Business as a Spiritual Practice

August 18, 2023
To engage in spiritual practice is to bring awareness to our evolution. In this episode, Joe and Brett unpack the relationship between exploring our inner depths and getting things done in the world, and how both can be achieved together when we see business itself as a fertile ground for self-discovery.

Episode Intro:  Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease.  I am Brett Kistler and I am here with Joe Hudson.

Brett: How is it going, Joe?

Joe: It's going great. How are you, Brett?

Brett: I am doing really well. When I talk about this podcast to people, I often have a hard time telling people if it is a business podcast, a spirituality podcast or a relationship podcast because we cover all of the bases, but really one of the things I love about what we are doing here is that it really just points to how they all come from the same place. I would love to have an episode that I could refer somebody to to say this is what I mean. Check it out.

Joe: Wow. How about if we do one that is all about business as a spiritual practice? I am not sure we can do something that ties them all together. At least my brain can't comprehend that at the moment, but I could definitely say how business and personal development can go hand in hand and what makes them go hand in hand so well.

Brett: Let's stick with that seeming dual access then of business and spirituality because I think that feels like a dichotomy for people. In this episode, let's weave those together.

Joe: That sounds awesome. I think the way I would want to start that is to just say for those who are in business and who are as old as I am, somewhere in the 70s there was this concept that you were either a businessperson or an environmentalist. You couldn't be both. In the 90s, it started showing up that we can do both of these things, and then even companies like Walmart, by the early 2000s, were doing some amazing things for the environment, like telling Barbie they needed to shrink their boxes so fewer containers would need to be shipped across the ocean. They were saying they were going to sell renewable, sustainable fish. They stopped selling certain kinds of light bulbs because they used too much energy. I remember talking to the CEO who was in charge of that. I believe his name was Lee Scott, and he said it was like sweeping thousand dollar bills off the floor. It was just so easy to make money being environmentally conscious.

I want to start off by saying it is the same thing here. I think if you really get this concept that business can be a self discovery journey and that the more ways you find for your business to be in alignment with who you are, the more successful you can be. When you see it, it is like sweeping thousand dollar bills off the floor. It can be incredibly profitable and deeply aligned. I want to start off that way to just give that metaphor out there so that when you listen to it, you are listening to it that way. This is something that can really help me be successful in business.

Brett: I imagine listeners would love to be sweeping thousand dollar bills off the floor. Do they really exist? I have never seen one. I think they are in circulation technically. Also, to do that in a way that feels aligned.

Joe: It kind of goes the other way. It is finding what it is not in alignment, putting it into alignment, which allows for the money to come. That's typically how it works, or in my experience that's how it has worked.

04:05 Brett: I heard you just use the word alignment. We opened this by speaking of spiritual practice. I want to dial in a little bit on what you mean by spiritual practice.

Joe: That's a great question. First of all, it is an incredibly loaded term typically. Anything you say in this realm, you can say spiritual practice, loaded term, and closer to God, loaded term. You could say self awareness, loaded term. Just depending on what your background is, somehow or another, these are all loaded terms. Let me give it three different ways to describe it. The first one is there is just this human development theory that says as we mature, assuming we don't get stunted with trauma, our brain moves in certain ways. We move from seeing ourselves as very individual to seeing ourselves as part of an ecosystem or part of everything. We see time as a short period of time, like a little kid who can't get excited about a birthday party that is a month away to an adult who is lucky if they can see four or five years out so they don't sign that really crappy mortgage. Maybe you start seeing time as far as generations or that infinity is in the depth of a moment, not in a length of time. That developmental path in spiritual traditions and religious traditions would be spiritual development. The other way to say it is how we evolve through our nature, how we become ourselves, and how we can be authentic. The path of development is just our natural path of development, which requires some attention but doesn't require a tremendous amount of doing, effort. That's what I mean by spiritual development.

Brett: It sounds like a fine-tuning of your experience, cleaning up both the efficiency and the enjoyment in the alignment and the flow in your experience, in your relation to yourself and to the world, and that that might be the thing we are talking about showing up in business synergistically.

Joe: Some of those are more symptoms. The way I would just say it is that as we learn more about ourselves, there is a maturation that occurs. As we understand who we are more, there is an evolution that occurs. That evolution is something that has been tracked and described by Tibetan Buddhism or Christianity or modern psychology in human development. It is pretty clearly laid out in these different ways. None of them do it exact justice. The result is eventually more joy, more alignment, and more peace.

Brett: I hear you describing the spiritual as evolution and the practice as the awareness. The spiritual practice is bringing the awareness to your evolution.  

Joe: That's beautifully said. Clearly better than I just said it. That's it.

Brett: Let's move onto what you mean by business. This can also be a trigger word and very broadly applied.

Joe: I mean it in that very broadly applied way. I mean getting crap done in life. It doesn't mean running a company. It might be being in a job. The Tibetans called it skillful means or that's the translation. They would talk about the spiritual practice of chopping wood. I don't care if it is marketing something or starting a business or being an artist. All of that is what I mean by business. What I mean is when you are getting crap done in the world, when you are making or creating stuff, or when you are producing stuff.  

Brett: The merging of these two is bringing awareness to our evolution in an applied way, applied to the crap we are getting done and to how we are showing up and where that actually impacts the world around us and the experience we have while doing it.

Joe: That's right.

09:33 Brett: If we were to lay out a basic formula for business as a spiritual practice, what would that look like?

Joe: The basic formula is the same as everything that we talk about here actually. Anything that we have said on this podcast can be applied here, but specifically it is about embracing intensity, going into the difficulty that presents itself rather than running away, learning to be more and more in connection with ourselves and others, and discerning internal alignment and moving towards the alignment instead of away from it for the short term gain or for the fear. That's generally what it is. That's the formula. That works particularly well in business.

As an example, you are running a company. Not ignoring the thing that is difficult, going and spending time in the thing that's difficult, creating connection with your customer, with yourself, with your managers, and the people who work for you is going to make the business more efficient, and really noticing everything that feels out of alignment and putting it into alignment will increase the efficiency of the business. Similarly, internally, the emotions that I run away from, can I embrace those with intensity? That's going to do a tremendous amount. Can I learn to be more connected with myself or others? That's going to teach me a tremendous amount about myself as is the embracing intensity and internal alignment. That didn't feel right. I need to address it. That didn't feel right. I need to speak it. Those same things happen whether you are working in a business or just with yourself. They apply in meditation, for instance. You are sitting in meditation, and you have a difficult experience. Can you embrace the experience? Can you connect with the experience? Can you connect more deeply with yourself with no effort, as it turns out? Can you notice the places that aren't in alignment? Can you allow them to become in alignment? It is the same thing.

Brett: We have got these three prongs of this formula, embracing intensity, connection, internal alignment. What are some other examples of what that could be applied to or where in your life you could look to see symptoms that could be bread crumbs tracing back to where this formula could be applied?

Joe: Let's say, for instance, you or your company is having a hard time making decisions. There is a lot of second guessing going on. A decision is made, and then 10 people tell you to question that decision again or you in your own head are constantly second guessing all of the decisions you have made or taking a tremendous amount of time making a decision because you are constantly second guessing it before you make it. That means there is an emotional experience you are avoiding, and so you can really use embracing intensity in that moment. You can ask in a business context what the really hard questions are. What are we trying to avoid? What are we trying to get to? What has got us scared? How are we not being courageous?

Connecting is really internally connecting with what you are scared of, your fear, and learning how to love and embrace that will totally change your decision making. The same thing with the company, whatever the decision is, how do you connect with the people it affects? How do you connect with the customers it affects? How do you get their input or recognize that connection? How do you nurture it? Similarly with internal alignment, second guessing usually means there is not an internal alignment and you need to find out what that internal alignment is or isn't and do the work there. Similarly, if there is a lot of second guessing inside of a company, usually the alignment looks like you thinking this is what you should do but you don't want to get in trouble. That's typically how that works.

Brett: Then there is a lot of second guessing the CEO or the leadership.

Joe: That's an example. Other examples would be conflict avoidance, which we just talked about, or obliteration of ego. Being defensive in business is horrible for business because you are not listening to great ideas or being open to other people's wisdom. You are making it so that other people don't share their wisdom with you. You are making it so that customers don't share with you. You stop asking customers. All of that is defensiveness. That is a protection of ego. If you allow your business to constantly shadow your ego by being non defensive, feeling all of the things, and letting yourself be wrong and be right when you are even when people disagree. All of that work is a disintegration of ego. That's an example. It is every single thing that I see that stops a client in their business or slows a client down in their business. It also slows them down in their relationships and in their self development. There is this really great way to use business as a tool to see yourself more clearly.

Brett: And widening that definition of business to something like a family, I've heard you describe that the role of a child is to obliterate the ego of the parents or one of the roles. In the business of raising a family, not the money making business but in the sense of the shit you are doing, then the obliteration of your ego is the thing that will unravel that second guessing and that conflict avoidance allowing you to receive more information and to see it more clearly with less bias.

Joe: Just to be clear about that part, let's say the second guessing and the ego obliteration. A lot of people think ego means I am super sure that I am the greatest and I know what decisions to make. Ego is really any way that you define yourself. If you define yourself as unclear and scared and that gets annihilated, then the second guessing is going to stop. You are going to be freer. There is going to be less ego, and you are going to be more capable of getting things done.

16:45 Brett: What are the benefits of this path compared to other practices? What would you describe as other practices that might be different from this or how do they all relate?

Joe: There are hundreds of practices, somatic practices, meditation, or therapy. They are all practices towards the same thing. I would say some of the benefits of using business as an avenue for spiritual growth is you don't get to fool yourself very easily in it. You can fool yourself into a somatic experience or a state of meditation, and then a little kid comes up and bothers you. You yell at the kid to get out of your way. In business, the rubber hits the road every day. Every day things are going to go wrong. How are you going to let your ego dissolve in the face of things going wrong? Every day is going to have some level of discomfort in it. There is something real about it. You can't fool yourself as easily. That's one of them.

Another one is that oftentimes there is this thing that happens in spiritual practices where someone says if they could only meditate all of the time, they could be happy, especially people who are on the search. They have that thing. In business, it just doesn't allow that sense of false separation. If you say you are going to completely separate and hang out in a cave, your business is going to fail. You don't get to have that fantasy and be consistent with your practice, whereas you can meditate two hours a day and think to yourself if you could only just give up this life, my wife and everything and hang out in the cave, then you could be happy. That sense of false separation doesn't get to be there, so that fantasy doesn't get to live there. It is very real every day.

Brett: It does seem there are cases where a business, especially ones with a large moat, a lot of momentum, and a large market share can survive for a long time without that, but eventually, the rubber hits the road. It is the same thing for leaders of countries. There are a couple of moatable ones in our world right now where the rubber is hitting the road in a major way, and they also might not be seeing it all. They might not be doing this kind of practice.

Joe: You can absolutely get away with being horrible at business for a decade if you have a really well established product. However, if you are using business as a spiritual practice and that is your consciousness, you are going to get signals constantly that what you think is working isn't working. You are going to get signals constantly that there is no separation between the two. You are going to see how you treat yourself affects your company and how you treat others affects your company. You are going to see how you can let go of control affects your company. It is the same if you are an artist. If you are really using it as a spiritual practice, you are going to see how your relationship to yourself changes your art. You are going to get to see what happens to your art when you are in constriction with yourself and when you are in flow with yourself. It is just constantly there. You don't get to pretend they are separate.

Brett: What other benefits have you seen?

Joe: There is a little less navel gazing. I notice that there are these backwaters in traditional spiritual practice where you can kind of agree with the words and the terminology of a practice and you can get lost in the scripture, if you will, instead of the felt sense of what's happening for you. That can allow a lot of navel gazing, a really beautiful form of narcissism, constantly thinking about yourself in the process. In business, if you constantly think about yourself, you are going to fail. There is something really beautiful about the business keeping it really real, and therefore, there is less time to be solipsistic. If you are, you are going to see the effect really quickly if that's how you are looking at your business. This is exactly why it is like sweeping hundred or thousand dollar bills off the floor. If you are looking at your business as spiritual practice, you are going to notice all of this stuff really quickly and do something about it really quickly. If you are not and you are doing it for power, to win, or to make a name for yourself, all of the places you don't embrace intensity, it is a lot easier to fool yourself. It is a lot easier to say the business is going well, and so everything is good. When you look at the folks that are constantly wrestling with their business and opening it up, and you read what they are talking about, oftentimes they are seeing their business as a practice when you really look closely. It really allows you to continue sharpening your sword, so to speak, rather than to let it go dull because you have made it.

A great example of this is they did this study with a whole bunch of tax records, maybe a European or Dutch study, and they looked at what tax events affected businesses. Death of children really affected the market cap of businesses, divorces, mother in law's deaths, all of these things affected businesses. One of the things that affected business dramatically, like a 10% reduction in market cap, is if the CEO built a house that was over 5,000 or 6,000 square feet. It is the idea of I have made it or my attunement is towards something else because the business wasn't the thing. It was a means to an end, and so my focus can be pulled away from it, whereas if business is a spiritual practice, it is the end. It is the means and the end. That's what allows you to fully be engaged in a way that doesn't burn you out and that you don't want to run away from it.

I remember I was recently with a group of people doing online courses, and a lot of the people's fantasy was working five hours a week and then doing what they want the rest of the time. I asked how this is not doing what you want. There is no means to an end here. For me, this is very much about the practice and it keeps me engaged.

Brett: I love that pointer to when people have succeeded in business when it was a means to an end and got what they wanted, then the business suffers and falls away. The practice here is exploring what the initial motivation was, what the power, the money, the safety, the love or the validation was seeking, and it would be really bad business not to look at what the most direct path to that is, which is also the path, the spiritual practice that we are talking about.

Joe: There is this beautiful thing that happens. If your business is a spiritual practice, then it is a lot harder to do things like burning out, not paying attention to yourself, having cross motivation or suffering an employee that doesn't feel great. All of those things create better businesses.

25:20 Brett: I imagine the objection that might come up is someone thinking they can't do everything as a spiritual path. If they want to have a business that makes bombs as a spiritual path, how does that look? Or a business that does not feel at all like it is doing something for me personally and it is the way that I need to operate to make money for my family, or that's the story.

Joe: To me, there are two questions there. The first one is what I would say to folks who say they can't do this and build a business. The first answer I would say is if you don't want to, don't. If you don't want to have a spiritual practice, don't do it because of some sense of should or have to or because it makes your business better. That won't work. Don't do it. The second thing I would say is I work with a lot of CEOs who have created multi billion dollar companies. They have thousands of people working for them, and they started those companies thinking they couldn't do it. I ask them how it is that they built a multi billion dollar company in eight years and then the idea that it could be a spiritual path, that's not possible. What the hell? How does your mind pull that one off? They do what you do. They chuckle, and they see it is a limiting perspective. Those are the two things I would say there. As far as what the downsides of this path are, I think the biggest one is it is level up mode. There is a word that my daughters use for this. It is like hard mode or extreme mode. There are a lot of distractions and reasons not to focus on your spiritual practice in business. You get 10 phone calls in a day about a customer being upset or this being done and that other thing and this emergency. How am I disconnected with myself right now? That's an advanced move. That's one of the things.

I often see that business as a spiritual practice or as a developmental tool is really well served by having some time. For me, it is usually just time completely away from the business where I can focus on my own journey and my own internal state, which is a second one. The second one is that there needs to be a certain amount of time to be able to focus on your internal state. If I just sit with myself for 20 minutes, it is different than if I sit with myself for three days, five days or ten days. There are discoveries that happen over a length of time. Oftentimes a business seems to tell you that you can't have the time to do the work, but there is a necessity for time to do some of this work. That's also a really important thing. It takes away the time and attention that really most valuable practices are needed for. That's the downside.  

Brett: I think perhaps an underlying fear that makes all of those the case, the way that it feels like it is hard mode, really intense and there are all of these distractions you can go into to, and the reason there are always not to take the time is because ultimately on this path your life as you know it may or will completely fall apart.

Joe: Will.

Brett: You will find something else that is more in alignment, and sometimes it can be a really circuitous path and sometimes more direct but ultimately it brings you into falling flat on your face faster, making more mistakes sooner, feeling the uncomfortable feelings at a faster clip than you might have previously thought you wanted to.

Joe: I think the thing about that is all can happen, and it can look like you are a radical success while it is occuring. It is not so much that your world will fall apart. Your idea of the world will fall apart or who you think you are in the world will fall apart.

Brett: Your construction of the world.

Joe: Sometimes everything looks exactly the same, but everything is entirely different. Sometimes you pivot off of one business to a whole different business, and the whole way you do business has changed. You end up making less money, but you are ten times as happy. Then that happiness is contagious, which allows you to make 20 times as much money. It is a circuitous path, for sure, but what it is it creates deeper alignment, more joy, more happiness, and more flow. It just doesn't look the way your mind might want it to look.

Brett: With that, I want to ask what the tools are from the podcast and this work that folks can use to get on or deepen into business as a spiritual path.

Joe: Every single one of them, every podcast has an application to how you would use it for business whether it is obvious or not. Let me give a couple of examples just as a way to think about it. One of them is gratitude as a big part. I think we talked about this somewhere along the line, but we used to start all of our business meetings with gratitude because it allowed us to solve problems not just from a what's wrong, how to fix it point of view, but what's right and how to grow it point of view, which created a lot more solution sets than we had when we were not doing gratitude. Also, gratitude creates more connection and more of a feeling of team cohesion. All of those things have a use. If you notice, almost all of our work has to do with ourselves and relationally, and all business is people's ideas and relationships. That's what business is at the end of the day. There is some capital, but that came from people's ideas and relationships. You could also say people's decision making. Anything that affects that is going to affect your business. That's one example.

Another recent example that comes to mind is empower over power. I was talking to a whole bunch of leaders, and I was getting them through this visualization to sit into their meetings they normally in and I was naming the reality in the meeting they might not want to pay attention to, like people were more concerned with them and people wanted to please them or rebelling against them or people wanted to make sure they were happy or were passive aggressive to them but not to other team mates. I was giving them the whole reality of what it is to be a leader and that more conversations happen about you than any other person on the team. What does that feel like? I was asking them to visualize it and feel it and really allow that into their system so they could move away from power and into empowerment. There was one person in the group who had this radical realization. She said she was doing all of this stuff to make people happy and now I see they need me to tell them what makes me happy for it to work. Her whole business changed. It was crazy how quickly her business changed. She got rid of two people and then changed the way she was leading. She told an investor they needed to settle down a little bit. She started being more directive but still listening to everybody's feedback. It just changed everything really quickly. That's just one example of moving from empowerment to power and how it can affect your business. Every one of the tools has some relationship to how you can run your business.

Brett: We will link to the episodes you just mentioned in the show notes on gratitude, love over defense, and empower over power. Given that we call this work the art of accomplishment, how does the art piece of that relate to this?

Joe: Luckily I used art as an expression at the beginning. Even if you are doing art, that's doing something. I would like to think about it the other way, which is for me business is very much an art form, meaning that just as a painter paints, they need pigment. A business man creates a business and they need revenue. That's generally the thing they need to make their art form. The only other art form that is kind of like it is a symphony in the fact that every conductor is going to do it differently. Over time your business is going to change and move and have a life of its own unlike something in the plastic arts where it is solidified and that's it, which makes it a really cool art form. You can have a business that puts light in the world or you can have a business that creates darkness in the world. You can have a business that cuts trees down or plants trees. That business can be this really amazing expression of you. Whether you like it or not, it is an art form. It is a creation that is being made and that creation is affecting people who interact with it. That's the same thing art is. For me, the art form that I want to do is that of self discovery and self realization. I want to create a piece of art that allows people who interact with it to see themselves more clearly and to see how joyful their existence is if they allow it to be. But your art form might be different. Again, it might not be about self discovery or spirituality or any of that stuff. It might be about winning, and that's great. If that's what your art form is, I say go for it. When you are 40 years old and miserable as hell, …

Brett: It might be that it was a strategy all along for self discovery and eventually it becomes apparent.

Joe: Right, or maybe it is fully in alignment and you are happy as all get out. Whatever it is, it is great. Just follow that. I trust that a lot more than some prescription that I would give.

Brett: Ultimately following what comes to you is going to be a much faster path than dominating yourself into being a different way because that's supposed to be what you are. Thank you, Joe.

Joe: A pleasure to be with you as always. Thank you, everybody. These days we are on Twitter and not just artofaccomp but fujoe, and I think we are on LinkedIn or we will be soon.

Brett: Check out the show notes for all of those links. We are on Twitter at artofaccomp and Joe is at fu_joehudson, and I am at airkistler. You can find us at Check out our courses and our community. Send us questions. Check out how you can deepen into this work and get more involved. Thanks everybody.


Empower Over Power:

Love Over Defense:

The Power of Gratitude as a Team:

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