Wednesday, June 30, 2010

As You Are

It's easy to think things should be different.

In fact, it is so easy that we spend a lot of our time doing just that. In corporate speak, you could say that thinking things should be different is a core competency.

But can we prove that things could actually be different? To do that, we would have to go back in time and actually do it differently. And of course that is not possible. That ship has sailed.

What if instead, we lived as if things were exactly as they should be? We might not agree or understand, but what if we accepted that things right now are as they are? What if you accepted yourself, right now, exactly as you are?

This doesn't mean you can't change in the future (or that not changing is even possible). You may decide you want to lose weight or stop smoking or start being more kind to the people you manage. Or you may decide something else. All fine.

But right now, you are right here, exactly as you are. Even if that includes the thought that you should be different.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Intention and Attention

I used to think a lot about The Secret--the idea that if we think about things in the right way, the things that we want to happen will happen.

It is a very intoxicating notion--that if we just think correctly, we can have success. That the universe is energy, and that what it brings to you is what you have attracted. Some people swear by this and some are very dismissive of it as New Agey garbage.

I myself have had experiences where I thought that The Secret might be in action. But as time has passed, I have wondered if it is maybe something different, and a bit more subtle.

The Secret says to focus on what you want to happen, rather than the things that you don't want to happen. There is no doubt that this is a good thing. We spend way too much time worrying about bad things, rather than focusing on the good. When we meet someone positive, the chances are very good that if asked, that person will say that they think about the good things in life rather than the bad. That their proverbial glass is half full. And let's face it, those kinds of people are generally more fun to be around. People who are worried all the time are a bit of a downer. They can suck the energy right out of you if you are not careful.

But I am still not sure that attitude is everything. Instead, I wonder if what we accomplish is based on what we pay attention to.

There is a great video on the internet that speaks to this phenomenon. The viewer watches some people playing basketball. Some are in black shirts and some are in white. The viewer is asked to count the number of times the ball is passed among the members of the white team.

While you may be able to count the number of passes, in doing so you miss the other things that are going on. Like the fact that there is a man in a gorilla suit that walks across the frame. The video is a microcosm of life. There is so much information that we never see or process, simply because we are expecting to see, or looking for, something else.

When we have an idea of what we want to do, we tend to notice those things that fit with that idea (and to miss lots of other things). If you want to open a business, you tend to notice things that fit with your idea. Or opportunities that you might not otherwise have picked up on. It may seem as if the world is changing, and of course in a way, it is. But what is really happening is that you are now attracted to the things that are consistent with your goals. Not the other way around.

To me, that is the real secret. And it is the reason that when you know what you want and focus on it, it is much more likely to happen.


Monday, June 28, 2010

The Work of Work

"There's a reason they call it work."

I've been blessed to work with people I mostly like, doing work that I mostly think is important and good. And to make a good living while doing it. Not everyone is so lucky. I know a lot of lawyers and consultants, for example, who work constantly. They work in a business model that pays for volume, and they deliver that volume, knowing that if they do not there is someone else who will.

So they contine to crank out the hours to pay the mortgages that they should not have taken out, on houses that are now worth less than they paid for them. I think this just is a more dramatic version of what many others are feeling. That they have to crank out the hours and produce or they will be casualties, too, like their neighbor was last week or last month.

This has been a tough time for those who were once at or near the top of the food chain. I think many of us (and I include myself) are questioning whether it is as important as we once thought it was to live in a big house in a great location, drive a late model luxary sedan, and send our kids to prestigious schools.

I know there are plenty of times that I long for a simpler life. I just don't know how to get there.

The truth is that my training is for fairly high stress jobs in health care. Thankfully I am good at it and enjoy it. But I do wonder from time to time if my "calling" is as important as I once thought it was. And I worry that the adrenaline high might not be as satisfying as more subtle pursuits.

I wonder if my thoughts of getting ahead, of leading others, of being "outstanding," whatever that means, are as important as the simple satisfaction of meaningful human interaction.

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. When I asked my teacher, Peter Fenner, about what was next for me, he said in his Zen-like way, something utterly simple and profound.

"It's not obvious right now. At some point, it will be. And you'll do that."

I see an intent to simplify, and I don't quite know what that looks like yet. In the meantime, my task seems to be finding more meaning, and satisfaction, in the simple moments of each day. Wherever I happen to find them.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Stuck at the Airport

I find that traffic jams can be a great opportunity to practice acceptance.

Airports are a close second.

As I write this, I am waiting for my flight back home from an all day meeting at corporate headquarters. It's been delayed about three hours, which will have me getting home at about 1:00 am.

It can be easy to think that things should be different. That there is someone at fault, somewhere to direct anger or frustration. I find myself trying to avoid the delay or lessen it. Maybe an earlier flight is still on the ground, or there is a way to connect through another city. For whatever reason, it feels like torture to sit in an airport for an extra hour or two. We want to be on the go. In constant motion. Making progress, whatever that means.

But a delay can be a nice chance to slow down. To sit. To read a good book. To accept what is happening, rather than fight it.

I often take a delay as a chance to catch up on email, or make phone calls, or to walk around or eat. But the chance to sit, to breathe? I find myself running away from that.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just to Be

"Just to be alive is enough."

- Shunryu Suzuki -

Awhile back I found myself writing the following on a piece of paper--

"It is only in the systematic unpacking of ourselves that we find the freedom to simply be."

I don't know if it is true for everyone. But it seems to be true for me. Those moments of clarity that come from time to time seem to be about less rather than more.

The unpacked bag is empty. The more we remove, the more we can see the nothing that is left. The open space of being. In this space is freedom.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back to This

"People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

~Albert Einstein~

In each moment, we have an opportunity to stay or go.

If we stay, if we stay right here, we can see that there is no way to be outside this moment. That there never was anything else. In this constant now there are no problems, and there is no past or future. There is only this, our unnameable existence. Life itself.

If we go (and let's face it, we often do), our thoughts recreate a past and project a future. There is worry and strife. We compare where we are with where we would like to be or where we could have been. This is the human habit--to create a world of struggling and strife through thoughts.

Viewed another way, though, there is no difference between staying and going. We are always present to something, even if it is usually just our own thoughts and projections. Whatever we are present to, in this moment, is our world. No matter how restricted, or unlimited.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Have an Average Day!

I saw that today, June 22, has been declared "Have an Average Day" Day and it put a smile on my face.

Two interesting things about this--

First, we put so much pressure on ourselves. Work can feel like a sprint, where we never catch our breaths. So much of the world of Blackberries and Starbucks and constant access can make us feel like we need to be moving 24/7. Even to step back to "average" can feel like a huge relief.

But second might be more interesting. When we commit to slow progress, we actually can do extraordinary things. As the site explains, we can have the time to write a book, or get to know our children. We can connect with people. We can live and feel alive. We can share joy. And regardless of what we end up doing, we can find so much more meaning in our being.

So with that spirit in mind, may this day be an average one. And may it be the first of many more.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Being Right

There's an old saying that asks if you would rather be right or happy. I've had two email exchanges in the last two days that were really effective at pointing out what I've been choosing.

In each, I took a pretty strong position. One was related to my personal life, and one was at work.

And when my view was questioned (in each case, rather strongly), I felt myself clench up. I was angry. I immediately wanted to defend myself and show why I was RIGHT and the other person was WRONG! But of course we all bring our own views and biases and triggers to each situation. I can read an email in a haze of emotion and adrenaline and have one reaction, and read it ten minutes later and come to a completely different conclusion. What is that about?

I don't have an answer. I suspect it is just part of an instinctive defending of a self, even as the sense of that self gets more murky. But part of this path, it seems, is noticing those vulnerabilities, those times when we are less likely to have a clear response to something. And waiting a few minutes, or a few days, to send an email response (for example) when we feel like that.

I'd rather be happy. But I don't always act that way.


P.S. This is my one hundredth entry in The Corporate Zendo. Thanks for your encouraging words and suggestions.

I still don't know what this really is. Sometimes, it feels like it's a lecture, sometimes, an advice column, and sometimes, a confessional. But if you know someone who might find it useful, please forward the following link:


Friday, June 18, 2010

More about Power

Yesterday, I wrote about power in the workplace, and specifically about how our attitudes about power shape our use of it. But power is a neutral force. It can be used for good or ill.

Many of us, especially those of us who are trying to be "good," are afraid that power is bad, perhaps because we have seen it used so badly. But what about managers who use power to protect and promote their employees? What about foundations or even politicians that use their power to bring about social justice? What about lawyers who use their power to free the wrongly accused?

Because of our attitudes and projections, most of us draw a line on exercising power. If we move much beyond that threshold, we can become very unconfortable. Even afraid.

It can be useful to explore this discomfort. What happens when you cross your threshold? What are the consequences that you fear? That someone will be upset, or will not like you? That you will be fired?

Or that you will succeed, and will be revealed as outstanding and original?

We all know people who will not do anything the slightest bit controversial without asking permission first, even if they are sure it is ultimately a good thing. They want to have cover if things go wrong. But that can also mean that someone else will get the credit if things go right. And more importantly, that their other good ideas may never find the light of day.

Is there a small thing you can try today without asking permission first? If you do it, will you be punished for going "over the line," or will you be praised for "showing initiative?" Are you sure? And how do you feel about that?

What happens if you continue to experiment with that threshold? With using power instead of giving it away?

We all have a lot more power than we think. But like anything, our power, and our comfort with it, can only grow with use.


(Thanks to a reader for asking about power, and specifically, the giving away of power, at work. I hope this has been helpful, and if you have a topic you would like to see The Corporate Zendo, please let me know!)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Exercising Power

When we are on a spiritual path, we often wrestle with the notion of power. Especially our personal power.

On the one hand, power is what helps us get things done. In fact, it can be difficult to get things done without power. Power means strength, or the use of strength. Power can equate to success, especially at work.

At the same time, we can have negative perceptions about power. Maybe we associate power with selfishness, or bullying. Maybe we believe in a higher power, but not in our own power. Maybe we are afraid of the success that the use of power could bring, or feel that we don't deserve personal success.

As a concept, power is neither good nor bad. Instead, much of how we feel about power is really about the hopes and fears that we project onto it.

Exploring how we feel about power can be very helpful as we think about when we use it, or choose not to.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Being American

When I am in a decent frame of mind, I am amused by the political rhetoric in this country. But other times, I am saddened, or appalled.

I just saw Newt Gingrich's new book, "To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine."

I don't want to just pick on Republicans, because Democrats are just as bad. In fact, some of the reviews on Amazon, presumably posted by Democrats, helpfully point out that they consider Newt to be "pure evil."

Both sides, apparently, are convinced that they represent the "true, mainstream" America, and that the other side represents "the values of Nazi Germany."

Both sides, apparently, are convinced that it is helpful to their causes to call the other side stupid and evil.

Both sides, apparently, believe that apocolyptic fear is an effective persuasive device.

And both sides spend their years in office trying to "undo the damage" caused by the other side. Before they overreach and lose. And this cycling between rhetorical extremes happens over and over again.

Only when we stop rewarding this behavior will it stop. Only when we ask for informed, well-reasoned debate (and incremental progress) will we get it. And only when we are willing to spend time thinking about the issues rather than the sound bites, and to vote based on our own reasoned views rather than what we are told, will we get the democracy that our founding fathers envisioned, rather than the one we apparently deserve.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Systems, People, and Freedom

I saw a speaker in Las Vegas, Gary Hamel, who talked about new systems of management in which people are given more control. In which there is less and less top down authority and more and more individual autonomy. In which people are free to spontaneously adapt to the rapidly changing world around them, rather than following the strictures of the annual corporate plan. He cited examples of this evolution, and of the companies that are using some of these methods.

It sounds great. And it could be that these new methods are what's next in corporate management. But it begs a question. Are people really ready for that kind of responsibility and authority?

No doubt some are, and they have already prospered. But most of us still just want to be told what to do. I see people every day (including me) who hesitate to make the final decision. Who want someone else, at a higher pay grade, to define the rules. If they have a great new idea, they want someone else to approve it.

In short, it feels like we want the upside of this new freedom, but not the downside. The recent collapse of the credit market comes to mind. The bankers made billions as the markets boomed, but insisted on a bailout when things headed south.

Until we are willing to take responsibility for the consequences of our decisions, both good and bad, we are not ready for freedom. Nor do we really have it.


Monday, June 14, 2010

What Stays in Vegas

Last week I spent three days in Las Vegas at a conference.

Las Vegas is a monument to human excess. Everything there feels oversized and artificial.

When we are in Vegas we dive face first into the path of excess. We see close up that there is always something bigger or better to be obtained or consumed. Why be content with a three carat diamond when the next store has a five carat one? If you have tried the $500 bottle of wine, you simply must try the $1000 one.

There is good in this. Most of the time, we live a life of ever-increasing wants and needs. We want a better education, or job, or house or car. But that path unfolds slowly, and it takes us much longer to learn that our most authentic satisfactions are in the doing and being rather than the getting.

In Vegas, the futility of the "if only" path slaps us in the face. It is so obvious that there is always something "better," and that if we live our lives thinking that the next thing will be the one that finally satisfies us, we are foolish indeed.

I used to frown on going to Vegas, but I sincerely enjoyed myself this time. I found myself enjoying Vegas because of the excess, because it is so over the top.

And I enjoyed coming home, too.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Two Deaths

When I look in my heart I see two very strong, very distinct, and very contradictory drives.

I believe that I have something unique to say to the world.

And yet I am afraid that in saying that thing, I will be laughed at or rejected, or maybe worst of all, ignored.

Our life, it seems, is played out on this edge. We are afraid of the very things we feel driven to do. We want to stand up and declare our passions and beliefs. To let people know what we feel most deeply.

We each know that in our hearts is a unique expression that will come out, that must, in fact come out, that will be our very death if it does not come out, and yet we are scared, terrified even, of that moment when it does. We convince ourselves that we have to be prepared for it. We can look for another degree, or more money in the bank, or more credibility, before we let ourselves do what we want to do, or what we feel we are meant to do. We do everything we can to delay that moment. Because that moment is in fact a death of another sort. It is a death of our own limitations.

That moment when we stand naked in front of the world, when we are no longer hiding behind our careers or our companies or our pay stubs. When no slogan or vision statement will save us. When it is just one person saying "this is what I believe."

That moment that both must and must not happen. It feels daunting. Like it is a culmination of everything we are working for. Like it is the final exam of a lifetime process.

But what if that moment is not the ending, but the beginning? What if that moment is right now? What if each day we can find a new, more personal truth to share? What are our limitations then?


Thursday, June 10, 2010


"If it's not paradoxical, it's not true." --Shunryu Suzuki

Whatever this path is, I can find myself in strange places.

I can talk one moment of what I feel driven to do. The job that I take, the experience that I have, the creative energy that comes. Whatever it is that I am sharing with the world. It feels very much like a unique identity, a unique expression.

And in the next moment, I can see that finding that identity, that "actor" is not possible. There is simply energy arising, and it is not possible to name that energy "Jeff" or anything else. It just happens.

I spend so much time on the first aspect. And when I get caught up in it, I can think that there is something that I "should" be doing, or that I am "meant" to do.

Yet it is in those other moments when the purest expressions arise. I don't know where they come from. But when they simply arise out of the silence, rather than because "I" want them to, there is a purity that no sense of "I" can muster.

That is only one of the paradoxes we face. We are at our best, it seems, when we aren't there at all.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Naming Our Voices

A friend and I were in a conversation recently and she told me that she was working with a career coach. One of the things that the coach had suggested was to identify, and name, the different voices that regularly speak to her.

Now you might be resistant to the idea that you hear voices, but if you are anything like me, in your head is an almost constant silent conversation. In the past, I have labeled some of the thoughts that I have heard, like  "blaming" or "jealousy."

But my friend's coach did not suggest that. Insteand, she suggested naming them like acquaintances. "Betty" or "Melissa," for example. I did not say anything at the time but that seemed rather silly to me.

After sitting with it for a few days, though, I think I'm beginning to see wisdom there. Many of us have acquaintances who are incredibly upbeat and supportive. And we have others who nag or put down or are simply always negative. It is that way with our voices, too. When I call something "judgment," it seems heavy, like something I should resist. But "Henry" is just annoying. Henry is no more part of me than any of my "in the flesh" companions are.

If I notice Henry going off again, eventually I will get sick of him, and he will move on. Henry may show up for awhile (after all, I've known him for quite some time), but he will eventually tire of me, just like I am tired of him.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Shared Stories

Much of this blog has been devoted to pointing to a place beyond stories, to what Peter Fenner calls "unconditioned awareness." When we are in that space, we don't know where we are. We are aware of that which is aware, which has no boundaries or characteristics, which cannot even be said to exist or not exist.

We have also talked about personal stories, those assumptions that we bring into our lives, which in fact create much of what we view as the world. That people are inherently good, or bad. That the world is inherently just, or cruel. That life is easy, or hard.

There might be a third category. I'm not sure. But it seems to me that some stories are deeply personal, and some are shared. When we look at books, or our storytelling traditions, or even back to the original stories that have since become myth, we see the same plots over and over again.

Boy gets girl. David beats Goliath. Man faces temptation (or temptress). Ambition leads to a "deal with the Devil."

These myths shape our lives as well. When viewed backwards, we often reform our experiences into one of these myths. We can come to view our lives as a heroic quest, whether that quest is a search for honor or wisdom or treasure.

But to know ourselves, it seems that we have to step beyond these stories, too. What are we that is beyond our childhoods, our relationships, our mythical quests? Who is it behind our eyes?

In our quests, we are saying that what we are looking for is not this, is not here, is not now. And there is joy in experiencing that journey.

But wherever we go, we are still right here. We can travel the world over and never leave our front doorstep. We can see our stories, and see beyond them, too.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Having Courage

The poet David Whyte has written a couple of great books about corporate life. His first book on this topic is The Heart Aroused, which is a contemplation on the role of the soul in corporate America. Lately, I've been rereading it. It's powerful stuff.

A theme that comes up over and over again is one of career as an exercise in personal courage.

That resonates for me. It feels like one of the key themes of our exploration here, too. As we develop in our careers, we can face difficult choices--

Do I speak up, or do I stay silent?

Do I take on the new assignment, or do I stay with the tried and true?

Do I take a new job, or make a career change, or go back to school? Or do I do what I have always done?

Each of these decisions is about courage. The courage to say or do something new. The courage to find and express our authentic selves in a world that can seem to discourage (which means "to deprive of courage") expression.

We can feel that doing what we have always done is the safe option, but in today's turbulent times, nothing could be further from the truth. Staying the same can be the biggest risk of all.

The question isn't if we need to change, it is how. And how to get the courage, or encouragement, to do so.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Hidden Wounds

We all have wounds from where we have been hurt. Sometimes, we don't even want to acknowledge them. Like a cornered dog, we snap at anyone who tries to get close.

We can be so good at hiding these wounds that we are not even conscious of them. Instead, we just start snapping. Recently, I found myself attacking someone, insisting that I was right and that this person (to whom I happen to be married) was out of line, that she was being disrespectful.

When we find ourselves defending something, or fuming that someone else is doing something inappropriate, there is generally something worth investigating. It could be that at the center of our blaming is a deep wound, one that we have carefully protected even from ourselves.

It took awhile for me to see that. I went unconscious for awhile--the defenses took over and I focused all my energies on the terrible ways my wife was behaving. But then, as rational thought returned, I started noticing my urge to protect, and wondering "what is it that I am not seeing? What is it that I am protecting?"

In this case, I found a deep insecurity about my abilities as a parent. And I am grateful to my wife for helping me see it. Of course, it could be anything. The blessing is in the seeing. When we become aware of our wounds, they often begin to heal on their own.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Accept and Achieve

Most of what is written about the spiritual path is about acceptance--whether it is acceptance of our circumstance, or of the parts of ourselves (the shadow) that we do not like to think about. There is great value in this view. When we accept (and stop resisting), we can see things for what they are, rather than what we would like them to be. We stop thinking that things should be different than they are. The level of frustration that we feel goes down.

But there is another side to this. Sometimes, when accept, we also free up energy to do other things. We might stop thinking as much about what others might think, or the bad things that might happen if we pursue a certain course.

Instead, we might find ourselves trying things that we would not have tried before. This could mean going after a promotion in our company, volunteering for a special project, or just voicing our opinion in a way that we have not before.

This kind of courage can be part of the spiritual path, too. In fact, courage can be the spiritual path itself.

To do something new without knowing why might be the most spiritual of all acts. By doing so, we show faith in life itself. Faith in the glorious not knowing of simple action.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Busy Busy

It can seem like we are busier than ever. But I wonder.

How busy would we be if we were not looking at our Blackberries or email every five minutes?

How busy would we be if we quit multitasking?

How busy would we be if we did not feel the need to be busy?

How busy would we be if we were not spending any effort, energy, or time, on avoiding things?

It can seem like there is not nearly enough time to do all the things that we need to. But when we observe how we actually spend our time, we can get a different picture.

My practice for today will be to observe when I am doing things, when I am just thinking about the things that I need to do, and when I am checking screens (Blackberry, email) to see if there is something new to do, or something to distract me from what I should be doing.

How much times each day are we actually adding value? And what are we doing with the rest of our time?


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Highs and Lows

Last week I did a big presentation for a prospect in Boston. The meeting involved a lot of preparation, and I was presenting with people who are very senior, who have been at my company a long time, and who are tough critics.

It wasn't perfect, but I did very well. And I got good feedback from people both internally and at the prospect.

This meeting had taken weeks to put together. It had involved lots of conversations to design and get feedback on an agenda, and coordination across several people to help pull together and edit the Powerpoint slides. There was frustration in getting everyone on the same page, but there was a lot of teamwork, too.

And the meeting came off, about as well as we could have hoped.

It is always good to hear that things went well. But I was noticing that while hearing those things felt good, that was not what I was reacting to. In the afterglow of the presentation, as I was talking with someone about how things had gone, I realized that I was reacting to adrenaline. Pure and simple. It was the adrenaline rush that felt best of all--not the things that were said.

I love learning new things and taking on new challenges. I love roller coasters and other scary rides. And while I used to be scared to death of speaking in public, I now love that, too. Doing a big presentation has become my equivalent of skydiving or bungee jumping or walking a tightrope. Getting across without falling feels very, very good.

Is this an addiction? Is this a bad thing? I don't know. But that day was the first time that it hit me with such utter obviousness.