From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Spiritual Unfoldment at the World Bank

I have learned this at least by my experiments: That if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

Toward the end of 1992, I was nearing completion of the second draft of my book, A Guide to Liberating Your Soul. To get feedback, I invited about a dozen spiritually motivated colleagues from the World Bank to discuss the ideas and theories expressed in my book. We began a series of six brown-bag lunches.

A few weeks later, I accepted a challenging new job as assistant to one of the vice-presidents, and two colleagues from the brown-bag lunch group asked if I would set up a spiritual study group. Thinking I would be too busy, I asked for inner guidance—a sign from my soul.

A few days later, two women I didn’t know called me after reading a report about a seminar I had given in South Africa on “Liberating the Soul.” They were also staff members and asked if I would set up some form of spiritual study group at the World Bank. I had little time to organize it, but they told me not to worry. “Just tell us what to do and we will do it.” I had received my sign. That was the start of the Spiritual Unfoldment Society (SUS). Our purpose included:

• promoting personal transformation through self-knowledge and understanding, and awakening higher consciousness;

• providing a safe forum for the exchange of beliefs and ideas that promote spiritual awareness;

• encouraging the integration of higher consciousness into every aspect of our lives;

• seeking to create within the World Bank a consciousness of love and understanding that contributes toward transforming the way we interact with one another.

Within a matter of months after our first meeting, 40 to 50 people were attending. Although initially there was some fear about how colleagues might react to our society, it soon became perfectly respectable to be associated with the SUS.

A major boost to the Society came within a few months. The Washington Post featured the SUS in a magazine article. Management was particularly delighted with the following quote: “The World Bank, at 18th and H Streets NW, typically regarded as just another institutional pillar in the Washington power structure, is gaining a reputation for enlightenment.” Soon we began getting calls from people who worked in the downtown area and who wanted to attend our weekly meetings.

Our membership grew to almost 400. We instituted monthly meditation sessions, created special-interest groups, held two retreats and published two newsletters. Members reported that the meetings had a profound impact on both their business and personal lives. We were feeding their souls.

From the steering committee also came the idea for an international conference to explore the link between spiritual values and sustainable development. After some initial hesitation, the World Bank agreed to sponsor the conference. The conference auditorium was packed with over 350 people from more than 20 countries. I heard people say, “I am totally amazed.”

The outside world was finding it difficult to believe that this conservative monolith was holding a conference on ethical and spiritual values in relation to development. The real significance of the conference and of the Spiritual Unfoldment Society was that the Bank staff now have permission to talk about spiritual values in development, and to bring their hearts and souls to work.

Richard Barrett

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