This is the challenge that daily perplexes and fascinates me: How to bring my Zen practice into the workplace, even when that place seems so cold, inhospitable, and, well, corporate. Coming to my aid are the skills cultivated over fourteen years of at-least-once-a-week meditation and the wisdom that flows from my incomplete mastery of the dharma. The wonderful thing is, these seem to be enough. Enlightenment and mastery are great goals, but not required to reap the benefits of Buddhism. The main thing is to have a practice, and to keep it alive, personally relevant, and engaged. Make it your own, and bring it with you everywhere.
I’m sure that my Buddhism makes me a better employee. My concentration is good, my disposition willing, my listening empathic. But these things are easy; they aren’t where I feel the daily stretching of practice. No, practice begins for me when my separate little self springs to life, judging, comparing, and clenching. These moments are easy to identify: To one degree or another, they always involve suffering. It might happen like this: I step onto the elevator, a stack of documents to be delivered under my arm, and find I’m sharing the ride up with three hotshot young attorneys. Then, in an instant—in a vivid illustration of the Buddhist principle of codependent origination—my full-blown separate self springs into existence, co-arising with the young attorneys, the society beyond these walls, which so values wealth and success, and my own internalization of those values. It’s all there!
I stare at my feet like the diffident bottom-dweller I am, a grown-up delivery boy, while they happily jaw about the firm’s skybox at the Lakers game or the latest billion-dollar merger, and I feel a flush of envy and embarrassment. I should be going to Lakers games! I should be negotiating billion-dollar mergers! I get off the elevator with my feathers a little ruffled.
Now, behold the beauty of practice. It was all transparent. I saw my feelings come into existence and made no attempt to stop them. I saw my preferences and shrugged; they seemed understandable enough. I knew that my feelings of discomfort were “empty”—that is, they have no fixed or permanent existence in themselves; they are transitory, conditioned by time and place—and sure enough, in the absence of further judgment or resistance, they pass. I am putting into practice a fundamental skill learned in meditation. Each time we let go of distractions to return to our focus, whatever that is, we practice letting go.
Letting go of thoughts, scenarios, judgments, conceptual thinking—little chunks of self.
So I return to my desk under the humming lights to tackle another stack of documents. There’s still no meadow in here, no grass growing, no tableau of geese against the autumn sky. For a moment, there were some ruffled feathers—but now they are smooth. Practice!
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