“What’s that, Jess?” one of my new coworkers, Monica, asked, nodding at the pink bottle of Rose Water perched on the edge of my minimalist wooden desk. It stood next to a brushed chrome cup filled with my pens, pencils and highlighters, an oversize pink eraser that cheekily read “Oops,” and five small and sparkling crystals: pyrite, jet stone, aventurine, amethyst, and clear quartz.
“Oh, it’s just rose water. I love the smell of roses,” I replied. Best to keep it simple. What was I supposed to say—“I use it as part of a spiritual ritual on Mondays to thank the universe for guiding me through another calm and productive workweek”? I mean, that’s the real answer. But it was only my second week on the job, and I wanted everyone to see me as a logical, problem-solving professional. Meditative manifestation rituals are, unfortunately, not a part of that equation.
WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO SAY—“I USE IT AS PART OF A SPIRITUAL RITUAL ON MONDAYS TO THANK THE UNIVERSE FOR GUIDING ME THROUGH ANOTHER CALM AND PRODUCTIVE WORKWEEK”?
Monica kept pressing. “So what do you do with it?” The fact that she was taking an interest in me and my desktop curiosities actually felt nice. Most of my previous jobs were populated by a smattering of stereotypically stuck-up fashion girls who weren’t exactly inclusive. And while I wasn’t dying to be a part of the popular group, it’s still not fun to constantly be the odd girl out. Maybe Monica was someone I could be friends with.
“I wash my desk with it sometimes.” With just the slightest hesitation, I grabbed the bottle and read from the back label. “’Can be used to cleanse unwanted energy. Place a few drops into your bath water or simply use it as a perfume. It makes a wonderful floor wash to mop away stagnant energy.’ It just keeps me calm!”
Monica seemed into it. She opened her mouth to reply, but I didn’t hear what she said. Instead, a few overlapping snickers and laughs-turned-coughing-fits came echoing through the office to slap me in the face. I looked over my shoulder and traced the snickering back to the source: three coworkers who sat at the other end of the arrangement of uniform, minimalist wooden desks. They were all about my age, somewhere between 25 and 30. They were all stylishly dressed, groomed, and coiffed. They all had clutter-free desktops.
“Oh my god! That’s a little cray,” laughed one of the women, Sam. She wasn’t whispering—she was saying it for me to hear, but also not looking at me, so it didn’t quite come out in the friendly, conversational tone that she was attempting. It was as if I had said I kept my fingernail clippings in a Ziploc baggy on my desk, or something equally quirky-slash-disgusting. Her voice was dripping with judgment.
IT WAS AS IF I HAD SAID I KEPT MY FINGERNAIL CLIPPINGS IN A ZIPLOC BAGGY ON MY DESK, OR SOMETHING EQUALLY QUIRKY-SLASH-DISGUSTING. HER VOICE WAS DRIPPING WITH JUDGMENT.
I automatically shut down. “Yeah, it is a little weird ha ha ha whatever works I guess,” I mumbled, turning back to the screen of my laptop and angling my head down, just slightly, to signal that I was now in Work Mode and not available to talk anymore.
This, I thought. This is why you keep your mouth shut and just do your job. Less than two weeks in and I felt like the weird girl in class all over again, and why? Because I’d brought up one of the few topics that’s still considered taboo in the workplace: spirituality.
It’s true: There’s not a lot that’s taboo these days—except for the heavy hitters like, you know, discussing systemic racism, sexism, and general office-sanctioned bigotry. But let’s save those gems for a future column.
LESS THAN TWO WEEKS IN AND I FELT LIKE THE WEIRD GIRL IN CLASS ALL OVER AGAIN, AND WHY? BECAUSE I’D BROUGHT UP ONE OF THE FEW TOPICS THAT’S STILL CONSIDERED TABOO IN THE WORKPLACE: SPIRITUALITY.
That said, over the past few years in my female-dominated work environments, I’ve been privy to conversations between colleagues—mostly young millennials—about Tinder hookups, gynecologist appointments, pregnancy scares, asshole bleaching, going to therapy, tripping on molly, drunken escapades, getting high before work, masturbating, and pooping (something that most girls I know wouldn’t even admit to doing just a few years ago—thanks, third-wave feminism!).
When I factor in the huge role that social media plays in today’s culture, l get why the concept of the “taboo” is all but dead: every nitty gritty aspect of our lives is on display for friends, family, and coworkers alike to scroll through and scrutinize. So why is it more acceptable to talk about lasering your labia than to talk about practicing spirituality? Why haven’t prayer, ritual, and religion made the cut?
Spirituality is a pretty-damn-close-to-universal experience. Even atheists have had to think about what they believe in order to land on “nothing.” Belief—or disbelief—in a higher power is something that we’ve all considered, studied, or read about. It seems natural that we’d want to discuss it with our peers at work from time to time, along with the shenanigans of last night’s Bachelorette episode and what we’re ordering in for lunch, but—at least in my experience—we’re not quite there yet. Sometimes, though, it feels like were getting closer—but are we?
Take yoga. Traditionally, yoga is a spiritual practice, but it’s quickly become the hip young woman’s workout of choice. When we reference yoga in public, we scrub it free of all spiritual connotation, reducing it to nothing more than a pleasant hour of stretching—totally normal workplace conversation. “My weekend was great, I was able to totally relax and fit in some yoga!”
Same with Mercury retrograde. The other day, one of the girls who sneered at my Rose Water ritual groaned, “Ugh, my laptop just crashed! Why, Mercury retrograde, why???” Our colleagues nodded in agreement, chiming in about cellphones that had broken or important e-mails that had jammed in their outboxes. Definitely the work of Mercury retrograde! I wanted to join in—Lord knows I was feeling the planetary pull—but her exclamation left me a little bitter. Why was it so easy for her to believe that the position of Mercury had affected her laptop when she had straight-up laughed at the thought of Rose Water clearing away negative energy?
WHY WAS IT SO EASY FOR HER TO BELIEVE THAT THE POSITION OF MERCURY HAD AFFECTED HER LAPTOP WHEN SHE HAD STRAIGHT-UP LAUGHED AT THE THOUGHT OF ROSE WATER CLEARING AWAY NEGATIVE ENERGY?
Maybe the difference is that things like yoga and Mercury retrograde are heavily referenced in pop culture. These once-spiritual concepts have been watered down and filtered for mass consumption, and it’s easy to see why. Yoga is an $80-billion-dollar business worldwide, creating an insanely profitable industry that includes classes, retreats, teacher training, fashion, gear, books, video, and more. And while Mercury retrograde isn’t a money-maker, the concept is handy when things aren’t going our way and we need someone or something to blame. Everyone loves a scapegoat, right?
Maybe it’s an American thing. We’ve taken “separation of church and state” to new levels, refusing to mix spirituality with work, play, or romance. (The number one first date rule? No discussion of politics or religion.)
Maybe it has to do with gender roles. Men in power positions are expected to make strong decisions based on hard facts and logic, and spirituality has little to do with either. Women are bred to be people-pleasers, going out of their way to make sure those around them are comfortable—and talking about religion could definitely lead to some uncomfortable moments. Well, anyone who knows me knows that I’m down to create some discomfort (mostly because of my social awkwardness, but hey–I can use it as an asset from time to time).
A few weeks after getting over my initial embarrassment, I decided to say, “fuck the haters” (while also sending them love and light, of course) and picked up my conversation with Monica where it left off—i.e., the middle of the office. It turned out that we’ve read a few of the same books on spirituality and frequent the same crystal shop, and our chat ended up inspiring a coworker to add an aesthetically-pleasing crystal to her desk display, too. The two of us still get the occasional sneer and snicker when we start talking meditation mantras, but it bothers me less now.
MY DREAMS FOR MY LIFE STRETCH SO MUCH FURTHER THAN THE CORNER OFFICE WITH A VIEW. THEY INCLUDE EVOLVING SPIRITUALLY, EMOTIONALLY, AND MENTALLY. AND THEY ARE UNREACHABLE WHEN THE DEEPEST PARTS OF MYSELF ARE HIDDEN AWAY FOR MORE THAN 40 HOURS A WEEK.
My dreams for my life stretch so much further than the corner office with a view. They include evolving spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. And they are unreachable when the deepest parts of myself are hidden away for more than 40 hours a week. So while my colleagues might be more inclined to listen to me wax poetic about the shape of my bikini wax, I’m experimenting with slipping in a gab sesh or two about the spiritual effects of my Kundalini practice. Maybe I’m breaking the rules of office culture. But I prefer to think of it as getting a head start before the rules catch up.