confused change agent

For leaders in organizations, the idea of restructuring their viewpoints and thought patterns is as important as learning the nitty-gritty of processes central to the company’s functioning. Without this continual inner-work, staying adaptable to a changing business landscape- very much the norm these days- is all but impossible.

But in this inner reworking, there are often points when you feel mired in confusion. Conflicting ideas may pull at your brain from different directions, making decision-making a challenge. Coming out of these confusing phases may not be easy either. In this context, the age-old concept of taking refuge in your deepest self- or the soul- becomes significant.

The idea of the soul as a clarity-giving inner presence is vividly presented by Marcus Aurelius in his famous Meditations. A Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, Aurelius wrote this in his book- a collection of meditations meant to enervate himself at times when the mind sought direction:

“Men seek out retreats for themselves in the country, by the seaside, on the mountains[...]Nowhere can a man find a retreat more peaceful or more free from trouble than his own soul.”

So, what benefit could modern change agents derive from Aurelius’ words? The Emperor has expanded on the idea mentioned in the quote above. Here, we look at some of the key ideas that could be eye-opening for the wary leader.

An equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius

Vision as a guiding principle

...and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest.”

Here, Aurelius draws our attention to keeping our principles “brief and fundamental.” But fundamental to what? That’s a question worth pondering.

For principles and ideals are born from a projected progress trajectory you find meaningful. To give an example, in India’s freedom struggle, one of the key principles which Mahatma Gandhi adhered to was non-violence. The vision he aspired to make real was simple and profound- to free India from the clutches of colonial rule, so a nation-state in which diverse ethnicities and religions could co-exist in peace could emerge. Once this vision was in place, the principles such as ‘ahimsa’(non-violence) and non-cooperation were birthed from it- a natural emergence of ideas for someone of Gandhi’s stature, who embraced the Buddhistic ideal of universal harmony.

For a leader in a modern organization, it’s extremely important to have a strong personal vision following which s/he could unwaveringly guide the team. Aside from making business sense, the vision should also be meaningful for the leader personally. Otherwise, it would be hard to remain committed to the pursuit of that vision.

The Temenos Vision Lab or TVL is a unique methodology developed by Temenos+Agility which helps change agents realize their True Personal Vision. Based on 25 years of business consultancy experience and psychological insights, TVL enlists some of the best management coaches to help guide you to your vision.

The mind, without the extra baggage

“ For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.”

“The good ordering of the mind” Aurelius mentions here has a lot to do with cleaning up the unproductive thoughts in the mind. It’s a bit like clearing a cluttered living space, leaving behind only those objects which make the space functional and beautiful.

For a change agent, the unhelpful thoughts and ideas may have their root in misapprehensions about certain processes or even people in the organization. It could also be a learning from a poor past experience which makes him/her wary of changes. Such negative ideas have a way of brewing in the mind and turning toxic, preventing you from evolving as a leader.

To this end, the Clean Slate- an important session that forms part of TVL would be of immense help. The session helps you assess your inner self and identify the unhelpful ideas which may have taken root in your mind. Helping you weed out the negativities, the session empowers you to move ahead with only those mental assets which have helped you in the past. Referring back to the concept of decluttering the mind, the Clean Slate session also helps you focus on the things that matter, without distractions.

The path to tranquillity lies in clearing your mind

The soul as a gateway to connect with others

“Recall to thy mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another.”

This is a powerful sentiment expressed by Aurelius in his uniquely magisterial style. It is also extremely relevant in our times which are fraught with divisions amongst humans. For here, the erstwhile Roman Emperor is reminding us that a key purpose of humans is to exist for each other.

In an organizational context, this correlates to team work. For no matter how skillful individuals are, if a team cannot function as a unit that moves towards a specific objective, the organization falters.

In this context, TVL helps team members explore their aspirations and values through the Influence Maps- a tool developed by Temenos+ Agility and which is used in TVL. Not just that, team members are encouraged to share their earnest aspirations and values with each other, so they come to a stronger understanding of themselves as a team. Further, via TVL, the team realize a Compelling Shared Vision- the common goal towards which the team progresses.

For organizations, hope for better future stems from strong team work

The soul’s attraction in Vedantic philosophy

The universality of Marcus Aurelius’ idea of taking refuge in the soul is brought out by the fact that the same concept is central to India’s Upanishadic school of thoughts. In fact, the idea is strongly emphasized by latter-day acharyas(exponents of the traditional vedantic thoughts) as well.

For instance, in the seminal Tamil work “Thirukkural”- a book of couplets about the three ideals of human life as viewed by vedanta, aka dharma(virtue), artha(polity) and kama(love), the concept of the soul being the sole refuge of man is expressed in the 7th couplet of the very first chapter.

Ascribed to the sage Thiruvalluvar, Thirukkural is divided into 133 chapters with 10 couplets each. With so many ideas incorporated, it’s interesting that the importance of the soul as a haven is mentioned in the first chapter itself. To be more precise, Thiruvalluvar states that taking refuge in the soul is the only cure for all mental woes.

While the Thirukkural is believed to have been written between 450 and 500 CE, a central text of Indian philosophy- the Bhagavad Gita, believed to be composed sometime between the 5th and 2nd century BC also mentions the soul as the only viable haven for man from his strifes.  

The Gita- as it is also called- details the exposition of the God Krishna to the warrior Arjuna when the latter’s mind falters in the battlefield. Krishna is considered as the physical embodiment of the soul while Arjuna stands in as a symbol for humans fraught with doubts regarding the course of actions to take at various points in life. Towards the end of the Gita, Krishna says in no dual terms that Arjuna should take refuge in him- the soul- to find the highest solace.

A Thiruvalluvar statue

The soul as refuge in Rumi’s poetry

The 13th century Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī also struck upon the same idea. A Sufi mystic, Rumi is believed to have uttered many of his poems while performing a dervish dance, revolving around a pillar, stepping in concentric circles until he reached the center- the pillar.

The pillar could be considered as the symbol of the soul- the core of your being. In this regard, Rumi had uttered these delightfully intoxicating lines:

“I turn until my sense,

Dizzied with waves of air,

Spins to a point intense,

And soared and centres there.”

The dizziness to which the poet refers is reminiscent of the confused thoughts which rendered Arjuna incapable of action in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. And the idea of ‘centering there’ in the final line alludes to taking refuge in the unshakable pillar of the soul.                                      

Again, there are these words of Rumi:

“Haste, haste! For we too, O soul, are coming

From this world of severance to that world of Union”

The ‘severance’ mentioned here is evocative of pulling out the negative thoughts from the psyche, so that you could move ahead with clarity of mind. The ‘Union’ in question is a merging of the mind and the soul, where tranquility is a state of being, and a vision of purpose the natural outcome.

Whirling dervishes in modern times

Banner image credits: Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

For change agents and leaders, not to benefit from meaningful events and gatherings is a missed opportunity! We invite you to indulge in some of the most transformational events from Temenos; designed with hard-earned understanding, organized just for you.

Temenos Vision Lab- Online ( June 29, 2018)

We invite you to this special gathering, which brings together a group of wonderful people who fill workplaces with joy and energy. By connecting with each other, you embark on a journey that leads to better clarity about the changes you seek, gain collaboration opportunities and leave with a concrete action plan.

Temenos Vision Lab- Amsterdam, Netherlands( Nov 2, 2018)

a668f554-ff3a-46d4-8a6b-3b5dbac20edaAnother venue to take an exquisite inner journey, to find your true Vision.

Temenos Effect Gathering 2018- Bengaluru, India(Dec 8 to Dec 9, 2018)

An event dedicated to the idea of personal mastery, for nurturing your beautiful self, for change agents and leaders to become their true selves.

For more details, visit our website - https://www.visiontemenos.com/events

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