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Chapter Eight:
Our research project was complex as we dealt with designing a research approach, for a
new academic subject in order to consider how to embed spirituality praxis within our
secular organisation, which then involved understanding spirituality and work and we
had to address the gap between theology and spirituality. We attempted to wed together
cognitive and experiential knowing, research and development within our context. The
journey, which began in 1999, was cyclical and non-linear and our Participative Action
Research seemed to serve as a bridge between theory and practice as they continually
informed each other as praxis, out of which emerged grounded living theory, particularly
since we were able to burrow deeply. We participated in 1
, 2
and 3
person inquiry
and became more informed as an organisation.
The initial guiding quote, in fact reflects much of our concluding understanding.
learning. Our process was the end and way to get our results, which emerged through
embodied knowledge which was transformative of individuals, groups and the
organisation, the I we us and them. We went through triple loop change as a Case
Study and found it necessary to also learn from other voices within the field, in order not
to be isolated theoretically. Our starting point was to consider our founding vision and
mission, as The Then, through The Now of the research for the sake of The Tomorrow.
PAR is a political form of inquiry, helping to affirm peoples’ rights and ability to have a
say in decisions and generate knowledge thereby shifting the balance of power in favour
of the “poor” and therefore is empancipatory. We continued to reformulate disability as a
social oppression, moving from the Medical to the Social Model. Through on-going
consciousness raising, empowering and education the organisation moved from a
hierarchical to a flat structure. We shifted from the Mechanistic Modern Paradigm to the
Spirituality Paradigm so that spiritual values are lived out as they undergird all that we
do. A liberatory “transformational spirituality” has to do with personal, interpersonal,
group, organisational, societal and global levels, since the personal is political and
spirituality is socio-political and spirituality affects our economic, political, social lives
and psychological culture and religious lives.
On our journey we experienced solidarity for the sake of the organisation. We were not
functioning as a focus group but rather as co-researchers who took responsibility to be
informed, since the aim was not to have a party-line but rather to learn together with a
bottom-up approach, not with top-down theory and ideas, as demonstrated in our use of
the tree metaphor. We continually considered the Four Aspects of Holton Lee with a non-
compartmentalised approach and intention as the founding vision indicated. We were
continually dealing with several levels of learning and perception concurrently within our
research, understanding also that an organisation is also a social design and environment
as context for praxis, with interdependent and interrelated parts working together much
like a body does. The result was that with increased understanding as a “community of
practice” we were more enabled to able to live an empowering and liberating orthopraxis
with inner and outer connections maintained. Quantum physics helped us to understand
relationships, organisational structure and spirituality, as we moved more towards
wholeness, non-dualism and inclusiveness. We more significantly recognise our
emerging praxis as collaborative, as we continue to work in teams, constantly responding
to change, while also recognising that people are the organisation, that research is a
relationship and through negotiation of meaning we were able to create and codify
knowledge. I used diagrams as means of visual representation of what we have
understood. Our environment and climate for praxis implies tangible loving where people
are what they are talking about, so in this way the vision has grown in an organic process
with mutual leadership so that all are enabled. The starting point for our change was not
system change but a change in ourselves as the model reflects. We began our process in
the only place we could, that is, “where we were standing” because spirituality is
understood through the “lens of praxis”. We therefore had to first understand our
research needs and motives, then establish a research group who had to learn to
communicate with each other at deep and subtle levels particularly because of the
research subject itself. We needed to understand what praxis meant and in order to have
sound theoretical underpinnings we needed to know how to appropriate theory in the
relationship between theology, religion and spirituality. In the process we experienced
change, transformation and deepening relationships, all the while relating our knowing
with a connection to the “outer” social aspect of our global home; our inner and outer
lives and contexts cannot be separated. The individual, organisations and society must all
transform since all are connected and when enough individuals and organisations do shift
to a new paradigm so will society, when small pockets of people have experienced an
authentic transformation and are living true and holistic spirituality. It was and is not a
Spirituality has permeated our whole organisation as we moved through the phases of the
learning cycle in a chronological order, not doing a mini loop skipping out stages one and
four, by just doing, forming and reformulating plans but rather we insisted on including
reflective observation, conceptualisation, discernment and making sense. Therefore we
didn’t go round in a vicious circle ending up where we started but have experienced fruit
on the tree as various outcomes, as indicated in the Report which include changed people
and community, changed structures, a model, development work and embedding of
spirituality including a policy and job description written, deeper foundations laid for the
future which are consistent with the fifty-seven year old roots. In addition the model and
guidelines do provide guideposts and way markers for our on-going journey and for
others on their journeys. We will continue with on-going dissemination, awareness-
raising and monitoring the vision as we live out praxis in a “community of practice” with
shared ownership. Some seeds have fallen and have taken root and borne fruit elsewhere,
which happens as we interface with guests, visitors, those who come on workshops,
attend conferences or others from various organisations, as they “experience” spirituality
being “lived out” as a “way of life”. Seeds are taken back to other environments of
practice, which even unwittingly, take root and grow if they are in an appropriate
environment. All of the research cycles and the discernment process were helpful on our
journey. Reflecting on what Professor Clarke wrote, in Chapter One, as one of the
signatories at the beginning of this project, it does seem, in conclusion, that this project
has been significant, groundbreaking and important. We have now applied Participatory
Action Research to the topic of spirituality in our context, which itself continues to be
grounded in the needs of society and continues, even more significantly, to view
spirituality as an integral part of our enterprise and life because it has been interwoven
throughout the whole organisation. We understand more comprehensively what
“spirituality” means, our research has led to improved practice and some of what we have
learned is transferable. We will continue on with our appropriation of spirituality with the
understanding that appropriation means transformational actualisation of meaning.
We can continue to disseminate our understanding of spirituality more explicitly through
our web page, the large study which will be housed in the resource room at Holton Lee,
for all to read, now and in the future, as a legacy. It will specifically used as an
orientation to our history, vision and mission, by the full time worker in the Personal
Growth & Spirituality Aspect. Papers will be written and published and talks and
workshops will be given, for instance, on disability and spirituality, as well as on-going
dissemination through our quarterly newsletter. In the short term I will be giving a
presentation to the Trustees on the research process and outcomes. I have agreed to co-
author a paper about Holton Lee, described as, “something like, Natural Places and the
(re)creation of the Self” as a chapter in a book about place and non-place with Dr Menin,
the editor of the book. As we continue on our journey we are considering the need for a
“corporate spiritual companion or guide”.
Urgent needs for on-going research about “spirituality” remain, for us and others, as
indicated at various points throughout the Report. I will highlight some of them below.
There continues to be a need to understand suitable frameworks that can safeguard
against spirituality becoming a fad and something superficial as a quick-fix. Spirituality
remains an emerging academic field of study and continues to have on-going
implications, connections and relevance with other academic disciplines such as research,
theology, organisations, psychology and science which still needs to be understood more
deeply. Schneiders reminds us that motivation for research is to respond to real-life
questions such as the search for meaning, particularly with marginalized and excluded
people who bring their agenda to the academy, which now demands a whole new
approach to knowledge so we can answer questions they ask such as: where knowledge
comes from, how it is established, who generates it and what it is for? Interdisciplinarity
can respond to these concerns more adequately than intellectual inbreeding of the
classical academic specialisations. The importance of considering “context”, within the
field of spirituality, necessitates conversation with the social sciences; the socio-political
approach is particularly noticeable in liberationist, feminist and justice-focused
approaches to spirituality. Spiritual traditions are embodied in people and not doctrines
so more study and understanding of what “loving conduct” means in concrete practice in
order to address causes, needs and problems, includes therefore the study of issues and
systems as essential, otherwise practice risks being shallow or counterproductive and
helps to meet needs and eliminate them within individuals, groups and organisations
would help spirituality to avoid being shallow in practice. Spirituality is a life-project yet
some think that easy spiritualities can be marketed in our Western culture as the next
phase in self-fulfilment espousing a strategy of self-enhancement techniques rather than
understanding the deeper inner and outer work required. O’Murchu pointed out that
traditional methods of research are inadequate and instead the pastoral ambience provides
raw material for a theology which can speak meaningfully. The mechanical worldview is
no longer adequate in our pursuit for a more united world so we need to find ways and
frameworks which can facilitate such understanding. Coghlan believes that a “spirituality
of organisational renewal” needs to be developed along with frameworks for
understanding it, which he outlined so some degree, so more research and appropriation
could now add to his understanding.
Tosey pointed out that spirituality can become even more psychologised and secularised
especially within the business domain and therefore more research needs to be done in
the field of practice and perhaps credentials may be needed for those engaging in
spirituality. In the Reader on Work and Spirit, various concerns and suggestions
emerged: there is still concern that spirituality can become a “management fad” with
formulas and techniques suggested to implement it. Some think a body of knowledge is
needed so that others can teach spirituality. More interdisciplinary work needs to be
done to understand the relationship of political economy, global economics and politics
and cultural values as they affect and govern organisational values. Understanding of
research data, collection and knowledge itself needs to be transformed. The management
field will benefit by incorporating a spiritual perspective into theories as well as into
research and theory development processes. There is also concern that the field of
spirituality is accommodating the belief systems of business and the result is a feel-good
spirituality without the supporting component and mandate for self-examination,
discipline, study and sustained effort. Academics can counterbalance this by ensuring
theoretical and practical concerns are raised in literature and contain appropriate and
healthy debate. Some believe that new ways are needed for data collection in the
emerging paradigms of research, which is made by participants themselves with an
inclusive framework using methodologies with a pluralistic concept. Others expressed
concern that spirituality at work may only be old concepts dressed in new spiritual
clothes therefore it is essential to review a criticism of the integration of spirituality at
As a result of our research and the increasing understanding that we are all connected, it
does seem that more interdisciplinary research and development work is needed in order
to understand spirituality as an academic discipline, how it relates to the field of theology
and how it can be lived as liberatory praxis within all aspects and contexts of our global
home in an authentic way thus providing further sound theoretical frameworks and
understanding while responding to real life situations, needs and people, resulting in
appropriation, the transformational actualisation of meaning.