Written for anyone with even a passing interest in improving their inner life and making a difference in the world, Awaken provides proven tools and practical advice that allow readers to know themselves, love themselves, be themselves, and express themselves.
How did an idealistic, trusting, peace-loving, harmony-seeking scion of a ferociously feudal family in rural India come to cofound a global movement to bring love, compassion, and transcendent purpose to the rough-and-tumble world of business? How did a left-brained, hyper-analytical engineer from the warrior caste in India come to write books like Firms of Endearment, Conscious Capitalism, Everybody Matters, Shakti Leadership, and The Healing Organization? How did a self-loathing marketing professor (who almost wrote a book called The Shame of Marketing) channel timeless wisdom and alchemize his own suffering to help corporate leaders learn how to use business to serve, uplift, and heal?
“What is most personal is most universal.” The truth of this phrase from Carl Rogers struck me in 2018, as I was working on The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World. I shared very little of my own life journey in the book, limiting it to a few reflections in the Prologue. In all my earlier books, I hadn’t referred to my personal experiences at all. But I now realize that the books that had the most profound impact on me were those in which the author shared deeply from their own life journey. These included Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Joseph Jaworski’s Synchronicity, and Lynne Twist’s The Soul of Money, among many others. I also realized that two of my own books that have had the greatest impact were built in part around the stories of two individuals: Conscious Capitalism wove in the journey of Whole Foods founder John Mackey, and Everybody Matters was in part about Bob Chapman’s life story and the personal awakenings that led him to become a “truly human” leader.
My book Firms of Endearment–my on-ramp to the world of more human-centered business–reflected my evolving personal consciousness and beliefs about life, business, and leadership. But I studiously avoided using the “I” pronoun even in that book. I am an academic, after all, and am supposed to not inject my biases into works that are meant to illuminate objective truths. I also thought of myself as an intensely private person and believed that my life experiences were mine and mine alone, to learn from and transcend if I could.
I now feel ready and called on to share my personal story. While I have worked to help heal the world of business, this book is my journey home to myself. I have written it for my children and others who may struggle to understand themselves and decipher what their life is really about.
My family history on my father’s side is dark; the feudal system I grew up in was profoundly abusive. It has not been easy to write about. But I have learned that what we fear confronting the most is what needs the deepest healing. As the estimable “Mister” Fred Rogers taught us, “Anything that is human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”
I have led what many would consider an unusual and what some now call a “psychologically rich” life: a diverse blend of geographies, cultural milieus, political contexts, religious influences, and familial backgrounds. The hard-won wisdom and insights I’ve gained in life are not just for my benefit; I have learned lessons I believe it would be selfish not to share.
The year 2018 was my year of metamorphosis. I turned 60, coauthored The Healing Organization, and went through a variety of healing experiences at the insistent urging of wise friends. I was in a constant state of inquiry, seeking and gaining guidance from within as well as from the outside world. I experienced frequent awakenings and received wisdom so abundantly that I could barely keep up, filling up notebook after notebook. Unexpected teachers showed up in my life, and I was given many opportunities for further learning and growth.
Why did it take until I turned 60 for some basic truths to be revealed to me? I remained unconscious for so long because I was stuck in the past and was carrying many unhealed wounds. I did work that was meaningful in a joyless way. I was running on fumes, sourcing the fuel for my work from the praise and gratitude of strangers. I gave 70–80 talks a year, produced a new book every 18 months on average, and was away from home at least 60% of the time (I was scared to calculate exactly how much). I was always on the run. I had no idea what I was running away from, or toward.
In writing this book, I had the sobering realization that I had been unhappy for as long as I could remember. I had minimized or denied my wounds and traumas to myself. I did not have the courage or ability to face them; there was too much darkness there, and my sensitive soul just could not take it. All I aspired to was survival. If I could just make it through the next 15 to 20 years, I would be done with it. I found myself looking at obituaries, at how old people were when they died, wondering how much longer I had to endure. A line I read years ago from The God of Small Things kept resurfacing in my mind: “Not old. Not young. But a viable-diable age.”
Remember the classic video game Pac-Man? Pac-Man is chased by ghosts, trying desperately to outrun them, until he eats a power pellet that temporarily changes the game. He then starts eating the ghosts and being fueled by them. For many of us, that seems to be the whole game: being chased by ghosts or being fueled by ghosts. Either way, the ghosts are running the game. Even when you’re fueled by ghosts, using them as a catalyst for a different, more positive way of living/being, they’re still running you! What we need to do is exit the game, get out of the maze we are trapped in, and free ourselves to navigate life without being chased or fueled by ghosts!
In 2019, I lost both my parents in quick succession. Through my grief, I saw that I had more work to do to heal myself than just writing The Healing Organization. I needed to continue to work on myself and share with the world the hard-won wisdom that I had gained from my life experiences.
I have written this book to understand my life journey in a deeper way so I can live more consciously while helping others do the same. It is about looking back, not with anger, resentment, or regret, but with awe, wonder, and curiosity. It is about making more explicit what has so far been implicit. It is about being the driver of my life rather than being driven by it. It is about alchemizing the pain and suffering I have experienced into wisdom of lasting value to myself and to others. It is about recognizing the preciousness and finiteness of life and learning how to live in a way that is aligned with my inner being and the needs of the world. It is about waking up and staying awake. Most of all, it is about striving to live a more meaningful, impactful, and joyful life.
I hope this book will inspire you to ask deeper questions about life for yourself and apply some of what I have learned to your own journey.
Excerpted from Awaken: The Path to Purpose, Inner Peace, and Healing. Copyright © 2023 by Rajendra Sisodia. Reprinted with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.