Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Want to Really Help Others at Work? Talk About Your Failures

Most people communicate in a business context with an intention, unstated but permeating everything they say like bad incense. They say lots of words, but what they’re really hoping you hear is that they’re competent. Independent of what they say, the way they say it is polished to shining, honed over dozens of conversations to produce a certain result.

You know it when you hear it. It’s the moment in a call when, after comparing your weather to theirs, one of you offers to give “a bit of background to help set the context for our call.” And then the next 3-15 minutes (depending on how dialed in they are) is that person rehashing a rehearsed presentation of themselves that they’ve (consciously or unconsciously) fine-tuned to make an impression on you. For my last business, I went so far as to prepare different versions of my pitch depending on the situation: five words about the company for a first introduction, a paragraph touching on the market, unfair advantage and traction for investors, and a personal description of my greatest accomplishments for volunteer work.

The goal was to tell the other person about myself in the way I thought would get them to like me, admire me, invest in my company, or purchase from me. To present the parts of myself that would produce a result, and skip over the rest. That time I was uncertain about how to make payroll? That time I completely botched the investor presentation? That time I let a customer down? These were completely off limits in these conversations because they’re hairy, and scary. They’re real.

Presenting the image of polished competence simply makes you look good. And in a race to look good, there’s always someone who looks better.

I always thought nobody would buy from that guy. The guy who was uncertain and had the occasional blemish. People wanted the guy who had it all together, who had all the credentials, and who was polished and competent. Right?

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How We Can All Thrive in an Interconnected World

You and I are connected through these words on the screen in this moment. You may not agree with what you read, but we’re connected by a shared intention of deepening our understanding in some way. Your mind and my mind are choosing to focus on the same words. These words wouldn’t exist without all the teachers I have learned from, or without this online platform. Within this vast and complex web of connections, we directly and indirectly impact each other, for better or for worse. When we see that our self-interest is intrinsically tied to others, we’re able to connect, reflect, speak our truth, be heard, consider different perspectives, and work together.  

When we don’t see the connection with others inherent in self-interest, our world gets polarized by competing political, social, racial, and economic perspectives. We live in an interconnected world, but we make decisions primarily motivated by what benefits us. Even though we’re wired for empathy, research shows that it’s largely reserved for people we consider to be in our ingroup. This leaves vast groups of people not considered at all, or even harmed by our decisions.  Similarly, business, legal, and academic communities have widely embraced shareholder primacy, which means that shareholders’ interests are considered more important than the well-being of other stakeholders including employees, suppliers, customers, and the environment—which, in the long run, is not good for even the shareholders. For instance, our profit-centered choices that exacerbate problems like climate change, racism, and income inequities negatively impact our organizations, communities, and life on earth. 

We live in an interconnected world, but we make decisions primarily motivated by what benefits us. Even though we’re wired for empathy, research shows that it’s largely reserved for people we consider to be in our ingroup. This leaves vast groups of people not considered at all, or even harmed by our decisions. 

Over the past year, COVID-19 has helped us see our interconnectedness. A virus that spread from an animal to a human being in one part of the world became a global pandemic within a few months, leaving no individual or nation untouched. The pandemic heightened the tension between our self-interest and the reality of our interdependence. Even simple, seemingly harmless activities such as getting a cup of coffee from our local café or getting a book from the library entail choices—like physical distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands—with potentially huge impacts on many people. 

As we prepare to come out of the disastrous aftermath, we need to cooperate and work together in a world beyond the pandemic—in our families, at work, in our communities, and the world at large. Given the vast political, social, and economic schisms we face on each of these levels, how can we cooperate? What role does each of us play in our daily actions and interactions that either add to the divisiveness, or bridge our differences to create conditions for all of us to thrive together? I believe that we must begin by developing a proper understanding of self-interest.

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Moving From Safe Space to Brave Space

Humans are hard-wired for safety. For many of us, it can be a journey and challenge to feel comfortable and safe in our bodies. And yet, our bodies are our first, and most reliable safe space in this world. 

So how do we cultivate that safe space? It starts with knowledge. I found out things about myself and others. I discovered what I attracted in my life. I honored my own complicity. I learned from my actions and the actions of those around me. My closest friends taught me my most important lessons and for that I am forever grateful. My family set the foundation for me to even recognize the lessons my friends would bring.

As a child I cried a lot, a whole lot. I was a very sensitive child. Witnessing at a young age matriarchs mourning at the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and so many ancestors. Seeing neighborhoods change and losing so many of our men to oppression, violence, and injustice. Growing up in this world you learn that you have to try to be less sensitive. That was difficult for me, I just am a sensitive human being. But why would I compromise my true nature—my sensitivity? Intuitive and organic I have a real belief in the divine. I tap into my Indigenous nature through intuition and storytelling. This is where my sensitivity gives rise to protection of my nature—but only if I honor it. 

How to Create Safe Space for Yourself

Safe spaces have to be cultivated from a deep desire to understand true self-care, self-love and compassion for one’s process or the process one might find themselves in. 

It’s what I think of when I consider the lives of Nelson Mandela and Harriet Tubman, and what they had to cultivate for themselves in adversity. Even if it’s in your imagination at first, visualize and actualize in the mind the spaces that create safety. The safety is you and everything you come with. 

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The Life Cycle of Thoughts and Why Your Brain Needs a Filter

We wake up in the middle of the night with the title of a Leonard Cohen song in our head: “Closing Time.” We jot it down on a slip of paper on our bedside table, and roll back to sleep. In the morning, making the bed, we see the note, and put it in our pocket. A few times during the day, we unfold it, and hum a line or two. 

We’re figuring, “This has got to have some special meaning!” After all, it survived the transition from dream to waking state and now it’s at the top of the playlist in our head. We go online, print out the lyrics, and (wanting to take it to the next level) that night we go to our favorite bar and stay through last call. Just as the bartender is telling the patrons it’s time to go, we break into a dance, and sing: “Ah, we’re drinking and we’re dancing, and the band is really happening…” 

We’ve incubated this song from hazy memory to the dance floor. It all started with a thought—one of those nebulous things inside our head, that comes and goes. We grabbed on to this one, gave it VIP status, and shepherded it as it took on a life of its own. 

No harm done, because singing song lyrics at a bar is innocuous. When we have an idea that we want to bring into the world, many of us go through a similar process—trying it out in our head through multiple iterations, getting used to it, and finally, shoving it out the door. 

A Healthy Skepticism

The ability to decide which thoughts have merit—or at least do not have the potential to cause harm—is paramount. 

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R.E.S.T.—A Guided Practice for the Tired and Weary

Is mindfulness really for everyone? It depends on whose voices are allowed to respond to this question. Western mindfulness often presents practices as universally beneficial, making the obvious answer seem to be yes. But does mindfulness mean the same thing to everyone? Do all practices fit all people? Have we fully considered ancestral grief, transgenerational trauma, nervous systems, and brain science when we define mindfulness practice? Although we frequently use words like diversity and inclusion in mindfulness communities, are we truly mindful of how complex and neurodiverse we are as human beings?

It’s unrealistic to assume that our psyches are somehow magically separate from the ever-present social and political chaos that we are forced to exist in.

Often, in my personal practice, I contemplate the fact that many people experience a great deal of stress while trying to focus on the breath and control their attention for long periods of time. In fact, mindfulness practices that instruct people to confront their inner world directly, and to quiet the mind, can feel very disorienting for BIPOC, trauma survivors, people from marginalized communities, and even those of us who are simply exhausted due to hardships and life. Not to mention, many of us who find ourselves living in the abovementioned identity locations and communities are survivors of a racist, capitalist, and patriarchal society that devalues our bodies, rest, relaxation, and our very existence. 

It’s unrealistic to assume that our psyches are somehow magically separate from the ever-present social and political chaos that we are forced to exist in. The impact of systemic injustice lives in the tissues of our bodies and within the corners of our psyches. And these are the realities we should consider when discussing mindfulness and meditation.

It is essential, now more than ever, that we find ways to pause, grieve, and feel the fullness of reconnecting with the ritual of resting and being aware.

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