Excerpted with permission from Spirituality and Health--The Soul/Body Connection.

At 11:30 a.m. on alternate Tuesdays, eight to 10 people, lunch in hand, from various nearby companies, converge on a conference room at the corporate headquarters of a major Silicon Valley company. The group includes circuit designers, a tax-department manager, a product-support specialist, a CPA, a NASA test pilot, and an IRS auditor.

Meanwhile, on Wall Street a similar group gathers at the offices of an intellectual property attorney. Members include a sales-support manager, a new-media customer accounts manager, a Web technical expert, a management consultant, and an attorney who is looking beyond the law for his next career. But these people don't talk about high-tech, and they don't talk about Wall Street, at least not directly.

These men and women are part of a growing movement around the country of people coming together to talk about how their spirituality and personal values connect with their work. Conventional wisdom has held that religion is religion, and work is work. Period. But times have changed. In one recent study from "A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America" (Jossey-Bass Publishers), authors Ian Mitroff and Elizabeth Denton found that 60% of working people say they are "spiritual," and another 30% consider themselves "religious." Now groups of these people are getting together, at work, to talk about how to bring it all together in ways that make sense for them.

"Figure out your mission and purpose and then figure out where [at what companies] it fits."

There is also a fast-growing body of evidence showing that people who work for companies that mirror their personal values are both much happier and much more productive than employees who have to leave their souls in the parking lot. Says Pam Gross, co-founder of the successful non-profit organization Careermakers in Portland, Oregon, and pioneer in career-planning and job-searching based on one's core values and beliefs, "In this world of full employment, people keep saying 'yes' to the wrong job. And that has to stop if they want to find meaningful work!" Simply figuring that out may take a group.

On any given week, people might discuss what they mean by "success," or how their various corporate cultures support or undermine their personal values, what "loyalty" means today, or how to deal with a difficult relationship with a colleague.

The dialogue can be wide-ranging, but it does not delve into religion, per se. Some who come believe and practice a traditional religion, while others may hold a collection of beliefs. Some have no formal faith history but are openly searching for more meaning in their lives. It is clear, nevertheless, that these men and women do hold in common the core values found at the heart of the world's major religions. These values are important to these people, and they are actively exploring ways to live those values at work.

What Groups Talk About

The group on Wall Street alternates between a chosen topic and focusing on "whatever's up" for those who come that week. For several months last year, the group examined the question of "calling" and what that might mean for each person. Two members changed their jobs soon after. When one member had three terminal illnesses occur in his family, the group called an additional meeting, to accommodate his travel schedule so he wouldn't miss the group that month.

The San Francisco and Silicon Valley groups follow the Convenor's Guide, an excellent handbook developed by the Rev. Whitney Roberson and the groups themselves over the past five years. It currently includes 40 weeks worth of topics, including, "Can values be managed?" "Time: The new poverty," "Meaning at work," and "How do our attitudes toward money shape our identity?" Ron Lichty, who enthusiastically attends a downtown San Francisco group, finds the Guide's topics "prompt so much insight and depth. They really cause me to do some self-reflection."

Relevant and Radical

Jim Swanstrom, an executive director of a non-profit in Des Moines, Iowa, observed, "Most people are really busy, but we will free up the time if they make it worth our time. It needs to be interesting, lively, beneficial, and relevant."

Relevant for some people means acknowledging that they are between jobs, or, more likely today, that they are contemplating changing jobs. It's important for a dialogue group to create an atmosphere where these people can safely explore new possibilities and think "unthinkable" thoughts.

Pam Gross, of Careermakers, has both attended and been a guest speaker at workplace dialogue groups on spirit and values. For those considering a career change, Pam advises, "Figure out your mission and purpose and then figure out where [at what companies] it fits." She notes that some people, after they've examined their real values in one of these small groups, realize, "This isn't going to work here at this company any longer." The values advocated in that organization are just too far away from what the person wants to stand for. At that point, she emphasized, it is invaluable to be part of a small caring community, with people who understand the complexities and tensions. These worker-colleagues will be there with you while you navigate the change and the awkward internal transitions that go with the change.

Pam advocates--and this is good advice for dialogue groups--"Get radical." She explained that "radical fringe" is an oxymoron, because "radical" actually means the heart, root, source, or center; its synonyms are "basic" and "fundamental." Dialogue groups often focus on precisely that -- what's at the source of what matters most.

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