This is the first of a series of posts, where I would like to explore how an ancient text like the Bhagavad Gita can help us taking overdue decisions and engaging in action. I use the example of decision making, because in life and at work we often hesitate to take decisions, especially if a decisions leads to actions we would like to avoid. We act a little bit like Arjuna, the hero of the Gita, in the opening of this wonderful text.
Our lives are full of decisions. Big decisions like “Shall I quit my job and start something new?” and small decisions like “Shall I take the soup or the salad?” Hundreds of approaches exist to help us make better decisions. The flip of a coin representing a very basic approach, the two dimensional Eisenhower chart a more elaborate one. All promise: “Use me and you will not be disappointed!” I remember many episodes at work, where we used several, sophisticated Excel sheets to help us with a difficult decision. When I looked at the results I was still not 100% sure how to decide: “The figures are correct and tell me to choose solution A. But in my heart I know that solution B is far better. How should I decide?” Truth is, a decision is only the first step in a series of events. Actions will need to follow, to keep things going.
Live and work are not that simple. A decision might start a chain of events you never intended to happen. Things might not turn out as expected. Most things in life are not black or white, good or bad. Many approaches to decision making try to represent the world as a step by step process or formula. You enter all the values and out comes the result. But any approach is at best a simplistic abstraction of a moment in time, covering a small part of the problem at hand. Tools address our rational side, but how can we learn to listen to our intuition, our heart? Do practical guides exist, which can guide us on how to use our gut feeling, or follow our heart?
What about the timeless Bhagavad Gita? During the non-violent struggle to free India, Gandhi often mentioned that the ’Song of the Lord’, how the Gita is called by insiders, provided him with guidance when facing difficult decisions. The Gita is no formula, it’s poetry. It’s open to interpretation and provides no simple answers. And a scary thing for many of us rationalists might be, that it is a spiritual text. How can a spiritual text be practical?
The Gita’s central theme is an important decision. King Arjuna has to decide if he should start a war against his own cousins. The war is justified, but Arjuna knows that it will cause immense suffering. He has the moral support of his friend and mentor Krishna on his side, but the opponents army is much bigger. In the middle of the battlefield he falls down on his knees in despair and turns around to his friend for advice. Time stops and the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna begins.
Instead of just answering this single question, Krishna gives Arjuna a complete framework how to act in every situation, in order to live a fulfilled, spiritual live. He explains that every one of us has to follow his Dharma, his path. We cannot escape our destiny, because we are bound to the earth by our bodies. It’s nature. Our bodies try to avoid actions which feel bad. But mind and body are not the same. For most of us our mind is the slave of our senses, our body. Only if we manage to control our mind in a way to not cause us any sorrow when engaging in unwanted actions, can we free us from the negative effects of these actions.
How can this story help is in our lives?
Imagine the next time you are forced to engage in an unwanted action at work, or at home. In such situations my mind immediately spits out thoughts like: “Not again! I really hate to do this! Why me?” I sometimes get the impression that in many situations the mind running wild feels far worse, than the action itself.
Let’s use the next couple of posts to find out how we can apply the wisdom of the Gita in the context of the modern workplace. Hoping to provide you and me with a guidance, on how to take difficult decisions and engage in all type of actions with a positive attitude.