Part 5 in a series: Let’s Be Frank about Spirit and Meaning

(Links below to previous installments)

The pinkish orange glow of the rising sun bathed the oak-paneled study in a warm light unlike any Frank had ever experienced. It pulsed with life. As the shimmering hues embraced him, Frank felt like his body dissolved into millions of pieces and floated throughout the room, dancing with the light. He felt bursts of energy and insights. The room appeared to expand forever. Slowly his body seemed to reform and return to his chair. Then that empty vacuum in his gut popped and was flooded with the loving light.

During the past few months, Frank started the habit of rising before dawn for study and attempts at meditation (he could never quite still his racing mind). As the latest in a string of such books, this morning, he was continuing with M. Scott Peck’s classic The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. He underlined a key passage, “I define love thus: The will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

What a strange way to think about love, he thought. Frank had always experienced love as a warm friendship, special closeness, burning passion, or sexual desire. He read on, “since I am human and you are human, to love humans means to love myself as well as you. To be dedicated to human spiritual development is to be dedicated to the race of which we are a part, and this, therefore, means dedication to our own development as well as ‘theirs.'”

Frank once thought he loved his wife, Debbie. They had been married twelve years. Their oldest was eight-year-old Rachel. Four-year-old Joel was the baby of the family. The first real conversation Deb and Frank had in months was last week, discussing options for separation and divorce.

Life just got so busy, and they had drifted apart into their own separate, lonely lives. Deb told Frank about a couple they’d known for years whose marriage suddenly broke up. The husband just packed up and left home one night. Deb quipped that it would be six weeks before she’d notice if Frank did the same thing.

Deb voiced suspicion of Frank’s office affair with Michelle. But Deb could never pin it down because Frank was so quick on his feet with believable explanations. She told Frank that the best revenge she could think of for Michelle was to let her have him.

Looking at love as extending yourself for your own or others’ spiritual growth, Frank realized maybe he didn’t love Deb or the kids. What he thought was love for Michelle, was really lust. In that morning’s flash of light and insight, Frank suddenly knew that he couldn’t love others because he didn’t love himself. He didn’t care about the growth and development of anyone else because his inner growth and development had stalled. His highly admired drive for success and status was an escape. He tried to overcome his inner emptiness by filling his life with outer busyness. It was time for change.

Like leadership, love has many faces and forms. Both are states of being that defy easy definitions or how-to formulas. Pianist, Arthur Rubinstein, describes one face of love, “I’m passionately involved in life: I love its change, its color, its movement. To be alive, to be able to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings — it’s all a miracle.”

Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia outlines another face of love when talking about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”

Highly effective leaders are in love with the organization, community, or team that they work or live in. Their love is expressed in a deep desire to see that organization, community, or team grow to its full potential. Leaders love the people they work with enough to contribute to their growth and development. That doesn’t mean we always like or agree with everyone.

The desire to see others grow and develop starts with our own personal growth and development. Frank realized that not leading a meaningful life makes it hard to help others find meaning. If we don’t feel a sense of connection to a bigger purpose or being, it’s hard to unify others. Spirit and meaning are an inside job. Inner growth is part of our spiritual development.

Summarizing decades of research on what distinguishes good companies and leaders from great ones, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen report, “the greatest leaders we’ve studied throughout all our research cared as much about values as victory, as much about purpose as profit, as much about being useful as being successful. Their drive and standards are ultimately internal, rising from somewhere deep inside.”

Can Frank develop a sense of purpose and meaning? How might that foster his inside-out love of self and others? Where could that take him?

Let’s Be Frank about Spirit and Meaning Series