Take Care of the World, Take Care of You

There is a famous story from the Zen tradition that has been passed down for more than a thousand years, about two Zen teachers discussing a primary issue of where we put our focus and attention:

One teacher asks another, “Where do you come from?”

The second replies, “From the south.”

The first asks, “How is Zen practice in the South these days?”

The second responds, “There is lots of discussion.”

The first states, “How can all the discussion compare to planting the fields and cooking rice?

The second asks, “What are you doing about the world?”

The first replies, “What do you call the world?”

What do you call the world? How do you take care of the world and take care of yourself?

I find myself grappling with this question: What is the world and how do I take care of world and at the same time, how do I take care of myself – earning a living, shopping, cooking, eating, helping others, to solving the problems of “the world.” Could I be doing more and how can I have the most impact, best leverage my time and resources.

And the larger, underlying question – What do you call the world?

Many of us are committed to taking care of the world. We work hard to take care of our financial world, our family world, our internet/phone/electronic worlds, the world of our friends, our communities, the world of our body, and our spiritual worlds. Each person we meet is like their own world. Each experience we have can be its own world. Every organization is its own world. Sometimes each moment can seem like its own world; when we slow down enough to notice.

The question that this dialogue is raising is – What really matters? In what way is our activity helping, or not? What about the world of being, the world of just doing the simple, mundane things; things like planting the fields and cooking rice; things like meditation and other less goal-oriented activities; things like taking care of our children, or tending to our lives and the lives of others. What about taking care of these?

This simple dialogue also raises the issue of context and control – how much do we create our worlds, as well as the different worlds that exist and are created around us. What can we influence and what is beyond our influence?

There are many ways, small and large to change the world. One powerful way is to change the structure of corporations. I’m excited about the creation of a new corporate structure called a For-Benefit Corporation or a B-Corp, now legal in several states including the state of California. This movement has the potential for creating significant systemic change. Whereas the definition of a corporation today is that its sole responsibility is to maximize profits for its shareholders, a For-Benefit corporation has a different, wider responsibility built into its corporate By-Laws. A B-Corp’s responsibility is to be of benefit to its stakeholders and its customers. It operates with not just one bottom line, profits, but with three bottom lines: people, planet, profits.

Capitalism without a conscious is destructive and foolish. Just look slightly beneath the surface, at the damaging effects of our food supply systems, our manufacturing systems, issues of social and economic injustice. Building a society where greed is the only value leads to many unintended harmful consequences. The brilliance of redefining corporations is that it allows for all of the advantages of free markets combined with the consciousness and sensibility of taking care of people and the environment.

For more information about B-Corps: http://www.bcorporation.net/

Take a look at a TED talk about B-Corps by one of its founders, Jay Cohen Gilbert: http://www.bcorporation.net/B-Media/Videos

Please, take care of the world, and take care of you. What do you call the world?

More Vitality

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
– Pablo Picasso

“The antidote to exhaustion is not rest. The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
– Brother David Steindl-rast

I was recently sitting in the office of a senior executive of a major corporation in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were meeting for the first time. During this conversation he shared with me his disappointment about work. “What happened?” he pondered. He had begun this job with such excitement and enthusiasm and now he felt discouraged and tired. “How did I get so busy, and disconnected? What happened to the enthusiasm and excitement I had for life as a child? When did my life get so out of balance?”

It is easy to fall into ruts of thinking, patterns of activity, false and undermining assumptions about our lives. If we continually make choices to be safe and secure, little by little we can find ourselves safe, secure and our edges dulled, work as more drudgery then heroic, and our relationships predictable.

Some questions I began with: Is there something you love about your work? Or, what might you love about your work? What do you look forward to doing? What brings you joy? What inspires you?

I asked: Who has been your most inspiring mentor, in your life or that you have read about?

I also recounted a short but powerful dialogue that comes from the Zen tradition: A student approached her teacher and says, “I’m feeling discouraged. What should I do?” The teacher responds by saying, “Encourage others.”

This executive has three people who report to him and oversees a department of more than 30 people. Imagine how his team must feel. Even if he doesn’t express his dissatisfaction, I imagine others can feel it and are influenced by it. Our emotions are contagious. Sometimes a way to shift our own mood is to become more aware of those around us. How can we help those we work with; how can we encourage others.

I also asked about some areas of his life that I think of as the most obvious and often the most important:
Sleep – what can you do to get a good night’s sleep.
Exercise – do you walk or play or exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
Food – do you pay attention to eating good, healthy food.
Conversations – do you have at least a few meaningful conversations each day, conversations where you are connecting on the level of your emotional life.

How To Decide

When deciding about the work I do, I envision three circles: Impact, Joy, and Financial Sustainability. Does my work have positive impact, does it bring joy to me and to others, and is it financially sustainable for my life?

First, just applying these criteria shifts my focus from fear, worry and survival; shifts my attention from my day-to-day concerns to something larger, to how I want to show up, to how I want to live. There is certainly a lot to be afraid of and to worry about. There is so much instability in many parts of our economy, in our relationships, and our lives. And yet, where do we choose to put our attention?

When it comes to work, I choose to put my attention on doing what has impact, what brings joy, and moves me toward financial sustainability.

Impact may mean helping one person, a team, or a company. I remember once when I was about to lead a workshop in which there were six people registered, being upset at the low registration. I was hoping for at least ten people. When I mentioned this to my son, his response was, “Dad, even if you can positively impact the life of one person, isn’t that enough?” The workshop, with six people turned out to be wonderful. A small community formed and went on to meet several additional times over the course of the year.

There are many ways, small and large, to positively impact others in our work – those we work with and those we serve. Sometimes just listening, paying attention to another person can make a large difference. From another perspective, a great question to ask is – How does my work serve others? How could I have more impact?

We usually don’t think of joy as being important in our work. Buy why is that? Most of us spend more time at work than any other place in our lives. Why not look for ways to bring a sense of lightness and enjoyment to what we do.

This criteria of joy also raises the question – what do you really like doing; what is nourishing, challenging, interesting to you. Is what you are doing aligned with the answers to these questions? What steps might you take to bring your work more in line with a sense of joy.

Financial Sustainability
Money and issues of financial stability are complex and personal. Of course we all need to pay the bills, to earn enough income to meet our basic needs. With the current state of our economy this may be no small matter. People sometimes make work decision based solely on money, sometimes with the belief that money brings more joy and impact. Other times, people seek money as a response to fear or a desire for power. The point of having this criteria is to bring more awareness to the question – What is financial sustainability for me? How can I do work that is financially sustainable.

Does my work have impact? Does it bring me joy? Does it bring me financial sustainability?